DURING HISsix-season tenure as the White Sox general manager, Ken Williams has completed51 trades, the most by any G.M. during that span. Boredom, he likes to claim,is the explanation for his tireless wheeling and dealing, but in truth Williamshas an appetite for risk and one of the game's shrewdest eyes for a bargain. Inbuilding the 2005 World Series champs, Williams not only took a chance onunconventional manager Ozzie Guillen but also, perhaps more important, spackledthe cracks in his roster with such underappreciated players as Jose Contreras,Jermaine Dye and A.J. Pierzynski.
That contrarianstreak has driven Williams to take his greatest gamble yet. Exasperated withwhat he calls the "market madness" of this past off-season, he hasbegun a makeover of the White Sox that will almost certainly continue into nextwinter. Unlike the bingeing Cubs, the White Sox took a pass on the latestfree-agent market and have instead been shedding established assets, includingtwo fifths (and very nearly three fifths) of their rotation, a spectacular riskin these pitching-lean times. Williams sent big-game specialist Freddy Garciato the Phillies (for pitching prospects Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez) andyoung, hard-throwing righty Brandon McCarthy to the Rangers (for even youngerlefthander John Danks). He was very close to trading a third starter, JonGarland, to Houston before the deal fell apart because of medical concernsabout one of the Astros involved.
By the start ofnext season, Dye and workhorse lefthander Mark Buehrle, both of whom are in thefinal year of their deals, are likely to be gone. (According to sources, Dye,33, recently cited the six-year, $100 million free-agent deal Carlos Lee signedwith Houston in November as a fair barometer of his worth.) Though he is not afree agent until after the '08 season, slick-fielding third baseman Joe Credeis a candidate to be moved next winter to make room for top prospect JoshFields.
Williams has beenspoiled by the top-tier talent he's been able to sign at ridiculouslyreasonable prices. Dye is making $7 million this season, and last year theWhite Sox got the Phillies to take on nearly half of the $46 million owed toJim Thome (42 homers in '06) through '08. "I look for a market correctionin the very near future," Williams says. "This madness can't continueat this rate."
Thelate-blossoming Dye is more likely to get his big payday with the Angels or theRangers, whose new manager, Ron Washington, is a close friend. Twice lastseason Buehrle turned down a three-year, $35 million extension to stay inChicago. Though Buehrle went 3--7 with a 6.44 ERA in a dreadful second halfduring which he lost velocity and command, his price surely has shot up; bothsides have publicly conceded that the lefty is virtually a goner, with theCardinals a good possibility to sign the Missouri native.
Not that theWhite Sox are to be confused with the Marlins. The payroll is $109 million.Williams, understandably, scoffs at the idea that he's running the Tight Sox."In Chicago they say we're pinching pennies. Yeah, we're pinching $100million [worth]." There is one player for whom the White Sox might bewilling to break the bank. According to league sources, Chicago was among themost aggressive of at least eight teams to make a run at Alex Rodriguez lastsummer. If A-Rod opts out of the remaining three years of his 10-year, $252million deal at the end of the season, don't rule out another run. More likely,though, Williams will continue to parlay the overspending of his peers intosuch discount pickups as Contreras and Thome. "We won with our payroll at$75 million," he jokes. "Maybe we should get back to $75million."
Guillen (left) is just one of Williams's bold hires.