Kenny Williams has always been one of the most interesting GMs in all of sports. Between his midseason trades that seem to come together in a matter of minutes, his heated disputes with manager Ozzie Guillen, and his under the radar acquisitions that materialize out of nothing, Williams will never cease to make it interesting to be a White Sox fan.
The 2010/11 offseason could be particularly exciting for Sox fans, as Williams will likely have some payroll room to play with. Between the free agency of Paul Konerko, AJ Pierzynski, and JJ Putz, the White Sox will have $21.25 million coming off the books. Several players will receive small salary bumps in arbitration or through back-loaded contracts, including Alex Rios, Jake Peavy, Edwin Jackson, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, and Carlos Quentin. However, Williams should still have $10 million+ to work with. A payroll expansion isn’t necessarily out of the question either, as the Sox' payroll currently sits at roughly $103 million after being as high as $121 million just two years ago.
This means Kenny Williams could take his antics to the market and attempt to make a splash in free agency. There are several players Williams could go after, but to me three main ones make the most sense.
With Konerko coming off the books, the White Sox will need a first baseman. Pierzynski can probably be replaced immediately by top prospect Tyler Flowers, and Putz’s presence likely will not be missed terribly. Bobby Jenks and especially Matt Thornton (who I count among the top few relievers in the league) can deal with late-game relief situations, and rookie Chris Sale has come out and proven his worth to one of the strongest pens in the league (4th in overall FIP).
The White Sox play at US Cellular Field, one of the biggest bandboxes in the league. The Cell is second in the league this season in HR park factor, at 1.498, or nearly 50% more home runs than the average MLB park. If I were Kenny Williams, I’d look at these factors and determine that a big-power first baseman is the perfect fit. This free agent class has several, but the two who most interest me are Adam Dunn and Carlos Peña.
Peña’s slash-line looks pretty ugly this year, currently sitting at .200/.328/.417. Although he’s never been a high-average hitter, instead relying on walks to get on base at a reasonable clip, Peña isn’t a Mendoza-line hitter. His BABIP currently sits at a ridiculously low .224 (career .280), so his low average may be a blessing in disguise should Williams go after him, as his down year could depress his value on the free agent market. His career .250 ISO shows that Peña provides a good dose of power, making him a great fit for the Cell. I believe whatever team signs Peña may get a pretty good bargain (although I don’t think that’s ever happened with a Scott Boras client), but the White Sox and Peña could be a perfect fit.
Likewise, Adam Dunn is a slugging first baseman who could feel right at home at US Cellular. Dunn’s been a consistently strong hitter, putting up a wRC+ between 132 and 143 (between 32 and 43% above league average) for each of the last four seasons. Dunn can hit the dinger with the best of them, having put up 40+ 5 years in a row before last year’s 38. He’s got 34 this year, so he could certainly get back to the 40+ plateau with a strong last few weeks. Either Peña or Dunn could play an adequate first base, although Peña’s D is slightly better, so Kenny Williams could take a shot at bringing either player to the South Side.
However, as I mentioned, Kenny Williams likes to get a little crazy. Well, here goes. Carlos Quentin, known for his power at the plate, isn’t much with the leather. In fact, his –28.8 UZR in right in 2010 is as bad as it gets among MLB RFs. The Sox could elect to move Quentin to first, where his glove wouldn’t be as much of an issue, and pursue a free agent outfielder instead. The offensive prize of this free agent class, for me, is current Ray Carl Crawford. A great defender at the corners (and adequate in center), Crawford wouldn’t come cheap. However, if Williams outbids the big boys (the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels will likely all be in on Crawford), Crawford could be a great fit in right (or center, shifting Alex Rios to right), providing an immediate defensive upgrade in the outfield and a spark at the top of the Sox’ lineup.
So wait til next year, Sox fans. But expect a crazy offseason and potentially a big-name signing that Kenny Williams hopes can put his team over the top and into the playoffs.