Friday, April 23, 2004

Early Returns

Bryan Smith has some critical comments of Kenny Williams in his article at The Hardball Times. He mainly criticizes Williams for not making any major moves this off-season for the Sox and not adding any depth to the roster.

The funny thing is main beef is with not having a backup for Jose Valentin who went on the DL with a pulled hamstring. Smith admits, that yes, Juan Uribe, who is taking over short for the interim, is currently tearing the cover off the ball. But it’s only matter of time before he start’s sucking again. So Kenny is a fool to have him as a back-up.

First, I think it would probably be appropriate to wait to criticize Williams until Uribe's play actually merits such criticism. But the guy is hitting .368/.400/.500 and is making a strong case to replace Harris at second when Valentin returns.

Second, even if Uribe regresses back to his career numbers, who exactly is Williams supposed to pick up as his utility infielder? An above average defensive middle infielder with career numbers of .262/.301/.411 is pretty comparable to what other teams have as a backup.

Smyth also blasts Williams for not replacing Colon, Gordon and Alomar in the offseason. So lets take these one at a time.

Williams was certainly restrained by his budget this offseason which made it hard to find a top line starter. With that said, he did offer Colon a competitive contract. I’m actually glad Colon didn’t accept because it most likely would have meant Ordonez would not be with the Sox right now. So the Sox decided to replace Colon in the rotation with Schoenenweis.

It’s early in the season, but Schoenenweis, who has added a cut fastball this year, has pitched well (3.26 ERA). His early numbers are even more impressive considering two of his starts came against the Yankees. I don’t think he will be able to pitch as well as Colon this year, but it looks like he will be able to give the Sox a lot of innings and keep them in games.

If anything, the trade to get Schoenenweis from the Angels for Gary Glover is starting to look like a good move by Williams.

The Gordon loss was no doubt another blow to the Sox. This loss was in no small part due to the move Williams made before the 2003 season that stuck the Sox with Billy Koch’s contract. Again, Gordon was offered a contract that was competitive to what he ended up receiving from the Yankees. After he left, I’m sure Williams decided to leave the closing duties to either Koch or Marte instead of adding another closer's salary. It looks like Marte will get the job and past performance suggests he could be an effective closer.

But Williams did make other bullpen moves with early positive results. New to the bullpen this year are Cliff Politte, Jon Adkins, Neal Cotts, Mike Jackson and Shingo Takatsu. All but Takatsu are off to solid starts. The other four all have ERAs under 3.00.

Lastly, I don’t have much to say about the loss of Alomar. He played like shit for the Sox last year. Harris may not play much better but he comes a lot cheaper. You are going to have some weaknesses with a $60 million payroll and it looks like 2B will be a weakness for the Sox (unless of course Uribe continues hitting).

Now this is not to say I think Williams is a great general manager. He has made some good moves like signing Loaiza and trading for Colon and some very bad moves such as the trades for Koch and Todd Ritchie.

But just because he didn’t make any major moves in the offseason doesn’t mean he did a bad job. He shouldn’t make moves just to look like he’s doing something. Anyway, I’m not "cursing the GM" now that the Sox have had a couple of injuries. I’m actually impressed that the guys he did pick up, such as Uribe, Ross Gload and Cliff Politte, are producing as much as they are.

If and when these moves start to turn sour, I might change my mind. But until then I’ll give Kenny the credit he deserves.