Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010
Updated 8:16 PM
By Brett Ballantini
When the season ended, Chicago White Sox general manager Ken Williams threw his boss, team owner Jerry Reinsdorf, a bit of a curveball: Instead of the usual four budgetpersonnel recommendations for the next season, Williams offered just two.
As Williams extrapolated during a teleconference on Thursday, one was a young team, and the other was adding to the mix with top talent. We didnt want to be in the middle.
If youre going to be all-in, you go all-in.
As such, Thursdays signing of free agent first baseman Adam Dunn to a four-year, 56 million deal represents just the tip of the offseason, according to Williams.
News broke of the Dunn signing, setting Twitter aflame, directly in advance of Williams conference, initially scheduled to discuss the re-signing of shortstop Alexei Ramirez and non-tendering of closer Bobby Jenks.
And as much as Williams deferred comment on Dunn winding up an initial question with, Ah, since its out there, why dont we talk about that tomorrow at 2 p.m. at the ballpark the GM was in an uncommonly impish mood.
He praised writers for making it easy on him with their questions, and at one point acknowledging with a hearty laugh that not only would a Dunn type (Im not going to speak on something that hasnt happened yet.) help invigorate his fan base and drive sales, but it might be important to the general managers health and his long-term employment prospects.
Amazing what signing a fella who averages 40 homers every 162 games and answers to the name Big Donkey does to lighten an outlook. In fact Dunn has hit at least 38 homers in each of the last seven seasons during time spent with the Washington Nationals, Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds. That includes 38 home runs and 103 RBI last season with the Nationals.
Indeed, the underpinning of the day wasnt the non-tendering of Jenks but the newfound aggressiveness of a White Sox team most felt would be too busy pulling hair out trying to balance the books all offseason to ink front-line free agents.
If you take the initiative and make a statement by signing top talent, Williams said, hopefully your fan interest follows.
Williams will not stop with inking Dunn, he asserted. Next up though not in the 1-2 fashion thats been speculated is the re-signing of Paul Konerko.
Ive made no secrets that we have strong interest in bringing him back, Williams said. Theres payroll room, and it would be the ideal fit, from my perspective.
Williams added that at the end of the season he assured Konerko of his desire to bring him back, but that he wouldnt hurt his team by endlessly waiting: Its a fine line I have to walk right now where I am respectful of his process, but were also putting the best baseball team on the field.
Nonetheless, the unofficial agreement between the two men was to give Konerko a chance to shop himself at the Winter Meetings next week, so its unlikely the White Sox make another major free agent move before then.
The Dunn signing bears a close resemblance to the last time Konerko was a free agent, in the afterglow of the 2005 World Series win. Williams aggressively swapped Aaron Rowand for Jim Thome, who promptly all but begged Konerko to come to Chicago so the two sluggers could play together. Surely, Dunn will be slipped Paulies digits over the next few days.
Reportedly in too late or reacting too slow to the Detroits wooing of Victor Martinez, Williams pounced to acquire Dunn, amounting to a counterpunch and TKO of the aggressive Tigers.
The 31-year-old has a career isolated power (batting average subtracted from slugging average) of a riotous .271. Bill James projects 39 homers and an .844 OPS for Dunn in 2011, but you can bet your fanny such projections will skyrocket with the prospect of Dunn treating U.S. Cellular Field as his own personal bandbox.
And while Dunn bears distinct similarities to Thome, the Big Donkey arrives in Chicago four years younger and with a much healthier history.
Prioritizing Dunn and Konerko could well cost the White Sox A.J. Pierzynski, who is rumored to have lost patience as a lower priority and is on the verge of inking with the Toronto Blue Jays.
As much as Pierzynski is beloved on the South Side (Williams today saying, I value A.J., as another important piece to a championship and winning a division in 08. Hes an important part of our clubhouse and an important part of Chicago. I would love to have him back.), he is an expendable piece on the whole, and the savings on his 6.75 million deal can be plugged right into Dunn-Konerko.
Williams was also very soft on Jenks, speaking of his pride in the burly fireballer and complimenting his work as, of all things, a father.
The GM explained that the decision to non-tender had almost nothing to do with Jenks himself but that the White Sox couldnt afford another arbitration award of 7 million-plus (Jenks briefly set a record with his 7.5 million award last season.)
Bobby helped bring a World Series to Chicago and I will never forget that, Williams said. And I havent closed the door on bringing him back.
Still, Williams said he was perfectly comfortable with Matt Thornton as his closer for 2011 and would be willing to kick the tires on Sergio Santos or even Chris Sale in the role.
Sales position this season appears entirely dependent on Jake Peavys readiness without Peavy, Sale is the teams fifth starter, and with a healthy Peavy, Sale is the No. 2 lefty in the bullpen.
And finally, while its been assumed that Carlos Quentins role on the White Sox will shrink with the acquisition of a new primary DH and CQs defensive ability being best suited for that position, Williams was having none of it. Quentin is decidedly not on the trading block.
Carlos Quentin is playing right field for us, and Ozzie Guillen will decide where he hits in the lineup, said the GM as he turned deadpan.
Fridays presumed press conference will give the giddy side of Ken Williams another chance to surface. If the player next to him being introduced as the newest member of the White Sox is indeed Dunn, you can bet that the hardliner will turn to grins and giggles once more.