Adam Dunn, like the White Sox, has had a much improved year in 2011.
Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams has made all the right moves this season. Williams is the brains behind a remarkable comeback year for the South-siders, and he's got a legitimate shot to win Executive of the Year.
Now, the Sox, fresh off a very disappointing 2011 campaign, find themselves at the top of a tight AL Central race with the Detroit Tigers.
A good portion of the credit is due to manager Robin Ventura, bounce-back performances from SP Jake Peavy, OF Alex Rios, slugger Adam Dunn and continued production from the old guard (including 1B Paul Konerko).
But an even bigger share of the credit belongs to Williams. We're witnessing his aggressive philosophy at its best.
The Sox were quiet in the offseason, going so far as to let several core players (including SP Mark Buehrle) walk in free agency. Most baseball experts didn't expect much from Chicago in 2012.
But like a great NFL QB, Williams has displayed incredible read-and-react skills this year. He's identified roster weaknesses in-season and acted quickly to address them.
Let's take a look at three ways that Williams has made this season much more enjoyable for White Sox fans than last year.
Ventura has a shot at the Manager of the Year award.
Robin Ventura has done a phenomenal job as Chicago's manager, and he's a big reason for their success.
But without Kenny Williams' creativity and boldness in hiring someone without managerial experience, Ventura doesn't even get a chance with the Sox.
Williams claims the San Francisco 49ers' willingness to "think outside the box" gave him the courage to make such an unorthodox move (original quote per Peter King of SI.com). But the White Sox GM hasn't shied away from bold moves in the past, particularly when it came to managerial selections.
That worked out all right: the White Sox won the World Series under Guillen in 2005.
It looks like this hiring of a guy with a much more even-keeled demeanor than the fiery Guillen is working out very well, too.
Put simply, Williams identified a beloved former White Sox star for whom he knew his players would play. Closer Addison Reed confirmed that Williams was right, saying via the White Sox team website:
Every single one of us loves playing for him. I can't see how somebody wouldn't like playing for a guy like him. When you are playing bad, he doesn't get discouraged. When we are playing good, he doesn't get too high.
The early returns on the Ventura hiring are great. He's been a steady presence for a team that's been through plenty of recent roster turnover and features 12 rookies on its roster.
Thanks in large part to Williams' brave decision to hire Ventura instead of a big-name, longtime manager, the White Sox have risen to the top of the AL Central.
The ChiSox trade for Youk filled a massive hole at third.
When Williams sees a problem, he fixes a problem.
His feuds with Guillen the last few years may have thrown him off his game, but he's back to his active ways this year. He's as aggressive in addressing roster holes in-season as any executive in baseball.
He even made a smart acquisition in bringing back OF Dewayne Wise, who has played well since being signed by the Sox.
This aggressive approach has infused Chicago with fresh blood and kept roster weaknesses from becoming fatal flaws.
Williams is willing to do whatever he can to ensure his team is in contention, and the fact that his in-season moves have paid off is a big reason why the White Sox are sustaining a high level of play in 2012.
Alex Rios has bounced back for the White Sox in 2012.
Kenny Williams had plenty of reason to give up on Alex Rios, Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy.
Rios was coming off a season in which he had an abysmal .613 OPS, including an unacceptably bad .265 on-base percentage.
Dunn, a longtime, monster slugger was even worse, posting a .569 OPS and a comical .159 batting average in 2011. That would be awful enough if Dunn had a Gold Glove. Given that he's a defensive liability with no natural position, Williams would have been justified in simply cutting him to free up the roster spot, even given Dunn's huge contract.
Peavy was your classic pitching tease: a player with remarkable talent who shone in a small sample size with the ChiSox in 2009, but hadn't done much since. He'd racked up some decent peripheral stats in 2011, including nearly four strikeouts-per-walk, but still couldn't translate that into a low earned-run average (4.92 ERA in 2011).
Williams could have given up on any or all of these players, but he didn't. He counted on their performances improving towards their career averages in 2012.
He was right.
Rios is posting his first OPS over .800 since 2007. He's smacked 23 home runs (10 more than he did all of last season) and chipped in with 21 steals.
Dunn's OPS has risen almost 300 points, and he's gotten back to his massive home run output. He's crushed 38 home runs this year, way up from his paltry 11 last year.
Finally, Peavy has reemerged as the ace we saw in San Diego years ago. He's put up a 3.27 ERA with just a 1.12 WHIP and eight strikeouts per nine innings.
When Williams traded closer Sergio Santos this offseason, it looked like he might be having a firesale and starting over with an eye to the future.
Instead, the patience he's shown with his roster, especially with his struggling players, has paid off.