Commentary: Review of the 2002-03 Offseason

In 2000, the White Sox won 95 games and the American League Central. Incredibly, they did this with a young group of guys. When Kenny Williams assumed this team after that magical season, it seemed like everything was going to go his way. Not only were the Sox stacked with talent at the big league level, but the farm system that Williams had played an integral part of building was also bursting at the seams with pitching prospects.

All in all, even though the 2000 season ended bittersweet with a sweep at the hands of the Mariners, Sox fans had a right to be cocky. After 80 some odd years, it seemed that the curse was finally up.

And then it all went wrong.

In two full seasons as general manager, Williams has watched the Sox fall from 95 wins, to 83 in 2001, and 81 in '02. While injuries and Jerry Reinsdorf clutching to those purse strings have played a part in this, Williams cannot go without fault. He's repeatedly made stupid decisions that have affected the team negatively on the field. Fiascos like Royce Clayton, Todd Ritchie and David Wells have marred his first two seasons. It is safe to say that Williams has earned, at best, a D for his freshman and sophomore years of general managing.

However, it is appearing that he has rebounded. Unwilling to give up, which I must admit is admirable, again Williams has taken a very aggressive approach to putting together a championship caliber team. So, as the gentle spring breezes prepare to give way to the overbearing summer heat, it's time to take a preseason look at the moves the man has made.

RHP Keith Foulke, C Mark Johnson and RHP Joe Valentine to Oakland for RHP Bill Koch, LHP Neal Cotts and OF Daylan Holt
Grade… C-

Why, Kenny? Why? It would make more sense to have John Mayer open for OzzFest than to pull the trigger on this deal. While, yes, it is true that Foulke had a horrid first half, but he was also jerked around by Jerry Manuel the remainder of the season, leaving his jaw-dropping statistics lost in the fury of debate as to whether or not Foulke still had his edge.

And so what does Williams do? In what could turn out to be another vintage Kenny deal, he ships him along with an intriguing pitching prospect and the team's best catcher to Oakland for "Wild" Billy Koch and two guys you didn't know existed.

D'oh!

Granted, Foulke and Koch are probably going to be a wash. There are numerous question marks surrounding both. Can Foulke regain his status as an elite closer? What's with his seeming inability to close a big game? Why are both the "u" and the "e" silent? As for Koch, while he is a flame-thrower, it is quite disturbing to see his BB/K ratio hovering around 1:2.

The best case scenario for both the Sox and A's is to see both Foulke and Koch pitch at a level they are capable of, although it wouldn't totally shock anyone who's paying attention to watch one (or both) of them fall completely off the wagon. Unfortunately, the stats point to Koch as being the one with the slippery grip on being a "proven closer."

This trade really stinks because of Mark Johnson. If Williams isn't hell-bent on showing some baseball ineptitude, he's sure doing a bad job of it. No, I'm not the founder (and lone member) of the Mark Johnson fan club, but given the options we now have behind the dish, which is looking more and more like Sandy Alomar and Josh Paul, I think we can all find renewed appreciation for Johnson. When all is said and done, he's a left-hander with moderate plate discipline, but unlike Alomar, doesn't squeak, snap, crackle and pop while trying to squat. And unlike Josh Paul, he isn't quite possibly the worst catcher in baseball. Realistically, Paul barely qualifies as a pseudo-catcher. Likely Williams was expecting Olivo to step up and establish himself as the starting catcher, but it is obvious he is still unprepared for such a daunting task.

As for the prospects, it's far too early to tell. Valentine had a hell of a year in Birmingham last year, but he could very well be replaced by anyone. The additions and subtractions to the minor leagues made in this deal are very unimportant.

Now, Kenny is reportedly in the market for a left-handed catcher. (Pause to let that sink in). Luckily, just when you thought you had to get the antacids out…

LHP Orlando Hernandez from New York for RHPs Antonio Osuna and Delvis Lantigua; RHP Bartolo Colon and SS Jorge Nunez from Montreal for Hernandez, OF Jeff Liefer, and RHP Rocky Biddle.
Grade… A+

You know… I don't know how someone goes from making the Koch/Foulke deal to doing that… But I don't care. The addition of Colon now gives the team a staff shaping up to look like Buehrle/Colon/Garland/Loaizia/Wright… This looks a hell of a lot better than Buehrle/Garland/Loaizia/Wright/Rauch. Suddenly the starting pitching went from a weakness to a strength. Colon, a right handed power pitcher, is the perfect compliment to the crafty lefty, Buehrle.

Getting Bartolo Colon would have been enough to make me giddy. Adding one of the top pitchers into your staff is never a bad thing, but the best part was he cost us absolutely nothing! Even if Colon turns out to be a bust, there's no way this deal comes back to haunt Williams the same way Todd Ritchie did last year, unless Jeff Liefer blossoms into a .320/35/150 hitter (like he believes he can) and Rocky Biddle puts up Cy Young numbers. With all apologizes to the late, great John Candy, you're more likely to play pick-up sticks with your butt cheeks than have that happen.

The Colon deal is win-win-win for the Sox. Adding a 20-game winner with an ERA under 3.00 is never a bad thing. Adding him for a back-of-the-end starter and a decent reliever is even better, and cleaning Jeff Liefer out is the frosting on the cake. I never would have expected Leifer to ever contribute anything positive to this organization, and was I ever proved wrong or what?

