Frustrated Williams sees better '10 results
GM intent on erasing disappointment, shortcomings of '09
CHICAGO -- For 28 minutes prior to Wednesday's game with the Twins, in between extensive staff meetings looking toward 2010 and beyond, White Sox general manager Ken Williams took questions from the media concerning a disappointing 2009 campaign.
Williams dealt with topics ranging from closer Bobby Jenks to free agency to the definition of players who are "Chicago tough." But Williams provided an expected answer when asked at the outset the basic question of where would he like to see the White Sox improve going into next season.
"In the win column," Williams said. "Plain and simple, in the win column."
That particular won-loss category will leave Williams, manager Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox staff decidedly underwhelmed when the regular season comes to a close Oct. 4 in Detroit. The White Sox have their work cut out simply to reach .500, a sad disappointment for a team that Williams expected to contend for the American League Central title.
To improve the White Sox record for 2010, Williams once again stayed to the script by talking about pitching and defense as to where it all starts. The South Siders look to be set in the starting rotation, with four slots solidly filled through Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd, and Freddy Garcia and rookie Daniel Hudson emerging as strong candidates for the fifth starter's slot.
As for the bullpen, that specific relief area became an unexpected source of struggles in 2009. But Williams didn't sound inclined toward going with a major overhaul.
"The names are good. They haven't performed up to expectations and they know that," said Williams of his relief crew. "Sometimes with relief pitching, the ebb and flow of it is ridiculous.
"We are confident we do have talent and that's a good place to start. It's a very fluid situation that you have to be mindful and confident that the talent, if you stick to it and get people to support a particular player that is struggling a little bit more, sometimes that will ultimately get a guy over the hump. I certainly have never seen booing work. Maybe it works on Ozzie, but that's about it."
If pitching and defense serve as the foundation, then Williams understands the fundamentals of the game are equally important. It's a discipline, focusing on defense and baserunning, where the White Sox struggled throughout the season.
"We're somewhere around the 70 unearned run mark. That's disturbing. It's certainly disturbing how we've run the bases," Williams said. "The decisions that we've made, not thinking in advance defensively, prior to the ball being put in play.
"Some of these things are growing pains, and we have left some of them behind us. We're certainly getting a much better defensive effort of late, knock on wood. There are many positive signs around this ballclub. It's just offensively, we've virtually gotten shut out in the second half.
"Fortunately, our future looks good on the mound and it looks good defensively," Williams said. "So we're in good position as far as that's concerned and we've got to find the necessary offensive pieces and the right combination for things to click in a much better way."
Although he was questioned on the 2010 payroll issue via two or three inquiries, Williams really couldn't and wouldn't provide a concrete answer. He still needs to wait until getting a number as to where projected sponsorships, advertising and season-ticket sales are headed.
Bringing on free agents to fill needs didn't seem to be front and center in Williams' thought process, at least not on Sept. 23.
"Well, No. 1, I don't like what I see on the free-agent market, and what I do like, it's going to cost you a No. 1 [Draft] pick," Williams said. "If we felt like that has been a need for us in the past, we were willing to do that. We were willing to go that extra mile if we have that fit for us.
"That fit means a lot of things in a lot of different ways. This is something we really are going to have to take a look at in the various scenarios I just gave you.
"Season tickets drive your payroll. I'm only going to be given what we can afford to spend. If that ultimately leads to a higher payroll, I don't know. If it leads to something that's lower right now, I don't know the answer to that question either.
"It's kind of irrelevant to me," Williams said. "Even in times where I've been given that payroll and still haven't formulated an action plan for the club, I've always gone to [White Sox chairman] Jerry Reinsdorf at the end of the day and he's always ... I'm always over budget."
At the end of 2009, Williams most likely will not be celebrating the team's third division title in his successful nine-year reign as general manager. His team will be classified as underachievers, a description Williams stuck to once again during Wednesday's chat.
With that description in mind, Williams couldn't wait to get back to his meetings. He knows the 2010 team already will start with a step up, talent-wise, on 2009, assuming players such as Carlos Quentin return healthy and Alex Rios returns to his steady play of old, as examples.
"Absolutely," said Williams when asked about the 2009 to 2010 comparison. "And that's a very difficult thing for me to say right now because I'm not the happiest camper in Chicago and everyone knows that with the results we've had.
"Especially the results on this past homestand. That's all I'll say on that. I don't want to go down the road."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.