Thursday, January 11, 2007

Kenny Williams: A Beane or a Krause? -- Part 3

The two major trades of this off-season for the Sox have been those involving their starting pitchers, and it's these two trades that really started the comparisons to Beane and Krause in my mind.

I'll start with the most recent, the McCarthy trade for Danks and Masset. I'm optimistic about the trade, as I so often am when Kenny makes a move, but I can't help but seeing the terrors of trades past, namely one made by Jerry Krause. I don't think it will turn out poorly, but the truly unbiased part of me can't help but see McCarthy as Elton Brand and Danks as Tyson Chandler.

All us Bulls' fans know that Krause saw the upside of Chandler and decided that he potentially could (but didn't) have become a far more impactful player than Brand (who was averaging 20-10), so he pulled the trigger on the ill-fated trade. Likewise, Kenny sees more potential in Danks (as many scouts do). The difference I suppose in Kenny's situation, is that this trade isn't going to make or break the franchise as it did for the Bulls. he did get the added benefit of Nick Masset. Also, I trust Kenny more than I trust Krause, because at that point in his (Krause) career, he was desperate to put together a championship caliber team that had his stamp all over it.

The Garcia trade, on the other hand, reminded me instantly of Beane, and more specifically the Tim Hudson trade and the Mark Mulder trade; it reminded me of Beane on two accounts. First, the pure logistics of the trade, established started with one-year left on his contract for good, young pitching. Hudson was traded for Charles Thomas (an OF) and starters Dan Meyer and Juan Cruz, Mulder was traded for Danny Haren, Kiko Calero, and catcher Daric Brown, while Freddy was traded for starters Gio Gonzalez and Gavin Floyd. I realize the Hudson trade doesn't look spectacular in hindsight; Cruz is starting for the D-Backs and Meyer and Thomas are in AAA (although Meyer could join the rotation), but that's not all that surprising. There is a reason young players in the minors are called prospects; it's because their futures look bright, but by no means does that guarentee success. I'm hoping and am confident that the Sox' trade will work out better and look more like the Mulder trade, but it's impossible to say at this point and it's a moot point. KW, like Beane, knew that it was better to jettison his pitcher while he had value, rather than let him walk away for nothing during free agency.

The second part of this trade that reminded me of Beane, is a little more obscure, but has the potential for a far reaching impact. In Moneyball, Michael Lewis tries to shed some light on Beane's keys to success; the thing that gets lost in translation is that Beane's aim was and continues to be to identify undervalued skillsets and acquire players that have such skills. A lot of people assume Moneyball is merely about players with high OBP, but that's just one of the skills (getting on base) that Beane felt was undervalued on the market at that time. Due to the undervaluation, players with high OBP, but say limited power or base-stealing ability were there for the signing/drafting at a vastly discounted price. Since OBP is now a hot stat in the Bigs (thanks in part to Beane), he is undoubtedly looking elsewhere to try and exploit the market.

So how does this relate to Kenny? Well, in my eyes, he's doing the same thing. In today's market, veteran starting pitchers and even veteran relief pitchers are way over priced. (Gil Meche for $55 million, anyone?) The reason for the overvaluation is two-fold; there is a shortage of good starting pitching out there (a whole different post, in itself, that I'll get to soon) and teams are suddenly flush with money due to revenue sharing, increased gate receipts, et al. As Beane looked for players with an undervalued skillset, Kenny set out to acquire young, cheap pitching talent. Many of the teams that sought to plug holes in their rotation relied on old, expensive pitchers; as we've all seen, Kenny went in the opposite direction, and he should be applauded for it. He has taken necessary steps to try and preserve this club's future while also strengthening the '07 ball club at a dirt cheap price.

The truly impressive thing about it all, is that Kenny horded young pitching talent. He didn't just pick up a one or two players; this off-season he has acquired John Danks, Nick Masset, Jacob Rasner, Andrew Sisco, Gio Gonzalez, Gavin Floyd, David Aardsma, and Carlos Vazquez. If your eyes just glazed over, that's 8 pitchers. The reason I think this is so impressive and important is because of the volatility of prospects and relievers. As I said before, you never know if a prospect will match his potential, but while each prospect's career is independent of eachother, the thought of two prospects failing is far more unlikely than just one prospect flaming out. By acquiring a number of prospects, Kenny is insulating the team from the strong possibility of a prospect not panning out.

The place that Kenny stands out the most is the way he's dealt with the bullpen. Quick, name the highest paid reliever on the team...Mike Macdougal? Good, now, how much does he make? He's due to be paid $1.5 million (after making $0.43 million last year). Every other reliever is making somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000. This to me is smart business sense. Consistently good relievers are pretty rare in this game. For every Mariano Rivera and K-Rod (note, that those are closers, I struggled to think of a middle reliver off the top of my head) you get a Kyle Farnesworth, a Cliff Politte, or a Neal Cotts. Relievers are up and down, volatile as I said. When you pay bottom dollar for your 'pen, if one pitcher is unproductive, he can just be dumped; had he been making $3 million a year, a GM would have to think twice about dumping him. The beauty of it, is that the bullpen isn't a bunch of low-rent dregs; Kenny has established a stable of good, hard-throwing relievers that have a legitimate chance to be one of the best units in the game. I laugh when I see pitchers like Joe Borowsky and Ryan Dempster make $4 million a year. The Sox pen as a whole will make somthing like $6 million.

I realize I'm giving Kenny a lot of credit for what he's done, but he's by no means the only GM to take such measures. Beane has been doing it for a while now and ironically enough Brian Cashman of the Yankees is following a similar plan as seen by his trades of Sheffield and Johnson. I find it ironic that the Yankees are looking for cheap pitching, when they are most responsible for the game's current financial landscape.

I think many GM's in the league are waiting with bated breath to see if Kenny's gambles pan out. If he does succeed and secures the Sox' future as championship contenders for the next handful of years or dare I dream it, an Atlanta like run of a decade plus, I'm sure GM's will suddenly start valuing their cheap starters more. They'll try follow Kenny's model, much as GM's followed Beane's model the past few years.


Blogger E.J. said...

I should preface my comments by saying that I believe now - and have always believed - that Kenny Williams is for the most part an incompetent buffoon. He has utterly destroyed our farm system and really ridden off what was left him by Schuler (Konerko, Crede, Buehrle, etc.) Everything else has been free agent fills or extra parts.

Having said this, one thing I DO like is that he's finally started targeting hard-throwers. That is clearly a step in the right direction. Other than that, mentioning KW in the same breath as Billy Beane is kinda stretching it a bit.

(Still carrying the scars of the Todd Ritchie deal).

1/14/2007 12:33 AM  
Blogger Jeeves said...

Welcome Ed!

Yes, I may be a tad optimistic, but I try to shine a good light on things.

1/15/2007 12:55 AM  

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