Ken Williams dismisses predictions of horrific season for White Sox
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN email@example.com March 24, 2012 6:54PM
Updated: April 26, 2012 8:25AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox bashing started when the first odds from Las Vegas were posted. It continued with an unnamed scout who, after following them this spring, said they could lose 100 games. And, most recently, there was a prediction by Sports Illustrated that they will finish dead last in the American League Central.
Was general manager Ken Williams taken seriously when he uttered ‘‘rebuilding’’ in December? Granted, Mark Buehlre was allowed to walk away in free agency, and closer Sergio Santos and All-Star outfielder Carlos Quentin were traded for prospects. Those are significant losses that leave the Sox (16-1 odds to win their division) paling in comparison to the heavily favored Detroit Tigers (1-4).
But last place? One hundred losses?
That has to hurt a GM who has prided himself on breaking camp with contending teams year in and year out.
‘‘I heard about it. He’s a terrible scout, whoever he is,’’ Williams told the Sun-Times. ‘‘Let people say what they want to say. I don’t much care.’’
The forecast is an about-face from last preseason, when the consensus view saw the Tigers, Sox and Twins in an even three-team race. The Sox finished four games below .500 and are banking on bounce-back years from Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham and breakout years from Dayan Viciedo and Addison Reed.
Williams isn’t seeing a drastic difference in where the Sox are on paper compared to a year ago.
‘‘Last year we were picked to win the division by a lot of people,’’ Williams said. ‘‘Now, with a lot of the same pieces, now people have turned. OK, whatever. It doesn’t matter. Let’s get out there and show our wares.’’
‘‘Nobody respects us” is a handy motivational tool found in every GM and manager’s top drawer. So while Williams disputes the notion that his team is a slight cut above the Class AAA Charlotte Knights, he’s not repelled by it.
‘‘I don’t mind,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t mind.’’
Echoing Paul Konerko’s viewpoint that the Sox threw a few games away late last season because of major distractions related to the impending exit of manager Ozzie Guillen and part of his coaching staff, Williams said he viewed the 2011 Sox (79-83) as a .500 team.
‘‘You start at that point and say we need nine more wins to get to 90,’’ Williams said. ‘‘That’s not inconceivable from this team with a little production we didn’t get from some of the guys we didn’t get it from last year. So these projections that we’re going to lose X amount of games or finish wherever in our division? We’re not buying it. Take a look at the starting rotation and some of our offensive pieces that, if they go back to their norm — not anything above, just their norm.’’
Williams has movable pieces with trade value — pitchers Gavin Floyd and Matt Thornton, to name two — should a poor start rekindle a veterans-for-prospects movement. The Sox start on the road against the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians before opening at home against the Tigers, and that has ‘‘rough start’’ written all over it. But after looking bad during the first two weeks of Cactus League games — a small but likely factor in prognosticators’ poor assessment — the Sox are pitching and hitting better of late. Dunn, Williams’ $56 million free-agent signing bust last year, is having an outstanding spring.
So ‘‘be careful about that,’’ Williams said when asked if a bad start will cause him to start dealing. He likes where the team is at — good enough, in his view, to be playing meaningful games after the All-Star break while having low expectations from the outside.
‘‘It’s going to have to be a team that has to grind through the season,’’ Williams said, comparing this year to 2005, ’06 and ’08 when ‘‘we had to grind our way and catch enough momentum along the way to generate energy and excitement in our fan base, which ultimately translates into more passion and energy from our players. It’s a tough April schedule. So we’re going to be mindful of that.’’
And also that he has a first-year manager in Robin Ventura. Coming from Williams, you wouldn’t expect anything but high marks for his and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s hire, but his first impressions are almost off the charts.
‘‘I had high expectations, and those expectations have been exceeded,’’ Williams said. Not just of him but by each member of the coaching staff as well. Camp has been efficiently run, the energy level is good, attention to detail is great. I see some positive signs from guys we were concerned about coming into camp. There are a lot of positives.’’