This year, especially as compared to last year, we have seen an unusually large (we think) number of players changing uniforms, both before and after the July 31 deadline. And, after the previous midnight, we've seen the end of the trades - but the deadline did not come and go quietly.
Rather, we see Jim Thome traded to the Dodgers and Jose Contreras traded to the Rockies. And in case you didn't know, both Thome - a TTO HOF'er - and Contreras used to play for the Chicago White Sox. As in, the team that earlier this season acquired the combined 11 years and $122 million in contracts that are RHP Jake Peavy and OF Alex Rios. As in, a team that one would expect to be in the proverbial 'win-now' mode. And yet, here they are, dumping off veteran pieces not one month later. Let's take a look at why this is a particuarly bad move by Kenny Williams.
First, it's instructive to point out that trading for Peavy was about the biggest 'win-now' gamble Williams could make. He traded away Aaron Poreda and Clayton Richard, his two best pitching prospects, and two other promising guys in order to bring aboard Peavy, who was still rehabbing a torn ankle ligament and wasn't even a sure bet to be able to pitch this season. In that deal, Williams bet the farm on a risky proposition and lost. Then, he decided to take on Alex Rios' contract as well; some analysts were bullish on the move, but Rios' .493 OPS - which is abysmal for a backup shortstop - as a White Sock is making those $60 million loom large. So after losing the farm, Williams handed over the house as well.
And now, to continue this tortured gambling/housing metaphor, Williams apparently has decided to hand out the furniture as well. Let's begin with the more palatable of the two moves, sending away Jose Contreras. Contreras has been pretty terrible this season, 'contributing' 114 IP with 121 H, 89 K, 45 BB and a 5.42 ERA, so his departure shouldn't hurt much. But the guy they got in return, Brandon Hynick, doesn't look like he's going to offer much of an improvement, even in the future; he's got a career K/BB over 3, but low K numbers and pedestrian hit/HR rates don't bode well, especially if he's going to be pitching in the Cell. So trading Contreras looks like an unremarkable salary dump...which would be understandable if, well, like we mentioned earlier, they hadn't taken on all that extra money in Rios and Peavy. But whatever. It's a minor quabble we take with that move.
On the other hand, the decision to dump Thome's salary is where we really have to take issue. Let's start with the guy they got in return: one Justin Fuller, a .242/.338/.346 hitter in 4 minor league seasons. And we wish we could tell you some shocking stat that might make you reconsider his future prospects, something that doesn't show up in his batting line, but...well, he doesn't make contact, doesn't walk, is 21-46 in stealing bases (so that's kind of like Thome, we guess), and he's currently posting a career-high .418 SLG with 4 HR. This is a massive power surge for him, as he'd had only 1 other HR in his three previous seasons. So, what you see is what you get.
Now consider what the Sox had in Thome. He was posting a 120 OPS+ on the heels of a respectable enough .249/.372/.493 line, and can still handle righties (to the tune of a .261/.387/.510 line) and whose contract is going to be coming off the books after the season anyway. And then, to make matters worse, the Sox actually gave the Dodgers some cash, too! We didn't realize this until just now, and, frankly, we're stunned. The Sox traded away one of their three or four best hitters, got in return a guy who can't hit, or run, and felt it necessary to throw in some money, as well.
Kenny Williams this is just...just terrible. Why, this is almost Dayton Moore-esque!
Hey, speaking of Dayton Moore: how 'bout that extension through 2014! (like that segue?)
We're curious...what, exactly, has Moore done to deserve an extension? He hasn't scouted particularly well, he's passed up on guys in the draft (Lincecum and Longoria, to name two) that are already big league stars, he's handed out silly free agent contracts, and he's made bad trades. The team is no better now than when they brought him on; if it weren't for Zack Greinke, Gil Meche, and Billy Butler (and maybe Alex Gordon, depending on how optimistic you choose to be), there would be no real sign of progress at the Major League level. Luke Hochevar might be something one day, and maybe Mike Moustakas and Kila Ka'aihue (what a name!) can offer some hope. But Kansas City is a barren place, and someone's got to take responsibility. Why not Moore, who came in preaching OBP (and then brought in guys like Mike Jacobs, Yuni Betancourt, and Jose Guillen) and good pitching (e.g. Kyle Farnsworth, Ramon Ramirez, Ron Mahay, Kyle Davies, Horacio Ramirez, Sidney Pons...ok, enough)?
And when it comes to assigning blame for a team's poor performance to a GM, we immediately think back to J.P. Ricciardi, whose ineptitude bred an excellent Joe Posnanski column. To recap, though the link really is worth clicking: Ricciardi has remained on the job through seven wholly mediocre seasons. During these seven seasons, J.P. has signed Alex Rios (7/$70MM), Vernon Wells (7/$126) (!!), B.J. Ryan (5/$47), and Frank Thomas (2/$18) to silly deals. Of those, Rios, Ryan, and Thomas were all waived. Essentially, rather than continue to pay them to play baseball, they were bad enough that Ricciardi paid them to NOT play baseball. Those are three HUGE swings and misses, to say nothing of the whiff on the Wells contract that is...well...we don't know if 'albatross' is even a sufficient description. Oh, and speaking of guys he released: you, dear reader, may recognize the name Chris Carpenter. Yeah, Ricciardi released him, too. And traded Jayson Werth for Jason Frasor. We just don't understand - other than by the mercy of complete collective apathy of ownership and fans - how a guy keeps his job after demonstrably failing like that, again and again. Same goes for Dayton Moore. We're not going to say that Kenny Williams shoud be fired, though; his moves this season are merely puzzling. Which is a step up from the bleak outlook that the Toronto and Kansas City front offices are providing for their fans.
On the bright side, we guess: good on Ned Coletti for bringing in a lefty bench slugger for a song, and also acquiring a decent innings-eater in Jon Garland later that night. Enjoy it, Ned: it's the only time we've publicly complimented you thusfar and it may be the last.