The Chicago White Sox have been a pleasant surprise in 2012. After the departure of Ozzie Guillen and a series of disappointing years post-2005, the Sox looked as if they would be rebuilding at a rate not much faster than their cross-town counterparts.
The Sox are at 34-30 and in sole possession of first place. They are approaching the all-star break with a half game lead over the Indians. More importantly, they have a solid four game lead on the prohibitive favorites in the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers.
Many factors have contributed to the Sox's success this spring, including the solid first year leadership of Robin Ventura and an MVP caliber first half from mainstay Paul Konerko. The Sox have been able to rebound from last year's awful offensive season to become a threat to slug it out with any team in the league.
The person that deserves the most credit for this resurgence is Kenny Williams. The much-maligned GM of the White Sox has always been passionate about fielding a competitive team on the south side and has made several moves, both good and bad to accomplish that.
He has balanced keeping the main core of the 2005 championship team that all Sox fans have grown to love with several pieces that seemed primed to position them for success in the AL Central year-in year-out.
He didn't blow up the team and get rid of aging Sox heroes Paul Konerko and AJ Pierzynski; He didn't try to solely build for the future, either, by saving money at the expense of Sox fans.
Instead, he found a way to bring back the mainstays of this Sox squad while issuing in talented players to compliment the young players that have been brought up into the mix.
While the Cubs brass on the north side was often accused of standing pat and passing on opportunities to get better, the Sox have almost always opted to make moves that will keep them in contention. Unfortunately for Williams, in the past four years he has been tagged to his misses more than his successful moves.
While he’s had had acquisitions like Omar Vizquel, Matt Thornton, JJ Putz and Orlando Cabrera that were productive; he’s had moves that did not work out like Mark Teahan, Manny Ramirez and Ken Griffey Jr. that people have put more emphasis on when judging him.
If you throw in players he’s had mixed results with—Jim Thome, Nick Swisher, Juan Pierre, Freddy Garcia, Jose Contreras and Scott Linebrink—it really gets hard to judge how he has done with his active moments.
On the other hand, he’s had some of his prized prospects not work out quite to their billing—like Brian Anderson, Gordon Beckham, Josh Fields, Chris Getz and Daniel Hudson (the prized prospect he let get away after a slow start).
Overall though, he’s made some awesome signings and produced some very good prospects. The core of his current team is built on rising star and Cy Young candidate Chris Sale. To go along with Sale is John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Alexei Ramirez.
He has developed several prospects that have really shown great promise in Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo, Tyler Flowers, Phil Humber and the ever-so-popular Brent Lillibridge.
He’s made timely signings in the past of Jermaine Dye, AJ Pierzynski, Scott Podsednik (twice) and Tad Iguchi, among others.
The biggest story with Kenny that shows how he deserves more credit is when some of his sure-bet signings went wrong on him in flukish fashion. It was hard to hear Williams get pounded for putting his neck out and acquiring players that were well regarded around the league like Jake Peavy, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.
It seemed a little bit unfair that, given the Sox had a need for heavy-hitting productive players and top-of-the-rotation pitching depth, that Williams was slammed for getting players that fit the bill consistently over the course of their careers.
Jake Peavy was the opening day starter for Team USA in the last Baseball Classic and was consistently among the ERA and strikeout leaders in the NL for the Padres. He was a unanimous CY Young winner in 2007, his ERA was under 3.00 three times, he struck out over 200 three times and despite an ankle injury that slowed him down, he was a great candidate to compliment the already solid pitching staff led by Buehrle, Danks and Floyd.
It was perfectly reasonable to expect him to be back by the end of the 2009 season, make a few starts and be ready to go in 2010. However, Peavy’s run in Chicago started with a rash of on and off again injuries and only a handful of quality, meaningful starts in his time in Chicago. That was frustrating to everyone, and counter to his track record, so it’s hard to blame Kenny for that lack of success.
Adam Dunn has been a model of consistency as an old school slugger. He consistently has hit 40 home runs during the meat of his career. Since 2004, his third full year in the big leagues, he has hit at least 40 home runs every year except for 2009 and 2010 for the Nationals in which he hit 38 in both seasons. In that same time period, he only missed 100 RBI one time and that was in 2006 when he had 92 RBI for the Reds. This is a span of seven years in which he was consistent and predictable in his production, all leading up to his signing with the White Sox.
Sure he is a shoe in to strikeout 150 times or more almost every year, but you budget for that when you get a slugger like Dunn. Given that the Sox needed more left-handed power depth in their order to protect Konerko in Jim Thome’s absence, this move made perfect sense. However, in 2011, his first year with the Sox, he had a season to remember in the worst way.
Adam Dunn may have arguably been the worst full-time hitter in the major leagues last year. Some would argue his performance was historical. After all of those productive years for three different teams, in 415 at bats he hit .159 with 11 HR and 42 RBI. He struck out 177 times, which is more like him, but in every other way, Dunn’s performance was completely unrecognizable.
Many slammed Williams for this signing, but that was unfair given the information and track record Williams was presented with prior to Dunn’s arrival in Chicago. There is no way you could predict or plan for such struggles, but it happened.
Alex Rios is a little bit more of a debatable scenario because of the money that he is being paid ($12.5 million), but he was no slouch in Toronto either. He had three or four very solid years including a .297, 24 HR 85 RBI season in 2007 and a .302 17 HR 86 RBI season in 2006.
His struggles in Chicago were a surprise because, although he was having a sub par season in Toronto in 2009 when he came over, his first six years in the league had all been pretty respectable with averages generally around .300.
This year, Williams has gotten the last laugh on his high-investment decisions that seemed to have gone bad. Jake Peavy has rebounded from several seasons of injury-plagued ball on the south side with a sparkling 6-2 record with a 2.91 ERA and 78 Strikeouts in 13 starts. He is 6th in the AL in ERA and 7th in strikeouts.
This is the type of pitcher that Kenny Williams hoped to get in the long run and had no reason to believe he wouldn’t get.
Adam Dunn, after his miserable 2011 campaign, is currently leading the Major Leagues with 23 home runs. That total is one more than Josh Hamilton, who is arguably the most feared hitter in Major League Baseball.
Very few of his home runs have been cheap also. He has been dead on the ball and hit several towering majestic flies. He is also second in the AL with 52 RBI. His batting average is still pretty low, but this is pretty much what Kenny signed up for when he got him last year.
It’s hard to hold an odd aberration season like what he had last year against Kenny Williams. The proof is in the pudding, you book Adam Dunn for 35-40 HR and 100 RBI every year, and it appears this year should be no different.
Even Alex Rios has bounced back to have a solid season thus far, batting .294 with 32 RBI. He may not be performing on the level of Dunn and Peavy, but he is producing on a level that makes the idea of having him on the team as a productive force a respectable one, unlike other years in his tenure for the Sox.
In the end, even after letting go of the face of the organization and letting guys like Carlos Quentin and Mark Buehrle go in free agency or trades, the White Sox are relevant once again. He helped make the solid decision to hire good-looking skipper Robin Ventura, and the moves he made in the past have all seemed to pan out now.
Kenny deserves some credit for his work as GM here in Chicago since 2000 and people should be patient when player’s and/or teams have aberration type bad years.
Obviously he helped bring a Championship to Chicago, but he deserves credit for making a variety of moves that give the Sox a chance year-in and year-out to compete for another one. He has never been satisfied and although some of his moves have not worked out for him, you can never knock him for trying.
We’ll see if they can make a run at another AL Central title in this year and add another impressive notation to Kenny Williams’s resume in unlikely fashion.