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News » Sox' struggles start at the top


Sox' struggles start at the top


Sox' struggles start at the top
Ken Williams has said it, just like every other general manager in the major leagues: ''Some of the best deals are the ones you never make.''

Of course, you never hear these guys say that some of the worst deals are the ones they actually do make. Every GM has a Todd Ritchie deal he would prefer to forget.

Williams is coming off an offseason in which his moves are under the most scrutiny since his prize in a Shouldergate saga eight years ago was an overgrown dud named David Wells. The White Sox look like a club that still needs another two weeks of camp after the longest spring training on record.

The pitching has been OK, if you can see past all of the red flags raised by a rotation that's 11-14 with a 5.31 ERA. The hitting has been an embarrassment, scoring the fewest runs in the American League. And in the field, the Sox don't catch the ball particularly well. It's no surprise this team is 15-18.

All of this brings us back to the offseason, when a remarkably confident Williams was explaining how a sudden infusion of young talent wasn't a rebuilding project but a necessary process of helping an aging core by easing in a new core. His moves were designed to make sense for the future -- and for now.

And maybe they will turn out that way. Consider: Thirty-three games into last season, the Sox were 15-18. An '08 team that looked to be a mess got it together to win the division title.

Now raise your hand if you think the '09 Sox have the talent to make the same kind of mid-May to October leap.

At least last season, they had more proven talent. Judging from what we have seen this year, the Sox are pinning their hopes on a crop of young players making a Tampa Bay Rays-style splash in their first season. It's rare when multiple young players sizzle for a whole season, and we're seeing that reality play out on the South Side. Second baseman Chris Getz is about the only one following Williams' script, and he's hitting .256.

Times like these make it easy to pine for all the veterans Williams let get away in the offseason: Javier Vazquez, Joe Crede, Orlando Cabrera and Nick Swisher.

If you're feeling that way -- stop.

ONLY CABRERA'S LOSS HURTS

No one has questioned Williams' moves over the years more than I have -- just ask the Sox GM, who evidently keeps score. In this case, I find it hard to quibble with the players Williams let go. Maybe the one that will hurt the most -- and it's hard to even write this -- is Cabrera, the least likable player on the South Side since Wells was roaming the Sox clubhouse in 2001.

Despite his calls to the press box to erase his errors, and despite his lonely man act sitting in that farthest corner of the dugout, Cabrera produced. The veteran shortstop stepped into the leadoff role and did a good enough job to get the Sox on a winning track. His defense backed a pitching staff that appreciated the extra leather. He even had a swagger that too many of his teammates lost.

Most important, he knew what it was like to play in a heated race and he knew what it was like to have success in the postseason.

But Cabrera's exit was mostly out of Williams' control. Even if the Sox wanted the free agent back -- and they didn't -- Cabrera desperately wanted out of Chicago.

The next name we keep hearing is Vazquez. The Atlanta Braves right-hander is 3-3 with a 3.88 ERA entering his eighth start tonight. Would Vazquez have made a difference in the first 33 games? Probably. But over the long haul, the Sox will be better off without him.

Though his remaining contract -- $11.5 million this season and another $11.5 million next -- was a big factor in the trade, there was something larger at stake. Vazquez couldn't come back and pitch for manager Ozzie Guillen again.

Oh, he could have made those early-season starts against the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals. But he never would be able to pitch for Guillen again in a big game. And if you're gunning for it all, the big games are hard to avoid -- just take a look at Vazquez's work down the stretch in 2008. Time and again, he failed to prove to Guillen he was a big-game pitcher.

This was too big a mental roadblock to overcome. It's the same reason left-hander Scott Eyre couldn't do anything for Cubs manager Lou Piniella last season, but suddenly was unhittable working for Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. Guys like Vazquez and Eyre need their managers to believe in them.

How about Nick Swisher? He got off to a great start with the New York Yankees. Though he has cooled considerably -- three hits in his last 30 at-bats entering Thursday -- Swisher had eight home runs and 22 RBI.

The problem here is Swisher wouldn't have had a position entering this season with the Sox . He would have been a fourth outfielder. Yes, that's the same scenario he faced after his trade to New York, but he was coming to a different team -- the Yankees and all their established veterans who wouldn't put up with his frat-boy antics. He had to be humble there.

In Chicago, we would have seen more of the moping that got him benched down the stretch. He's a hot-and-cold player who was too much of a headache when his temperature dropped in Chicago.

CREDE TOO BIG A RISK

The sentimental favorite is Crede. After a slow start, the All-Star third baseman has 16 hits, 12 RBI and four home runs in his last 13 games with the Minnesota Twins. His replacement on the South Side, Josh Fields, got off to a fast start, but has hit a dip, going hitless in his last nine at-bats.

Fields, 26, has just two home runs and 12 RBI in 30 games. Crede, 31, is hitting .237 and has five home runs and 15 RBI in 26 games. The biggest part of Crede's game is defense, and he enjoys an overwhelming edge over Fields. Crede has one error and a .985 fielding percentage -- tops among AL third basemen; Fields has five errors and a .943 percentage -- only the Mariners' Adrian Beltre, with seven errors and a .929 fielding percentage, has worse numbers among AL third basemen.

But Crede was a free agent whose surgically repaired back was too big a risk for the Sox . Even with an incentive-heavy contract, the Sox couldn't afford another gamble on Crede. Crede was a postseason star in 2005. But it was time to let him go. The bet here is Fields winds up playing in more games than Crede does.

Sizing up Williams' offseason, you must remember he was given less money to play with for 2009. All in all, he did the right things.

Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you make.

Comment at suntimes.com.

THE FOUR WHO ARE GONE

Yes, these players might have made a difference this year, but it's hard to be upset over their departures.

Javier Vazquez

rhp

age: 32

Orlando Cabrera

ss

age: 34

Nick Swisher

of/1b

age: 28

Joe Crede

3b

age: 31

2009 STATS WITH ATLANTA

3-3, 3.88 ERA, 57 SO, 11 BB

2009 stats with Oakland

.237 Avg., 15 R, 10 RBI, .287 OBP

2009 stats with N.Y. Yankees

.248 Avg., 8 HR, 22 RBI, .381 OBP

2009 stats with Minnesota

.237 Avg., 5 HR, 15 RBI, .302 OBP

AT THE HELM

How the Sox have done during Ken Williams' tenure as GM:

2001 83-79 3rd

2002 81-81 2nd

2003 86-76 2nd

2004 83-79 2nd

2005 99-63 1st*

2006 90-72 3rd

2007 72-90 4th

2008 89-74 1st**

2009 15-18 4th

*--Won World Series 4-0 over Houston; won ALCS 4-1 over L.A.; won ALDS 3-0 over Boston

**--Lost ALDS 3-1 to Tampa Bay

HISTORY LESSON

The recent GMs before Williams:

Ron Schueler 1990-2000

Larry Himes 1986-1990

Ken Harrelson 1985-1986

Roland Hemond 1970-1985

Ed Short 1961-1970


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 15, 2009

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