Is Kenny Williams the Ultimate Market Timer?

I would argue that no General Manager has been more unfairly ripped during his career than Kenny Williams. Go look through the archives here and you will see quite a few posts of me defending him. Yes, I’m a White Sox fan, but I can honestly tell you that I lean towards wanting to rip deals the team makes, as I want to come off as a non-biased observer. Once again, though, I like the deal they have made with the Phillies.

I’ve read many rate the trade of Freddy Garcia as a bad one. The common wisdom seems to be that during the tulip mania period that we are going through for starting pitching, Garcia was worth more than a couple of b-level prospects. Let’s break down all the elements that make up the trade to better grade it.

Freddy Garcia is a hard guy to analyze. Let’s first go back to how he initially came to the White Sox, in a trade that most in the sabermetrical world thought was a horrible deal. The Mariners received Baseball Prospectus’ most highly overrated prospect, Jeremy Reed, plus Miguel Olivo and throw-in Mike Morse. Well, it’s not too early to say that this was a slam-dunk trade for the Sox, as Reed has been dismal and Olivo sucked so badly the Mariners practically gave him away. While Morse provided a little juice to Seattle, until he was busted for being on it, Garcia was a solid starter chewing innings up in both 2005 and 2006.

Outside of his stellar 2001 season, Garcia has been just slightly above average, though. It is certainly valuable to have a guy who can consistently give you over 200 innings, but he’s basically a solid No. 3 starter. Garcia is similar to another Sox hurler, Javier Vasquez, in that he is prone to hang a curve ball and give up a big inning most times he toes the rubber. Unlike Vasquez, though, Garcia has lost velocity off his fastball and looks to be on the downward slope. Not a good mix, when you are moving from one launching pad, US Cellular to another, Citizen’s Bank. Declining 31 year-old pitchers on the last year of their contracts are not going to get you an A plus prospect.

In many of the trades that I’ve supported that Williams has made during his tenure, there has been this concept floated out there that a better deal was available. In the trade mentioned above, many said why didn’t the Sox send Joe Borchard instead of Reed? This would be because the Mariners wanted Reed. (Later on, the Mariners did obtain Borchard, giving up Matt Thornton, who was one of the best relievers in the AL last season.) This kind of monday morning quarterbacking by reporters and bloggers alike wreaks of radio call-in trade talk. I never heard of any other deal out there for Garcia that was better.

Williams has made a tactical move, realizing that the off-season market for pitchers is going off the rails. Being an organization that doesn’t like to sign pitchers beyond a 3-year contract, the White Sox are retooling the way they are going about things. Knowing that that they have Brandon McCarthy ready to step in to the rotation and having a couple other young pitchers who at least look capable of being a 5th starter, they have offered up not only Garcia, but Jon Garland and Mark Buerhle, asking in exchange for more young, cost-efficient arms for the future.

This is very similar concept to what Billy Beane did a couple of seasons ago, except that Mulder and Hudson were a grade above on the quality front. Both Beane and Williams share a large egotistical streak, but the A’s GM knows how to manipulate the press, while on the South side of Chicago, both the Owner and GM seem to pursue angles to antagonize the media.

The White Sox have the utmost confidence in their pitching coach, Don Cooper, being able to take other teams highly touted flame-outs and make them successes. (see Thornton, Jenks, and Contreas) They see Gavin Floyd fitting this category. I’m not sure I buy this, but I do like them getting back Gio Gonzalez, who I think will be in the rotation by 2008.

The only trade I rated even slightly negative by Williams over the past few seasons was giving up Chris Young for Javier Vasquez. I’m guessing that Williams saw a window of opportunity over 2006 and 2007 to win another World Championship, realizing that the starting staff had been pushed really hard in 2005 and thought Vasquez would provide needed depth. The White Sox felt good enough about their depth in center field with Brian Anderson, Ryan Sweeney, and Jerry Owens that they could give up Young. Despite last year’s offensive struggles, I still think Anderson will continue on his second half of the season improvement, in which his OBP was 90 points higher.

By the way, there was those again who said why didn’t the Sox give up one of the above mentioned prospects, instead of Young? The D-backs wanted Young or the deal doesn’t get made. Even though the D-backs picked up some of Vasquez’s contract, I think this will go down as a bad deal for the Chicago. Anderson and Young in the outfield together I think would have been better financially and defensively, instead of Podsednik manning left field. Guillen and Cooper were convinced that they could bring back the vintage Vasquez days. We will see if 2007 is different than his disappointing 2006.

