Art of making trades a process for Williams
White Sox GM explains how deals can take years or one call
SEATTLE -- Ken Williams leans against the wall of a walkway leading from the Safeco Field visitors' clubhouse to the diamond, looking a bit perplexed, as the eloquent speaker searches for words to describe seemingly one of his favorite processes on the job: making trades.
"I'm trying to get my thoughts together enough to accurately articulate this," a pensive Williams told MLB.com.
How about a little help from his past work to jog the memory? Since becoming the White Sox general manager on Oct. 24, 2000, Williams has made 63 trades involving 161 players on the Major League roster, according to the team's media guide.
Some of them have worked out exactly as planned, if not better -- see the March 20, 2006, move sending the likable but underachieving Joe Borchard to Seattle for All-Star reliever Matt Thornton. Some of them have not quite panned out -- check out either of two Nick Swisher trades from '08 as exhibits A and B.
There are some trades where the baseball jury has yet to return a verdict, such as the December 2008 Javier Vazquez deal with Atlanta, bringing back to Chicago catcher Tyler Flowers and infielder Brent Lillibridge among others. Some involve a slew of projected top talent given up to get the man in need, like the Freddy Garcia deal on June 27, 2004, when Miguel Olivo, Jeremy Reed and Michael Morse moved to Seattle. And yet there are others falling into the minor deal category, which end up making a huge difference.
Geoff Blum's acquisition for left-handed pitcher Ryan Meaux during the 2005 World Series championship run would fall into that particular category. Study Game 3 of the World Series in Houston for video proof.
Williams views all of his possible trades in the same manner, knowing that overlooked utility infielder could end up making the difference in a division title as much as the Cy Young-winning hurler. It's a tough period, a tense period, an exhilarating period, leading up to July 31.
Even with so much potentially at stake in the execution of a move, Williams would not list nerve-wracking as a trait when searching for a way to map out the art of a deal.
"It can keep you up at night -- all night, day after day after day after day," said Williams with a laugh. "But that's because you understand the ramifications of how it's each little piece that fits into the puzzle is so important. It can mean the difference between you realizing your dreams or not.
"Whether it was Freddy Garcia, Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, or whomever, Geoff Blum, Carl Everett -- pick a name. It's still the same feeling, because I place as much of an importance on that small piece as I do the big pieces.
"But I'm long past the inner gut-wrenching stuff that goes on. I'm certainly more readily able and better equipped to turn the page if I don't get the player I've coveted for a while. Years ago, it stayed with me for years. You can only do what you can do. Put forth your greatest effort and make sure all the people around you do the same. At the end of the day, man up to the consequences."
Current consequences might mean the American League Central-leading White Sox start the month of August with the same roster they have on this late July off-day. If closing a deal for Adam Dunn means trading off Gordon Beckham, then the White Sox graciously will move on. If adding a left-handed slugger such as Prince Fielder means a deal for highly touted prospects such as Daniel Hudson, Flowers or Dayan Viciedo, then business soon might pick up.
Trades presently in discussion or the countless moves previously pulled off by Williams and his staff aren't put forth with reckless abandon. It's not as if one day Williams turns to assistant general manager Rick Hahn and says, "Let's go after Albert Pujols" and Hahn agrees with a "Sounds good to me. Let's see what we can do."
According to Williams, talks with Kevin Towers to acquire Peavy from San Diego, as an example, began somewhere around two years before last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"Then, I've had a few that have taken one call," Williams said. "There's no one that has been discussed in any given year that hasn't been scouted, discussed and re-discussed again and again.
"There used to be a lot of phone calls back and forth. Now, with kind of a newer guard that has come in, there is a lot of texting, there is a lot of e-mailing in the initial stages.
"I kind of miss the phone calls, because I like to talk baseball. You still get to it, once you get past the initial stage of, 'Hey are you interested to do something along these lines?' Then there are follow-up calls and messages of whatever. I don't get caught up in how it gets to us now."
Frequent meetings take place between Williams, manager Ozzie Guillen and his coaching staff, because ultimately, these men feel the pulse of the team, know who they can count on down the stretch and have to be in tune with Williams' line of thinking. In Jerry Reinsdorf, Williams also has an owner supremely committed to winning, willing to push the budget to a break-even point in order to make that one extra, but necessary, move.
Over the past decade, Williams has made about five dozen necessary moves. Yet, on this bright evening in Seattle, he still struggled in expressing the thrill of the hunt and the excitement of the actual finish.
"You know, I'm not accurately doing a good job of explaining what you go through. I'm really not," Williams said. "I guess the best way I can talk about how we do things here is it is a process that we take our time on.
"Very rarely has there been a trade made where we hadn't thought about acquiring the player and done that whole thing. You asked earlier about what you go through? It's a mental exercise that can extend for months and years. We try to make good baseball deals, but you make deals that fit your needs and you don't worry about what the players you give up do elsewhere.
"Listen, when you are as aggressive as we are, you are going to make some mistakes. I personally don't care to see what I call SportsCenter guys, who you see on every night, who you had traded away. If I get a SportsCenter guy back, and he fits, then what's the problem? It's a win-win deal."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.