White Sox have nice nucleus for '09
GM Williams has several decisions to make on current roster
CHICAGO -- If a report card was issued concerning Ken Williams' offseason work and how it played out in the 2008 regular season, the White Sox general manager would find himself on the honor roll and approaching valedictorian status.
Acquire Carlos Quentin via trade back in December, adding a young burst of power and vast on-base potential. Grade: A+, following Quentin's 36-home run, 100-RBI performance.
Sign Alexei Ramirez, a somewhat unknown Cuban emigre, to a four-year deal and stick with him during a rough opening month of April. Grade: A+ again, as the second baseman emerged as an American League Rookie of the Year candidate and the team's most dangerous second-half hitter.
Spend $30 million over six years on Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel to add the two best setup men on baseball's open market to upgrade a horrific bullpen from 2007. Grade: A.
Keep Joe Crede instead of forcing a Spring Training trade for the potential free agent following the 2008 season. Grade: A, until Crede's back problems cost him a good portion of the season's final two months.
In total, nine players who weren't in the White Sox organization during 2007 made significant contributions to the 2008 American League Central title run. But Williams certainly isn't one to rest on his laurels or celebrate a strong accomplishment that still fell short of ultimately winning a championship.
As Williams has mentioned on previous occasions, he already was thinking about the 2006 season on the plane ride home from Houston after winning the 2005 World Series title. So, plans for 2009 have been put in motion.
"Kenny has to learn to lighten up a little bit. He's so intense," said White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf with a smile. "You couldn't find a general manager who cares more about winning than Kenny Williams.
"There are things we have to do to get better, and we are working on it. But now is not the time. You can't make good decisions at times like this. You have to rest, get your head clear and have a chance to think about things. Kenny will. We will be fine."
The White Sox already feature a solid starting pitching base moving into 2009, a necessity for any playoff contender. Mark Buehrle returns for the second season of a four-year, $56 million deal, while Javier Vazquez will be working in the second season of his three-year, $34.5 million deal.
Vazquez had a poor finish to the 2008 campaign, allowing 24 earned runs on 26 hits over 16 1/3 innings during his final four starts. The right-hander could have been bumped from the rotation if the White Sox reached the AL Championship Series, but he still figures to fall somewhere in the starting five next year.
Having patience with the talented Vazquez has been made easier through the 2008 development of Gavin Floyd and John Danks. Floyd won 17 games and picked up nine victories after White Sox losses. Danks posted a 3.32 ERA over 195 innings pitched and beat the Twins and Rays in final-week elimination games.
"Gavin and I both knew we had to step up for our team to win," Danks said. "You can't have two holes in the starting rotation and win much. I definitely felt like we were capable and good enough to do that. For the most part, we did."
Although Jose Contreras is progressing nicely in his recovery from a ruptured left Achilles, manager Ozzie Guillen won't count on Contreras until the second half of 2009. The White Sox might have found a diamond in the rough in Clayton Richard, who allowed just one run in 6 1/3 innings of relief during the AL Division Series against the Rays.
"I will take a chance with him myself," Guillen said of Richard, who could emerge as the team's fifth starter in 2009. "Obviously, he has to show what he can do in Spring Training. I'm going to try and give him the shot to do it and see how he handles it."
Free agents such as Crede at third base and shortstop Orlando Cabrera figure to move on, while the White Sox have decisions to make on Juan Uribe, outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr. and reserve catcher Toby Hall. A free agent, Uribe could come back in a utility role, while the team holds 2009 options on Hall and Griffey.
Nick Swisher also remains in the picture, figuring to return to a starting outfield slot in center after hitting a dismal .219 during his first year in Chicago.
"To be honest, I could care less what happened to me," said Swisher, who lost his starting job over the season's final two weeks to Dewayne Wise. "It just makes me want to work even harder to be 180 million percent ready for next year."
Williams and Guillen want to add speed and situational hitting to a team that led the Majors in home runs, and Chris Getz could be part of that equation at second base. The team also has to decide if Josh Fields, who will have arthroscopic surgery on his right knee this week, stands as its third baseman of the future. Williams mentioned following Monday's season-ending loss in the ALDS how the team has some options within to fill Major League vacancies.
Plenty of moves figure to be on the horizon during a busy offseason, with the Winter Meetings approaching in December in Las Vegas. Williams set the bar high with his work in 2008 to turn around his team's 72-90 showing in 2007, but it's what Williams has come to expect every year for the White Sox.
And if the White Sox don't win a title in 2009, then Williams' personal report card would probably read incomplete.
"We honestly have not done much planning for next year because we were still playing out this year," Reinsdorf said.
"Our front office has some decisions to make," White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye said. "But there's no doubt we have a great nucleus in place in the clubhouse."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.