July 26, 2002
The Daily Prospectus
Time to Go, Kenny
I stumbled in around 3 a.m. last night after the longest Pizza Feed we've ever had and a very late dinner in midtown. As I do no matter when I get home, I fired up the laptop to see what I'd missed while I was away, and saw that Ray Durham had been traded to the A's for a failed Yankees prospect from the late 1980s.
Oh, Jon Adkins. Well, I had no idea who he was, but at least he wasn't Steve Adkins. He's a non-prospect, though, a 24-year-old with an ERA of 6.03 at Sacramento. It's a great trade for the A's, who need the OBP injection Durham provides at the top of the lineup.
In the wake of the deal, the idea of playing Durham in center field has been floated. It's a bad one. Yes, Mark Ellis has played better than Terrence Long has, but asking Durham to do on-the-job training in the middle of a pennant race with a new team is a recipe for disaster. As bad a center fielder as Long is, moving him to let Durham roam out there doesn't help the situation, and probably hurts it. Durham is a very good solution for the second base and leadoff problems; the A's should let him be those things without risking injury or embarrassment.
Is there any general manager who has done less with more than Kenny Williams has done in the last 20 months? He inherited a division winner with a low payroll, a core of good young players and a farm system bursting at the seams with talent. Under his watch, the team has shed talent like my wife's cat Ashley sheds hair, while adding payroll and bad players like an Angelos on speed.
Has there been some bad fortune? Sure. Frank Thomas missed most of 2001, and his bat has missed most of 2002. The Sox bullpen has been beset by injuries--Bill Simas, Kelly Wunsch, Antonio Osuna--while the healthy pitchers have lost a considerable amount of effectiveness--Keith Foulke, Bobby Howry. Jerry Manuel hasn't handled the problems well, in particular losing faith in Foulke this season.
That said, the White Sox should have been able to handle these issues. They had organizational depth with which to fill holes and, if necessary, trade for good players. Williams didn't do that: he spent money badly and used the fruits of the farm system to feed his veteran fetish. Don't you think Kip Wells and Josh Fogg would look better than Todd Ritchie has in the Sox rotation? Williams has relentlessly traded young players for old ones, and is left with a below-.500 team that has been reduced to dumping two months' worth of a moderate salary for a Triple-A non-prospect.
Is Williams the game's worst GM? I'm beginning to think so, given that all the other candidates (Syd Thrift, Allard Baird, Chuck LaMar) have some positives on their resume. Thrift has actually done a good job of finding free talent for this year's Orioles team (Rodrigo Lopez, among others), while Baird has learned a bit about sunk costs. LaMar... OK, it's hard to think of much good to say about Chuck LaMar.
What positive things has Williams done? Chris Singleton for Willie Harris looks like a decent trade. Picking up Antonio Osuna from the Dodgers hasn't worked out badly. Jose Canseco played well after being signed last year. These moves collectively don't cancel out any one of the disastrous trades Williams made in which the Sox got older, lost depth and kept the fruits of their farm system from making contributions.
Jerry Manuel will take the fall for this one, but it's mostly Kenny Williams' fault. If the Sox are going to get back on track, it's going to start with Williams' dismissal and the hiring of a competent general manager.
Thanks to everyone who attended the Pizza Feeds in Manhattan the past two nights. I had a great time, as did Greg Spira and Doug Pappas. Special thanks also to David Schoenfield of ESPN.com and Alan Schwarz of Baseball America, who took time out of their busy schedules to meet some of BP's readership.
Our next Pizza Feed in L.A. is next month. Details to follow next week. Gary's having one in NorCal next week, and Chicago readers--heh, I made a funny--don't worry: we're going to have one there Real Soon Now.