Gennaro Filice
Friday May 30th, 2008

1. White Sox GM Kenny Williams: When it comes to risk-taking, Williams is the Evel Knievel of general managers. His aggressive approach backfires at times, but for the most part, Williams steers the White Sox in the right direction.

With Chicago sitting atop the AL Central, I can't help but think about three recent trades executed by Williams that are paying huge dividends. In hindsight, these are three fleecings by baseball's most venturesome GM:

RHP Freddy Garcia to Philadelphia for RHP Gavin Floyd and LHP Gio Gonzalez; Dec. 6, 2006: Williams made a big splash at baseball's winter meetings by trading away the franchise ace for a pair of prospects. But Garcia was a huge bust for the Phillies the following season, winning just one game before season-ending shoulder surgery. He remains a free agent today. Williams ended up trading Gonzalez in the Nick Swisher deal, but he held on to Floyd. Smart move. As Chicago's No. 4 starter, Floyd owns a 5-3 record and 3.22 ERA.

RHP Brandon McCarthy and OF David Paisano to Texas for LHP John Danks, RHP Nick Masset and RHP Jacob Rasner; Dec. 23, 2006: In the press conference for the Floyd trade, Williams told the media, "The Chicago White Sox are still open for business." And he wasn't lying. Seventeen days later Chicago sent hard-throwing right-hander McCarthy to Texas in a deal that brought back lefty prospect Danks. McCarthy has struggled mightily with injuries since the trade. On the other hand, Danks is coming into his own following a rough rookie campaign in '07. The 23-year-old currently holds a 2.86 ERA and an impressive 50-to-18 strikeout-to-walk rate.

1B Christopher Carter to Arizona for OF Carlos Quentin; Dec. 3, 2007: Quentin entered the '07 season as one of the top prospects in the game, but he was an injury-riddled bust, hitting just .214 over 81 games. (Eventually he lost his job to Justin Upton.) With Quentin's stock down, Williams swooped in and acquired the outfielder for the reduced price of a top Class A prospect. Through the first 52 games of this season Quentin is a bona fide MVP candidate. He leads the American League with 14 homers and ranks second with 48 RBIs. Nobody's more surprised than manager Ozzie Guillen: "I didn't even know who he was when we traded for him, but [Williams] told me, 'If this kid's healthy, he's going to help win you games.' "

2. Dempster's glove wiggle: The art of deception is paramount to pitching success. Starter-turned-closer-turned-starter Ryan Dempster really took this to heart in the offseason. Prior to moving back into the rotation, the Cubs right-hander added an old-school glove wiggle to his windup. Basically he begins his windup, flaps his glove twice at the hitter and proceeds to deal. ("The windup, the wiggle and the pitch ...") Is it effective? Well, the proof is in the pudding: Dempster is 6-2 with a 2.56 ERA.

So what's next? Will the quirky Canadian continue to tweak his approach? One suggestion, two words: electric slide.

3. Giambi's superstitions: Following a dreadful start to the '08 campaign, the second-highest paid player in baseball is finally starting to earn his keep.

Jason Giambi, who'll net a cool $23,428,571 in the final year of his contract, hit just .164 with a .726 OPS in April. But the Yankees' first baseman boasts a .339 batting average and a 1.207 OPS in May.

Giambi's recent surge begs one all-important question: Should we credit the golden thong or his fresh lip fur?

AP

Personally, I'm heaping praise on the mustache. By my approximation, that 'stache is between one and two weeks old, and over the last nine games, Giambi's 14 for 30 (.466) with four homers.

1. Snell and Gorzo: Tortured Pittsburgh fans suffered through another forgettable season in 2007. Big acquisition Adam LaRoche underachieved. Franchise player Jason Bay declined. And the Pirates finished 26 games under .500.

But even in baseball hell -- a.k.a. Pittsburgh -- there's always a silver lining. Last year it was the breakout performances of young starters Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny, who respectively posted ERAs of 3.76 and 3.88 (no other Pirates starter cracked 5.00). With such a premium on starting pitching, this top-of-the-rotation duo gave Buccos fans hope for the future.

