Williams adapting to tough offseason
Sox GM three-quarters of the way to achieving club's aims
CHICAGO -- White Sox fans look at the offseason moves put forth by their beloved organization, coming on the heels of last year's disappointing 72-90 season, and the word frustration occupies much of the analysis.
Actually, with each major outfield name disappearing from the free-agent landscape, disappointment and frustration are the most suitable and tamest words to be used in front of a general audience that might include young readers. Not surprisingly, general manager Ken Williams, the primary architect of his team's Hot Stove additions and near-misses, views the big picture with quite a bit more optimism.
Williams set out to achieve four personnel goals when the White Sox offseason began, determined to not let what happened to the South Siders during the 2007 season transpire again. Three of those targets have been hit dead on, but the four misses on target No. 4 -- a new outfielder -- have caused the bulk of the public consternation.
"We wanted to upgrade at shortstop, get a setup guy for the bullpen, acquire Carlos Quentin -- and not a guy like him, but actually Carlos Quentin -- and address our center field position," Williams said. "So, we are three out of four, and generally, you feel good about three out of four.
"But I'm not satisfied. The bottom line is there are a couple of things we haven't gotten done, but it's still a work in progress."
These comments came from Williams on Wednesday night, just hours after two more center field targets were crossed off the White Sox holiday shopping list. Kosuke Fukudome, a talented left-handed hitter and solid defensive player from Japan, characterized as a cross between Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, and compared favorably to Seattle's Raul Ibanez, agreed to a reported four-year, $48 million deal with the Cubs.
Aaron Rowand, an emotional leader of Chicago's 2005 World Series champions and still an iconic figure in the city, came to terms with the Giants on a reported five-year, $60 million contract. Let the criticism of Williams commence or continue.
Judging Williams harshly by simply looking at the misses with namely Fukudome, Rowand and Torii Hunter might be too much the case of attacking final results without first reviewing the process. In the case of Fukudome, Williams understood that the White Sox made the highest offer among the interested teams. Fukudome simply wanted to be the first Japanese player for a particular franchise, an honor already belonging to Shingo Takatsu with the White Sox, and had a desire to stay in right field. Shigetoshi Hasegawa also gave Fukudome a strong recommendation for Cubs manager Lou Piniella from their days together in Seattle.
"Economics, at the end of the day, did not necessarily play a role in this," Fukudome's agent Joe Urbon said. "It's unfair to characterize the other Chicago team [the White Sox] as not putting its best foot forward, which they did, as did the San Diego Padres, as did a few other clubs."
"That was a choice," added Williams of Fukudome. "It was a position choice on his part and a desire to be the first Japanese player in franchise history and a chance to win a championship for that franchise. We've done it already."
As for Rowand, Williams made contact with the hard-nosed center fielder early on in the free-agent process, but the two sides stayed apart from start to finish in regard to the contractual years. Rowand wanted five, which he received from the Giants, while Williams had set the limit at four years.
Of course, the logical follow-up question would be why couldn't Williams give that extra year to a 2007 All-Star and Gold Glove winner who was such an important part of White Sox lore? Williams chose not to specifically address that particular decision.
|"I'm not satisfied. The bottom line is there are a couple of things we haven't gotten done, but it's still a work in progress."|
-- White Sox GM|
After the initial talk with Rowand, Williams began his pursuit of Hunter. It was Hunter's 11th-hour decision to sign a five-year, $90 million deal with the Angels that ultimately lies at the core of the animosity directed toward Williams' moves.
Hunter's expected signing with the White Sox immediately turned the team's pursuit of Miguel Cabrera into an aggressive move that was unsuccessful, "something on the side that developed and something we never believed that would materialize anyway," according to Williams. Instead, Cabrera joins the list of perceived misses that begins with Hunter.
"Okay, it didn't happen," said Williams of Hunter. "I'm not sure what we could have done, short of anything up to offering $90 million, and we don't have those kind of resources."
The White Sox will continue to look for a center field upgrade via the trade route, with Coco Crisp a possibility, hinging on Boston's ability to acquire Minnesota ace Johan Santana. Williams also cautioned that the White Sox are not in dire straits at this position, with Jerry Owens showing the ability to be a catalyst in the second half of last season.
Where the White Sox fans' current disdain is concerned, Williams understands the passion and frustration coming from putting your heart and soul into a team. He will accept the responsibility, even with the prevailing thought that three-fourths of his offseason plan has been accomplished, and continue trying to improve the White Sox.
"Lost in it all is the fact that we still have a nice balance with young guys combined with All-Star-type players. We still have a pretty darn good baseball team," Williams said. "If the Tigers hadn't done what they did, I don't know if we would be facing some of this.
"It's not a good day for us, obviously. But I'd say we must have done something right, built up some sort of credibility, for a long period of time to have so much passion -- even at a time that I'm largely the guy it will fall upon."
Non-tenders: Left-handed starter Heath Phillips, who was designated for assignment to make room for Quentin on the 40-man roster, and utility infielder Andy Gonzalez were not tendered 2008 contracts on Wednesday. Phillips won 13 games for Triple-A Charlotte last season, while Gonzalez hit .185 for the White Sox.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.