White Sox's Williams' Shows His Creativity




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CHICAGO—Few teams entered 2012 with a bleaker outlook, both for the immediate and distant future, than the White Sox. About the best thing they had going for them was that they weren't the Astros.

Since the 2006 all-star break, Chicago had more losses than wins and had qualified for the playoffs just once. It kept adding to its major league payroll and spending less on the draft and international amateurs.

Despite paying a franchise-record $126 million on big league salaries in 2011, the White Sox stumbled to a 79-83 finish. With $103 million tied up in contracts for Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy and Alex Rios, and all three coming off disastrous seasons, general manager Ken Williams didn't have many options to get the payroll back under control last offseason. He settled for trading his second-best hitter, Carlos Quentin, and his closer, Sergio Santos, getting marginal prospects in return.

Slicing $29 million from a mediocre big league club and asking baseball's lowest-rated farm system to provide reinforcements wasn't a formula for success. Mitt Romney had a better chance of carrying Illinois than Chicago did of capturing the American League Central.

Yet with three weeks left in the season, the White Sox owned a two-game lead over the Tigers. Williams once again has shown the resourcefulness that ended Chicago's 88-year World Series drought in 2005.

Building From Scratch

With Santos jettisoned to the Blue Jays and heir apparent Chris Sale moved to the rotation—where he immediately became a Cy Young candidate—Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton were the only holdovers in the relief corps. Undaunted, Williams turned to his much-maligned farm system.

No. 1 prospect Addison Reed became the closer in May, and while he has had his ups and downs, he has converted 26 of his 30 save opportunities. Under the tutelage of Don Cooper, who just might be the majors' best pitching coach, Nate Jones has harnessed his power stuff and contributed a 7-0 record and six saves. Hector Santiago, a 30th-round draft-and-follow from 2006, has given Chicago a second lefty with swing-and-miss stuff to go with Thornton.

Speaking of southpaws, when John Danks went down with a torn shoulder muscle in late May, the White Sox replaced him with Jose Quintana. Though Quintana hadn't pitched above high Class A, Williams gave him a 40-man roster spot to land him as a minor league free agent last November. Quintana has repaid him with 10 quality starts in 19 tries.

Williams added to his pitching staff during the season as well, acquiring Brett Myers from the Astros and Francisco Liriano from the Twins. True, Houston and Minnesota wanted to dump salary, but Williams was able to supplement his rotation and bullpen in exchange for shortstop Eduardo Escobar, lefthanders Pedro Hernandez and Blair Walters and righties Chris Devenski and Matt Heidenreich, none of whom will be missed.

Likewise, when Kevin Youkilis became expendable in Boston, Williams moved to upgrade an ineffective Orlando Hudson/Brent Morel pairing at third base. That deal cost him only a pair of disposable big leaguers, Brent Lillibridge and Zach Stewart.

Williams will have to make more moves going forward, because he has one of baseball's oldest starting lineups and a farm system that's still lacking potential everyday position players and frontline starters. Yet there's hope that the White Sox eventually will build more from within because they're no longer pinching pennies with amateur talent.

During the five years of the previous labor agreement, which featured runaway draft inflation, the White Sox spent just $18.3 million on the draft. That was barely half of the industry average, and they got what they paid for. With the exception of Sale, most of the best players Chicago drafted either got traded (David Holmberg, Daniel Hudson) or didn't sign (C.J. Cron, Brian Goodwin).

The scouting department had a near-impossible mandate to fulfill, seeking high-ceiling players that Williams wanted while staying under tight budgets dictated by owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who decries the rise in draft bonuses. When the new labor deal dramatically modified draft rules, the White Sox did the same with their philosophy.

Assigned a bonus pool of $5,915,000 for the first 10 rounds, they spent every penny of it. Their total outlay of $6.5 million nearly matched what they spent in 2010 and 2011 combined. First-round pick Courtney Hawkins got the third-highest draft bonus in franchise history ($2.475 million) and immediately became the system's top prospect.

The team also is a player again internationally, which hadn't been true since former senior director of player personnel Dave Wilder and two scouts were nabbed taking $400,000 in kickbacks from prospects in 2008. Williams hired Blue Jays director of Latin American operations Marco Paddy last November, and Chicago signed four Dominicans this summer, notably third baseman Luis Castillo.

While the White Sox have altered their approach to pursuing amateur talent, Williams' aggressiveness doesn't figure to change. And he should have more ammunition to work with going forward.