September 01, 2009
I've seen some suggestions here in Chicago and around the blogosphere that it was GM Kenny Williams who decided to give up on the White Sox season with Monday night's trades of Jim Thome(notes) and Jose Contreras(notes). Some people even seem to be on the verge of calling him a quitter.
But let's get something straight here: It was the White Sox players who inflicted all of the white flag-raising damage on themselves.
Williams is only guilty of a mercy killing — if he in fact killed a team by shedding two veterans who were on their way out anyway..
Having gone 11-17 in August and having lost eight of their last nine, the White Sox haven been broadcasting a clear message that they no longer want to be considered a contender for the AL Central title. Yes, they still stand only six games behind the leading Tigers, but the late-summer collapse has allowed the Twins to transform their selves into another pesky hurdle. Meanwhile, Chicago's odds of making the postseason — as projected by Baseball Prospectus — have fallen so far that not even a gambler of Williams' stature was ready to pull the lever for another month.
This being the South Side of Chicago, there's a natural inclination to compare Monday's cutting with the infamous White Flag trade in 1997. The comparison, however, ends with the locale. The 1997 White Sox were only 3.5 games behind Cleveland with two full months left in the season when they shipped two starters (Wilson Alvarez and Danny Darwin) and their closer (Roberto Hernandez(notes)) to San Francisco. This most recent move involved two aging dinosaurs — one relatively useful, one completely not — that will be free agents after the season. Jim Thome's a surefire Hall of Famer, but he's past the point in his career when trading him could be considered apocalyptic. Were the White Sox's postseason hopes riding squarely on his shoulders? No.
As for those itching to label Williams' pricey acquisitions of Jake Peavy(notes) and Alex Rios(notes) as abject failures, here's a reminder that both moves were also made with an eye toward future years. They could very well end up to be huge mistakes, but they can't be labeled as such after the rest of the team sputtered once the season got to sprint status.
If anyone wants to argue that having Thome and Contreras around for the season's final 30 days was infinitely more valuable than the two prospects they got in return or any possible dollars they'll save for next year, I'm willing to listen. Heck, I'm even open to the idea that keeping Thome was worth saving face with the rest of Major League Baseball, even though prospect Tyler Flowers might now have a chance to get some major league reps.
But when it comes to what Kenny Williams did last night, I think it's pretty clear that the writing was on the wall and Williams just went ahead and acknowledged it. Where's the harm in that?