Have Kenny Williams and the Chicago White Sox stepped away from the ledge?
That seems to be the consensus after news of John Danks' multi-year extension broke late on Thursday night. The five-year, $65 million deal effectively ends the trade talks that had swirled around the 26-year-old left-hander and rates as the complete opposite of trading closer Sergio Santos to the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this month.
Yet while everyone wants to label this as Williams putting away the kerosene and halting the fire sale, I can't help but see the extension as something that Williams made necessary by his past missteps.
I also see it as a great move.
While the idea of an all-in rebuild might seem like a good idea after a failed "all-in" season, it doesn't change the fact that the White Sox need pitchers to throw innings in 2012 and beyond. A young trio of Clayton Richard, Daniel Hudson and Chris Sale might have solved that problem, but Williams' backfiring trades for Jake Peavy and Edwin Jackson took the first two names out of that mix. With an insane pitching market sweeping Mark Buehrle from the South Side to South Beach, that left Chicago's rotation without a de facto "ace."
OK, so rebuilding teams aren't supposed to have "aces." They're supposed to take the valuable pieces they do have and flip them for young talent to restock the system. But as Getting Blanked's Dustin Parkes points out, the turnaround time to be a contender in the AL Central is a lot shorter than in other divisions. And as a larger market team, the White Sox have the luxury of being able to hang on to the core pieces they wish to keep.
Good and young left-handed arms, after all, aren't exactly baseball's most plentiful resource. Williams may have been able to orchestrate a haul for Danks after the Mat Latos trade, but to what end? On the hope that one of the pitching prospects might mature to the spot where Danks now finds himself?
With Danks, the White Sox are retaining a pitcher who's used to eating innings and likely came a bit cheaper after a disappointing 2011 season. That last part is the only reason I can find to explain Jerry Reinsdorf setting aside his famous aversion to long contracts for pitchers and greenlighting the deal. Indeed, $65 million doesn't seem like that much. Not when compared to the other big deal signed by Derrick Rose in Chicago on Wednesday.
And not when you look at the stats Danks needs to post to keep earning his keep.
"On the surface, the price to retain Danks doesn't seem exorbitant," Chris Cwik writes on Fangraphs. "To live up to the $65 million deal, Danks would have to post about 2.5 WAR every season for the next five years. In each of the past four seasons, Danks' lowest single season WAR total has been 2.9 — so he's certainly capable of maintaining the proper level of success over multiple seasons."
Williams still has plenty of options, too. Gavin Floyd and Carlos Quentin remain valuable trade chips and could bring back some prospects while offering payroll relief. Same goes for Matt Thornton. Just because Danks got new paper doesn't mean they also have to stick around.
Over the past few years of Williams' trades and signings, there was a concern in the back of my head that his recklessness would eventually lead the team to a spot where it couldn't afford what could be the bedrock of its rotation for the forseeable future. But with Reinsdorf giving the go-ahead on one of the team's smarter signings in recent memory, the White Sox can approach this rebuilding period with a pretty decent core consisting of Danks, Sale, Dayan Viciedo and Alexei Ramirez.