While there is still speculation that Yankees GM Brian Cashman was the real mastermind behind the deal to keep Colon from landing in Boston and teaming up with Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, Williams still deserves some props. The man had his eye on Colon since the winter meetings and obviously, shrewdly, played his cards and then let Bartolo fall in his lap. Thanks to Omar Minaya, a GM even more incompetent than our own, and the ability of the Yankees to do whatever they want, the White Sox have ended up with a staff that could rival the one from 1993. In off-season that saw the Braves deal Kevin Milwood to Philadelphia for Johnny Estrada, I was very afraid Williams would need to take out a mortgage on U.S. Cellular Field before he would ever land a top-notch starter.

Signed Brian Daubach
Grade… A

While Kenny may still induce bouts of indigestion and heartburn with his deals, he has become much wiser with the free agents. Brian Daubach is a perfect example of this. Daubach could start for most teams in the outfield, as a DH or at first base (positions neatly filled by Carlos Lee, Magglio Ordonez, Frank Thomas and Paul Konerko). This gives the team immense flexibility and a back-up in case something should happen to someone. Think of Daubach as Jeff Liefer -- with baseball skills.

Daubach really highlights something that has impressed me about Williams this off-season; His newfound ability to scout Major League talent. At the end of last year, I was all in favor of having Williams demoted back to his position as head of the farm system. Williams has shown an astute eye for prospects and turned several bad veterans into something moldable towards the trading deadline. It was under him that the Sox became cluttered with big-time pitching prospects. I honestly felt that Williams still had assets to this organization, just not at the game's highest level. However, this year, he's turned into a regular thief, snatching a few free agents that could play vital roles in a run for the pennant. If Williams can overcome his inability to accurately gauge Major League talent, he may have turned a corner in his career as a general manager.

Signed Esteban Loaizia
Grade… B

While Loaizia has been a pleasant surprise this spring, I have my reservations as to whether he will be pitching at a level anywhere near what he's been. Still, if Loaizia eats up 150+ innings and posts an ERA around 4.50, I will be satisfied. Feel free to improve on those numbers if you want, however.

Signed Armando Rios
Grade… B-

Nothing against Rios, who is a solid pickup; however, health concerns, overall talent and clubhouse demeanor are red flags that pop up whenever one mentions his name. If Armando is going to become a solid backup he will desperately need to improve his power. Last year in Pittsburgh he managed to crank out one whopping home run and slugged .332. To be fair, Armando has been nagged by constant knee problems, but if he can overcome these he may prove to be valuable.

Signed Tom Gordon
Grade… B

I have nothing against Tom Gordon aside from the fact that I have feelings that he will scare the bejesus out of me. However, upon further inspection, Gordon's numbers have rivaled those of Antonio Osuna, who was just fine in the 'pen last year. Talent-wise, Gordon is a solid pickup and can play a useful role in the bullpen. Whether or not his body will be able to ride out a full season is a concern, as is his clubhouse presence. The jury is out.

Signed Rick White
Grade… D

I don't know how much Rick is making, but if Kenny wants to pay me his salary to just put balls on a tee for the opposition, he sure as hell can. White has been a disaster (to say the least) this spring. Now, I know this is a time for testing new things out and just getting back into playing shape, but eventually you should try and get people out. While White has leveled off since opening the preseason horrendously, he has not garnered any of my trust, and until he does, I will be sweating bullets every time he trots in from left field.

Signed Gil Heredia
Grade… N/A

I'm as big a Williams basher as there is out there, but even I see that talking about this is just mean.

So I guess with a little help from friends and what seems to be a greater ability to find veterans with talent, Williams and the Sox are again riding high, hoping that everything once again falls into place. Can it happen? Sure. The Sox still return a lot of the offense that scored the third most runs in the American League in 2002 and have a lineup that has the potential to feature six players capable of clubbing 20-25 home runs minimum: 1B-Paul Konerko, 3B-Joe Crede, SS-Jose Valentin, LF-Carlos Lee, RF-Magglio Ordonez, DH-Frank Thomas. If Jimenez can be an adequate lead-off man and someone in this franchise learns how to catch, this offense could be downright terrifying. Likewise, the pitching staff is looking up. Both anchors at the top are looking good and Jon Garland and Esteban Loaizia have turned heads. If they, teamed with Dan Wright, can all win 8-15 games each (and each has the potential to do so), this team is simply mortifying. Realistically, however, this could be a disappointing year on the South Side. No one could lead off, the rotation could be a mess after 1-2 -- or even worse, one of the two horses could go down -- and the bullpen could collapse. But why think about the negative? Right now everyone is 0-0 and in first place. Unlike previous years, however, Williams has made moves this off-season that could actually help keep the White Sox atop the division instead of looking up.

Go Sox!

A Sox fan since birth, Matt was raised in the middle of Cubbie Kingdom on the Northwest Side of Chicago. He now attends school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois as a History/Secondary Education Major. He enjoys towels, microwavable dinners and classical music cell phone ringers. Questions, comments and general deep thoughts are always welcome to matt@soxnet.net


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