In the investing world, the number 1 rule is that it’s impossible to time the market. Williams sees the current landscape of Major League Baseball being one where veteran starting pitchers are extremely overvalued. He knows that he has a surplus of what others want, so he is taking a different approach of trying to stockpile young arms who won’t blow the budget. We will see if his bet succeeds. I think Garcia’s P/E was too high and I would rather invest in a couple cheap growth stocks than a blue chip company on the downslide.

You can have your Meche, Petitte, Lilly, and Marquis deals, I think the world of free agent pitching signings is at its most insane levels. Unless you have unlimited funds to spend, the only way to win in the future will be to be develop your own starters. I think Williams is out in front on the idea. Unless Liriano makes a strong recovery from his injury or the Indians learn how to play MLB-quality defense, I think the White Sox will be atop the AL Central once again in 2007.

***Yes, I do realize that I left out the Tigers. I think they will be closer to a .500 team in 2007, as their young starting pitchers have to all be looking at Will Carroll yellow to red health report lights.

11 thoughts on “Is Kenny Williams the Ultimate Market Timer?

  1. 1.  Scott, if Gavin Floyd helps the ChiSox win another World Series in 2007-09, then Kenny Williams is waaaaaaaaaaay smarter than anybody has ever given him credit for.

    Even though it would be all thanks to Coop.

  2. 2.  In a market in which Gil Meche gets $55 million, I would have thought a solid #3 starter like Freddy would have brought back more.

  3. 3.  I’m not a fan of Floyd, but I do think he has a chance of being a decent No. 4 or 5 by 2008.

    Schteeve, I hear you on one level, but let’s keep in mind that Garcia is a free-agent at the end of the year, so you are renting him for 2007. I would guess 9 out of 10 Sox fans would choose McCarthy over Garcia, so they lose nothing there, except gain 9 million in the coffers to go after other players. I thought that Williams should have waited out the market a little longer, but they are big fans of Gio, so they made the deal. We will see.

  4. 5.  You cant trade Garcia for a project who may be a 5th starter and a minor leaguer with control problems.

    Its just dumb in this market. They needed to get back real value.

  5. 6.  Jake,

    It’s Mr. Dumb here. Last year I would have argued that McCarthy was a better starter than Garcia, but with 9 million invested in Freddy and knowing he wouldn’t accept being in the bullpen, you stuck with him.

    Do you think the Sox would trade a member of Guillen’s family (Garcia), if they thought he was going to help them a bunch?

    As I’ve asked before, SHOW ME WHAT WAS OFFERED IN THE MARKET BETTER THAN WHAT THEY RECEIVED. I constantly hear this “they could have gotten more argument”, but I never hear what concretely was offered that was better.

    The Sox gave up Carlos Lee in a deal that many still slam, but for the money that they opened up they were able to sign Iguchi, Pierzynski, and Hermanson, plus improve their outfield defense. Let’s see what the nearly 9 million they save in dumping Garcia.

    Gonzalez was one of the top pitching prospects just one year ago in all of baseball. Here was his stats in 2005 stats at the age of 19 in high A ball. 163 K’s and 47 BB’s. Kind of hard to say the guy has serious control problems, just because he struggled more the following year.

    In regards to the Tigers, I realize that my reasoning is debatable, but their young pitchers have never been asked to do what they did in 2006 and most of their star offensive players are older and would be big candidates for decline. We will see.

    Now I’m going back into my corner to put on my dunce cap.

  6. 7.  Scott, I have to agree with your logic when it’s put in context of what exactly the Sox could have gotten back for Freddy. It’s also dependant on what they feel they need. This market is just so looney, I don’t know what to think about it.

  7. 9.  Scott,

    FWIW, I thought it was a great trade. They, AT A MINIMUM, got nine years of ‘Meche-ness’ (for far lower than established ‘Meche-value’) out of Floyd and Gio plus Nine Million bucks for a year of guy who has a rumor of a fastball. He was a decent pitcher last year and likely will be next, but his margin for error is slimmer all the time.

    To continue your market analogy, kenny traded AOL (garcia) for YouTube and FaceBook. Maybe they all crash and burn, but I’d bet on the last two to matter and be worth more over he next five years.

  8. 10.  If I remember right, they signed Jermaine Dye to a 2 year deal, plus an option, because they were losing Magglio Ordonez.
    Considering how many great financial moves the White Sox have made over the past 4 years, you would think that more people would give Williams some credit.

    I do like the analogy, though to buy You Tube, you have to purchase Google stock which is a bit pricey.

    Chris, when you get a chance drop me an email, as I have a question for you and can’t find your address.

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