Friday, December 3, 2010

The Anti-Prospect GM: Kenny Williams

Everyone loves prospects. Salivating over what they will one day become. They're like babies: unlimited potential. Sadly, like the babies in this analogy, most never realize their full potential.

Nobody in baseball seems to understand this more than Chicago White Sox current General Manager Kenny Williams.

Williams became the General Manager of the White Sox in 2000, and he has built the team into a perrenial contender since. They won the 2005 World Series, and the 2008 AL Central division. Over a period of 10 years, one could call Williams a terrific success as a GM.

What prompted me to write a profile about Williams, is that he seems to HATE prospects, especially his own. In fact, the White Sox began this year without a single prospect in the top-100 in baseball, and then, when Daniel Hudson emerged as an undervalued prospect, Williams traded him too. Let's look at his history:

The first thing that stands out from my research is that Williams and his staff have been TERRIBLE at drafting. I mean, really, really, really bad. Other than 1st-rounder Gordon Beckham (Who has been rumored to be available in trade talks already this winter) Williams has drafted the following collection of standouts in the first round:
-Royce Ring, Brian Anderson, Josh Fields, Lance Broadway, Kyle McCulloch, and Aaron Poreda (I'll leave out his 09/10 drafts as it's too soon to analyze those, but Chris Sale seems to be working out nicely)

Of the 9 1st rounders listed, only Becham is still with the team (for now) and only Ring and Poreda are regular contributors at the Major League level (Fields is with the Royals, but didn't offer much this past season) So it's not much surprise that the White Sox don't exactly have a loaded farm system. Despite that, they manage to convince other teams to trade proven Major League players for "prospects."

Here are some of the current White Sox acquired via trade (When I coul dfind who was dealt for them I listed it in Brackets, former 1st rounders in Bold):

Edwin Jackson (Dan Hudson, David Holmberg)
Juan Pierre (John Ely, Jon Link)
Mark Teahen (Chris Getz, Josh Fields)
Jake Peavy (Aaron Poreda, Clayton Richard, 2 others)
Mark Kotsay (Brian Anderson)
Ramon Castro (Lance Broadway)
Carlos Quentin (Chris Carter)
Gavin Floyd (Freddie Garcia) Gio Gonzalez came to Chicago in this trade, but was dealt for Nick Swisher. Nick Swisher was dealt to NYY and that return has not yielded a Major Leaguer yet.
John Danks (Brandon McCarthy)
Alex Rios (Straight Waiver Claim)

Williams also managed to grab Alexei Ramirez from Cuba, which did not cost him an asset. The White Sox also just gave away another 1st round pick by signing Adam Dunn, so there isn't likely to be another influx of talent in the deep 2011 draft.

Why bother looking so deeply at the GM of another team?

To prove that there are more ways than the draft-and-develop-and-over-value-your-prospects method that some teams (and fans) have been strongly advocating in the past few years. Williams has been surprisingly at or around the $100 Million mark, so he's not spending his way to success. His highest payroll was the 2008 AL Central championship team, coming in at $121 Million.

The other, and more key takeaway is that MOST PROSPECTS FAIL. Unless you plan to offer the argument that the White Sox employ a group of kindergarten children as a scouting staff, it is safe to assume that most of the prospects that Williams has traded away were highly regarded by intelligent baseball minds. Whether that was on draft day, or at another point in their development. Williams seems impervious to having a prospect develop into "the next big thing," yet always seems to extract maximum value for them in trades.

To bring this back to the Toronto Blue Jays: I'm mostly preparing for the outrage that will inevitably occur once Alex Anthopoulos trades away one of his shiny prospect-prizes. If the Jays plan to compete at the Major League level, it will happen. The thing to remember is: Most of them fail anyway.

I'll take a look around at some other GMs over the winter. Epstein is pretty much the opposite of Williams, and he has a couple championships this decade as well, so that might make for a good comparison as well.

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