Transition part of White Sox plan
Infusion of youth expected to produce at big league level
LAS VEGAS -- The White Sox word of the day was "potential" during Monday's opening of the 2008 Winter Meetings at the Bellagio.
Potential, defined as "the White Sox currently are relying on a number of young, somewhat unproven commodities to keep them competitive for 2009."
"If there's anything I can impart to everyone, it's that this is not a change in direction," Williams said. "This is not a change in philosophy. We started this three years ago, after we won the World Series. People asked why we traded Freddy Garcia and why we traded Aaron Rowand. This is a continuation of that process.
"One of my biggest worries over the years is to get an aged club to the point where they are ineffective and then you have no value in order to get more players and continue the team rolling on. If you get to that point and have done nothing, you've done nothing with your drafting and done nothing to trade those particular players at a point and time where you can maximize their value. If you've done none of those things, you are going to be a club that suffers for a long time.
"And once you start suffering for a long time, it's a deep hole to dig out of," Williams said. "So, this is necessary."
Williams tried to avoid such pitfalls by moving veterans such as Nick Swisher and Javier Vazquez over the past six weeks, and adding young, projected Major League contributors such as third baseman Dayan Viciedo, starting pitcher Jeff Marquez, infielder Brent Lillibridge and even catching prospect Tyler Flowers. On Monday, Williams mentioned how Flowers, in his present untested state and set to start with Double-A Birmingham, could hit Major League pitching.
This group joins a youthful core including left fielder Carlos Quentin, shortstop Alexei Ramirez, second baseman Chris Getz and starters John Danks and Gavin Floyd. It also includes Brian Anderson and Jerry Owens, who could emerge from the 2008 offseason as the team's 2009 leadoff hitter.
Owens was acquired in 2005 with the purpose of replacing Scott Podsednik at the top of the order. He became a forgotten guy in 2008 when a series of groin injuries during Spring Training zapped his season before it began. Williams still remembers Owens' capabilities, on display when he hit .267 with 32 stolen bases over 93 games in 2007.
"I'm not so quick to forget guys who have a lot of potential but fall off for whatever reason," Williams said. "We made a pretty good living by taking advantage of those situations. If I didn't say the name and said we could acquire the guy who would hit .275, run the ball down in the outfield and steal you 40 bases, he might not be a .350 on-base guy but .335 or .340, you would be pretty happy."
Getz, a more prototypical No. 2 hitter, also is in play as a leadoff candidate, as is Lillibridge. In fact, if Lillibridge was coming off a better year than his rough 2008 showing, Williams believes that he could be immediately labeled as the prime leadoff contender.
Fans or various media members might want Williams to look for a more accomplished name to hit atop the White Sox order. But accomplished leadoff men are hard to find in the game from the outset, and Williams likes his options as much as or better than the veterans who are available.
He's not trying to convince the masses as to how his decision is the right one. Taking a chance on these young players is the move the White Sox had to make in Williams' estimation to keep this franchise strong for many years to come.
"That's the point people are missing. The whole trying to sell it point is not part of the equation," Williams said. "I've learned over the years that no matter what we do, there's a certain amount of the population who are not going to like it. We are a little bit unorthodox in what we do, but it works. It has worked. We've had one year in the last how many years that was a long suffering season. We don't want to go through one of those again."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.