Present Talent – 80.45 (T-11th)
Future Talent – 65.00 (T-27th)
Financial Resources – 81.67 (T-9th)
Baseball Operations – 80.45 (12th)
Overall Rating – 78.50
When it comes to the product on the field, the White Sox continue to be above average, as they have throughout much of the Kenny Williams Era. Occasionally, they produce great teams (the 2005 World Series team) and duds (2007’s 72-90 clunker). However, the best bet for a Kenny Williams’ White Sox team is competency as opposed to greatness or mediocrity – his teams have won an average of 85 games per season since he took the reins prior to the 2001 season.
It’s not terribly difficult to understand why Williams’ teams follow this trend when we look at his general-managerial history. Williams will hit some home runs – see the Alex Rios waiver claim or the Freddy Garcia for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez trade. However, those big-impact deals can be nullified by misplays of the market, such as when the Sox took on Jake Peavy and his entirely undesirable contract while giving up four minor leaguers (including Clayton Richard) for the right to do so. Peavy only pitched 107 innings for the Sox in 2010 and is already on the shelf to begin the 2011 season.
The winter of 2011 didn’t see much turnover, but the few changes could impact the team greatly. Bobby Jenks departed in a rather unceremonious fashion. The White Sox bullpen will miss him, as would any other, but the way is now clear for Matt Thornton‘s deserved ascension to the closer’s role. Andruw Jones and Mark Kotsay are gone as designated hitters, clearing the way for the big acquisition of the winter, Adam Dunn. The addition of Dunn to a White Sox team which already scored runs at an above-average clip should turn the group into the best run-producing unit in the division. Signing Dunn represents a bit of a break from the norm for the White Sox, who typically eschew high-strikeout players like Dunn for other types of players. However, suffering through a year of Mark Kotsay at DH bludgeoned home the fact that the current strategy just wasn’t working.
With a baseball operations staff that has been together for so long and maintained a good amount of success, Chicago has earned an above-average rank in that category. Even during stretches where the farm system isn’t producing much MLB talent, Williams’ front office can maneuver three markets successfully: the trade market, the domestic free-agent market, and one of his better weapons, the international free-agent market. The 2011 version of the White Sox carry at least one and potentially two major contributors who were acquired via international free agency: Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo. If the White Sox could avoid busts like the Peavy deal, this group could move in to the top 10. As is, they will have to settle for 12th.
Williams and his team (including assistant GM Rick Hahn, who basically stole the show at one of our FanGraphs events in Arizona) will likely need to be creative to replenish lost talent over the next few years. The White Sox were the owners of the lowest-ranked farm system in baseball prior to the Brewers’ acquisitions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, which pushed Milwaukee well into last place. The top of Chicago’s farm system has some decent talent, but the quality drops off sharply after the top five or so. Throw in the White Sox’s undesirable position in the upcoming draft – no picks in the first or supplemental rounds – and the farm system could remain poor for at least a couple years. It is this potential for a drought in the farm which drags the White Sox back to the pack a bit, as they rank fairly highly in every other category.
Luckily, as long as the player development crew can push a few contributors out of the system, the White Sox have the finances to buy a good amount of talent. For the fifth time in the last six years, the White Sox payroll will eclipse $100 million, and with $93.5 million on the books already for 2012, that number may never fall below $100 million again. The White Sox are in a big market and they act like it. Even if they may not have the financial pull that the Yankees or even Boston carry, they will be able to get their man in a large majority of free-agent contract negotiations. The extra money in the coffers has also allowed the Sox to bring in international free agents like Viciedo and Ramirez, as well.
The next few years will be interesting for the White Sox and their fans. The talent on the field should be enough to compete in the AL Central, if not be the Opening Day favorites. After this year, things will get interesting, as many of their current regulars are 30 or older, including Paul Konerko, Mark Buehrle, Jake Peavy, Juan Pierre, and A.J. Pierzynski. Their younger talent will hit their late arbitration and free agency years with a large fraction of the payroll tied up in the older players and a lack of big-time talent coming up through the minors to replace them. The White Sox certainly have the ability to get through the next few years with a good deal of success. When all is said and done, though, don’t be surprised if Kenny Williams and company guide the White Sox through the future at a clip of 85 wins per season, just as they have for the past decade.