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Nick Swisher Dealt to White Sox
Kenny Williams Strikes Again
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
January 4, 2007
The Oakland Athletics and Chicago White Sox completed a trade on Thursday, sending Nick Swisher to Chicago for three of the top prospects in the Chicago White Sox organization. The trade brings an end to the Nick Swisher Era in Oakland, and may just bring an end to the Kenny Williams Era in Chicago.
Swisher of course became famous before stepping onto a major league baseball field by figuring prominently in Michael Lewis' Moneyball. Swisher is the prototypical "Moneyballer" in that he hits plenty of homeruns and takes plenty of walks, but struggles to maintain a passable batting average and strikes out tons. Swish made impressive strides in 2007, raising both his batting average and on-base percentage while walking more and striking out less, but he also traded 13 homeruns for 12 doubles from 2006 to 2007, which not-surprisingly led to his scoring and driving in significantly fewer runs. Swisher has spent three seasons in the majors and has made significant improvements each season. At the age of 27, Swisher looks to enter his prime this year, which of course in Oakland means it is time for him to go.
In return for the player who has truly been the face of a franchise, the A's get Gio Gonzalez, Faustino De Los Santos, and Ryan Sweeney, three highly touted prospects who are considered among the best in Chicago's minor league system.
The southpaw is a 22-year old from Florida by the name of Gio Gonzalez, who stands 5'11" and featured a mid-90s fastball and impressive breaking ball. After giving up 24 homeruns and 81 walks in 155 Double-A innings in 2006, he lowered his homeruns allowed to 10, and walk total to 57, in 150 Double-A innings in 2007. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was well over 3:1 (185:57), and he has been unhittable at times. Humorously, Swisher is the second large, high-strikeout/high-walk, high-OBP/low-AVG player Gonzalez has been traded for in his brief career – Kenny Williams sent Gonzalez to the Phillies as part of the Jim Thome deal before getting him back for Freddy Garcia (do not get me started on that series of transactions from the Phillies' perspective).
The 21-year old right-hander is a too-good-to-be-true youngster named Faustino de los Santos, who posted a 121:36 strikeout to walk ratio in 97.2 innings in low-A ball before putting up a dominant 32:7 ratio in 24.2 innings of Hi-A ball. His stuff has been dominant at the low levels, and there has been very little bad said about him. Obviously, he'll have to show that he can continue to pitch this way in Double-A, but with the Oakland A's in a rebuilding period, de los Santos could find himself on a major league mound in 2008.
Ryan Sweeney rounds out the deal for the A's. Sweeney, 22, seemed to regress in Triple-A last season, improving in only his ability to take bases on balls (as if he knew Billy Beane was interested in him somehow). Since being drafted after a dominant high school career in the second round of the 2003 amateur draft, Sweeney has been hailed as a top tier prospect, but has done little in five minor league seasons to distinguish himself. If Sweeney can somehow live up to the hype, he will be a steal for Billy Beane. In all likelihood, he will make a mediocre to solid major leaguer, which means he will likely be in the starting lineup for the A's next season.
It is easy to understand this move from Billy Beane's perspective – he is doing what he has always done, exporting his good, soon-to-be high priced players and restocking his minor league system. What is difficult to understand is Kenny Williams' motivation in moving three excellent albeit young and unproven prospects in exchange for more of what he already has – bulky low average hitting. Last season was a truly unique year for the White Sox in that they managed to finish second in the AL in homeruns hit while finishing dead last in the AL in runs scored and distantly last in batting average. It seems that bringing in a player with homerun power and a batting average nine points below the league average only reinforces a formula that did very little to help the White Sox score runs in 2007.
Additionally, Swisher appears to represent the final building block in Williams' master plan of destroying the Chicago White Sox. I continue to be bewildered by the direction Kenny Williams has taken his team in; just three seasons ago, the White Sox were hailed as the triumph of old school baseball over the bloated, offense-first, steroid-haze baseball of the modern era. The White Sox showed the world that pitching, defense, and small-ball hitting could be the secrets to success in the modern game by winning the 2005 World Series. But ever since Paul Konerko recorded the final out in that series, Williams has systematically dismantled that team and abandoned the formula for success that he seemed to have mastered.
The thing that has really struck me about Kenny Williams the last couple of years is his ability to lose players while not significantly improving the stock of his team.
It is easy to forget Williams' track record before the 2005 team that he masterfully assembled, but it is important to remember that this is the guy who traded three players to the New York Mets for Roberto Alomar in 2003, refused to re-sign Alomar in the off-season, then sent another player to the Arizona Diamondbacks to re-acquire Alomar in 2004. In all, Williams traded four players for Roberto Alomar in two seasons, and was rewarded with embarrassingly bad production both times.
After 2005, Williams let Frank Thomas go via free agency, and then traded Gio Gonzalez and Aaron Rowand for Jim Thome. This combination of moves basically swapped one homerun-hitting/walk-taking designated hitter for another, but cost him a pitching prospect and an elite defensive centerfielder.
After the 2006 season, Williams traded Freddy Garcia to the Philadelphia Phillies in return for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez. This deal has worked for the White Sox so far because Garcia missed most of the 2007 season due to injury, but it is important to note that this deal at the time involved a 200-inning pitcher for a bad prospect in Gavin Floyd and a pitcher that Williams already had 12 months earlier.
This off-season, Williams re-signed Juan Uribe, then swapped Jon Garland for Orlando Cabrera. Basically, without significantly upgrading his shortstop position or adding another bat to his lineup, Williams tossed a starting pitcher who has been good for 200 innings every season.
When paired with Williams' most recent deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Swisher move continues to boggle the mind. Last month, Williams sent stud prospect first baseman Chris Carter to the Deebs for stud prospect outfielder Carlos Quentin. Then, he makes this move with the A's, so in essence Williams started with a stud outfield prospect (Sweeney) and a stud first base prospect (Carter), and emerged with another stud outfield prospect (Quentin) and a veteran outfielder/first baseman (Swisher), while shedding two stud pitching prospects.
It has been easy to give lots of credit to Kenny Williams for the good moves he has made - acquiring Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras for very little, Freddy Garcia for virtually nothing, and then later obtaining Javier Vazquez (though trading Chris B. Young to it) demonstrated an ability to sniff out an acquire cheap quality pitching. Allowing Magglio Ordonez to leave via free agency and trading Carlos Lee for Scott Podsednik turned the White Sox outfield from a bulky, homerun-hitting group into a nimble, defense-first, pitcher-supporting dynamo that, in my opinion, played a major role in the 2005 run to the World Series.
But as Kenny Williams' transactions pile up, those moves look less like the cold, calculating moves of a genius manager and more like the lucky end of a very agressive, to the point of wreckless, attitude towards development and personnel. While the World Championship Williams' delivered to the South Side in 2005 has certainly bought him plenty of time and quite a bit of leniency, it is difficult to say that it cemented his reputation as a top notch general manager, because he is starting to look like a fool.
Next season, the Chicago White Sox are going to hit lots of homeruns, and will probably take a fair amount of walks. They will also strikeout a ton, barely hit their weight, and play exceptionally poor defense behind a pitching staff that will be neither particularly deep nor particularly talented. When that happened to the Sox in 2007, manager Ozzie Guillen made it clear that he blamed his players collectively. Next year, he will have only one person to blame.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.