Then this season began.

Snell, Pittsburgh's Opening Day starter, possesses a 5.46 ERA and hasn't won once in his last eight starts. Gorzelanny owns a 7.38 mark. Both are coming off of their worst start of the season (5 IP, 7 ER for Snell; 2/3 IP, 6 ER for Gorzo), and both share the exact same problem: too many free passes. Gorzelanny ranks second in the National League with 38 walks, while Snell ranks fifth with 31. This is a vast increase from '07, when each hurler had 68 walks in just over 200 innings.

Sudden control problems are especially disconcerting for Pirates fans. Remember Steve Blass?

2. Silva's implosion: When Carlos Silva signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Mariners in the offseason, he became the new poster child for bloated baseball salaries. Twelve large per year for a guy with a 55-46 career record? It just didn't add up.

Then Silva posted a 3-0 mark and a 2.79 ERA through his first six starts. Suddenly GM Bill Bavasi's highly criticized signing looked somewhat justifiable. But only for a fleeting moment.

In the month of May, Silva bashing is back in vogue. Over his last five starts, Silva has given up 26 earned runs on 44 hits, raising his ERA to 5.14.

Many folks pegged Seattle as a sleeper pick in the AL West entering this season. The biggest reason: a deep starting rotation. Through almost two months Seattle's starters own the worst ERA in the American League (5.10). Not coincidentally the Mariners are tied for the worst record in baseball (20-34).

3. Buffed-up Frenchy: After reportedly adding 17 pounds of muscle through intense offseason training, Jeff Francoeur had high hopes for 2008. "I don't think there's any reason I shouldn't hit 30 to 35 homers," Francoeur told Fox Sports.

Currently he has five jacks, putting him on pace for a grand total of 15. That would be one more than he hit during his rookie campaign in 2004 ... when he played 70 games.

Ichiro Suzuki admitted that extended exposure to the '08 Mariners will lead to drunken shenanigans. "If I was not in this situation and I was objectively watching in the past week, I would probably be drinking a lot of beers and booing," Ichiro said through his interpreter. "Usually I enjoy Japanese beer, but given the situation, if I was objectively watching the game, I wouldn't care if it was Japanese beer, American beer or beer from Papua New Guinea."

Chase Utley's on pace for 50 home runs. The record for a second baseman is 42 (shared by Rogers Hornsby and Davey Johnson).

• Tampa Bay's next 12 games could really tell us a lot about baseball's biggest surprise. The Rays have three more games against the White Sox at the Trop, but then they hit the road for nine games against the Red Sox, Rangers and Angels. Not to mention they'll be without closer Troy Percival, who just landed on the disabled list.

• The Cubs swept the Dodgers this week, evening the all-time series at 1,010-1,010.

Roy Oswalt has already allowed more home runs (16) than he did all of last season (14). In fact, he's just two off his career high (18).

Johan Santana may be new to the DH-free National League, but he definitely knows how to handle a bat. Santana hit his fourth double of the season on Tuesday, smacking an Andrew Miller fastball to the opposite-field gap.

• Nobody runs out ground balls harder than Angels OF Reggie Willits.

• The Red Sox got an up-close look at Brandon Morrow's blazing fastball during a three-game set in Seattle, and I don't think they enjoyed the experience. The 23-year-old reliever blew away Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell and Dustin Pedroia in key situations to help Seattle win the series.

Derek Jeter made two uncharacteristic blunders in Tuesday's 10-9 loss to Baltimore. Jeter failed to get a sacrifice bunt down in a key spot and was picked off at second base with Alex Rodriguez at the plate. It was the first time Jeter's been picked off since Sept. 2, 1998. That's a span of 1,424 regular-season games.

Jay Bruce lived up to the staggering hype in his major league debut on Tuesday, going 3-for-3 with two RBIs, two runs and a steal. Following the game he offered an interesting opinion: "It's so much the same as the minors. They've just got bigger stands, more fans and better uniforms." Easy now, rook. Let's not go overboard.

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