White Sox in 'listening mode' in Vegas
GM Williams unlikely to make major moves during Winter Meetings
LAS VEGAS -- The Winter Meetings never have represented a time when the Hot Stove officially moved from simmer to full boil for Ken Williams.
Much like the past eight offseasons of his regime as White Sox general manager, Williams already has put in much heavy lifting prior to Sunday's arrival at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. In fact, the Monday-Thursday meetings simply could represent a chance for Williams to sit back and see what other teams have to offer in a further attempt to improve his 2009 squad and beyond.
"We've got some good veteran players, who continue to produce year after year. There's [outside] interest. But as I sit here right now, I don't foresee any other movement with any other veteran players."
In an effort to infuse a youthful presence around this strong veteran core -- an idea Williams talked about to MLB.com as far back as the end of October -- Williams has already traded away outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher, right-handed starter Javier Vazquez and left-handed reliever Boone Logan over the past three weeks. The reasoning behind these trades is in part a desire to move veterans who didn't seem to have a fit with the White Sox in 2009. The moves also freed up more than $17 million in payroll for 2009.
More importantly, Williams added five solid prospects through these two maneuvers, along with veteran infielder Wilson Betemit. The White Sox acquired right-handed starter Jeff Marquez and Minor League reliever Jhonny Nunez in the Swisher deal, and infielder Brent Lillibridge, catcher Tyler Flowers, Minor League third baseman Jonathan Gilmore and left-handed pitcher Santos Rodriguez as the return for Vazquez and Logan.
Marquez will compete for what currently stands as two open rotation spots behind Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd and John Danks, while Lillibridge is a utility infielder who could challenge Chris Getz for the job at second base. The ultra-fast Lillibridge provides an additional speed component absent from recent White Sox teams, one of the offseason targets for Williams, along with moving toward a younger foundation.
"Speed, where I don't mean just stealing bases," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, when asked to address the desire for this speed/power balance in his 2009 lineup. "I need guys to catch the ball, going gap to gap.
"I'm not looking for Vince Coleman or Rickey Henderson. When I talk about speed, it's going first to third on a base hit or if somebody hits the ball in the gap [against the White Sox], it should be a base hit and not a triple. Our team last year was slow on the field."
While Winter Meetings dealings might be slow out of the gate for the White Sox, other major announcements taking place over the course of this week could impact the organization. On Monday, the results of the pre-1943 and post-1942 Hall of Fame Veterans' Committee ballots will be announced. Dick Allen (1972-74) and Jim Kaat (1973-75), who played significant roles for the White Sox, are part of the group being voted on whose careers began in 1943 or beyond, as is Ron Santo, the legend from the crosstown Cubs, who played the 1974 campaign on the South Side.
Of the 10 players being examined whose careers ended prior to 1943, Vern Stephens (1953, 1955) has White Sox ties.
On Wednesday, the Baseball Writers' Association of America J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner will be announced. The Spink Award is given annually to a writer who has made major contributions to baseball writing. Dave Van Dyck, the venerable Tribune writer who has adeptly covered Chicago baseball for decades, joins Bob Elliot (Ottawa Citizen) and Nick Peters (Sacramento Bee) as finalists. There also will be a Wednesday announcement from Major League Baseball concerning the 2009 World Baseball Classic, with the winner of the Ford C. Frick Award -- given annually to a broadcaster -- being announced on Tuesday.
Thursday marks the conclusion of the Las Vegas event, with the Rule 5 Draft. The White Sox have room on their 40-man roster if they want to make a selection.
Otherwise, the White Sox might not have much movement in Las Vegas. Interest from other teams in highly accomplished veterans such as Jermaine Dye, Bobby Jenks and/or Paul Konerko doesn't mean Williams will do anything more than listen.
Some pundits wonder about the White Sox apparent leadoff-man vacancy or the opening in the back end of the rotation. Those needs could be addressed after the Winter Meetings, following a period when some of the free agents fall into place, but Williams seems perfectly satisfied giving Jerry Owens a chance at the top of the order and in giving Marquez, Clayton Richard, Lance Broadway and Aaron Poreda the opportunity to fill out the starting five.
There is one piece of business Williams would like to see transpire over the next week, as far as high-end free agents are concerned.
"It gets tiring seeing them all land in the [American League]," said Williams with a laugh. "I'm sending out [National League] brochures, with what those cities have to offer.
"If there's someone better than what we currently have, by trade or through free agency, then we will explore it," said Williams of his Winter Meetings focus. "Often times, the in-house options are better and a better fit than what you get through free agency."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.