Based purely on the amount of success attained during his tenure, Kenny Williams is the greatest general manager in modern Chicago White Sox history. My quick list looks something like this:
1 – Kenny Williams
T-2 – Everyone else
Last – Ken Harrelson
Yes, Williams was the primary architect of the 2005 World Series champions. But his greatest success is at the very least indirectly correlated with his greatest failure. Williams always built his teams with the mentality that he wanted to win a World Series that year. As a fan, it was hard to dislike that mentality. That type of aggression led to trade deadlines and off-seasons filled with optimism as Williams purged his minor league talent in pursuit of pieces that would make his team competitive immediately. His draft strategy was similar, looking for players whose trajectories projected them to be able to advance to the major league level sooner rather than later.
Fans and media alike generally applauded Williams’ aggressiveness. Who could complain about a general manager who was able to dig into Jerry Reinsdorf’s wallet time and time again with his eye on another title? Three prospects for a 35-year-old Roberto Alomar? Sure! Three more for Nick Swisher? Why not?! Hey, Adam Dunn! Want this boatload of cash?! Awesome! We want a championship, dammit. And those kids aren’t going to do anything to help that cause for at LEAST a few more years. We can’t wait that long!
The shortsightedness with which those moves (and others) were made is not worth rehashing. But it does lead us to the present day, post-99-loss White Sox whose new leader, Rick Hahn, is tasked with cleaning up the carnage left by post-2005 Kenny.
For years we’ve heard about what a great GM Hahn would eventually make. He’s the prototypical GM of today: Harvard grad, analytically minded. He turned down overtures from the Cardinals and Pirates in recent years and when he was finally handed the job with Williams getting kicked upstairs, most educated White Sox fans were intrigued to see what a GM of his ilk could accomplish.
After sitting through the worst White Sox season in recent history, Hahn has been able to spread his wings, so to speak. Building a team from putrid to competent isn’t exactly a welcomed task. But it also allows someone with a certain amount of intellect to work without many particular parameters. It would be difficult to imagine the White Sox to be a worse team in 2014 even if Hahn were forced to stand pat, but seeing as how 99 percent of the post-2013 roster performed below their expectations, Hahn has been allowed to take the gloves off and tinker with damn near everything (aside from Paul Konerko, perhaps).
The success or failure of Hahn’s term as White Sox general manager won’t be determined for an indefinite amount of time. The success or failure of his most recent acquisitions, most notably Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson, Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu, won’t even be determined for at least a year or two. But the mentality behind those trades, as was discussed in this podcast and this podcast, prove that he’s taking the right path toward setting up the White Sox for improvement in both the short and long term.
Bad teams selling high on known commodities is nothing new in baseball, as much as it might seem to Chicago fans. But what makes these two particular trades interesting is the type of pieces he acquired. Earlier in the offseason, Hahn chose to use the term “reshuffling” instead of “rebuilding” when describing the White Sox offseason plan. While that could easily be chocked up to an executive mincing words as to not discourage an already frugal fan base from purchasing tickets, these moves are far from the rebuilding moves fans may have expected.
In Davidson, Eaton and Garcia, the White Sox have three promising yet unproven talents who are advanced enough to contribute at the major league level as early as 2014. The idea is that those three can step in and make the White Sox better now, and continue to make them better for the next five-plus years. Of course, these ideas are great in theory. But it will be some time until we see just how well those three, as well as Abreu, pan out.
But regardless of what those four bring during their major league careers, it’s clear Hahn has the intuition to make the White Sox at least moderately better in the immediate while still having his eye on the future. And that’s something White Sox fans should be able to appreciate.