As the team-employed beat writer for the White Sox website, taking the actions of the franchise and expressing it into rational and understandable terms is very much a part of Scott Merkin’s job. As such, picking through his piece attempting to justify the approach of the White Sox toward their farm system under Kenny Williams is more of a device to examine the state of the organization than criticize the work itself.
Also, it reflects that there ain’t much happening.
The gist of the article is that the White Sox farm system being generally regarded as an abomination is the result of their focus being solely honed on the Major League team. Therefore, the place of the organization in farm system standings is irrelevant, as its only purpose is serving as trade fodder and graduating major league contributors, pretty much as soon as possible.
It’s a strawman argument for the White Sox that they’re more concerned about big-league performance than minor league rankings, because every team is, even the ones with self-imposed payroll constraints, but the point is clear enough. The White Sox don’t want to be the A’s, or even the Royals, where they have to spend multiple years assembling their young talent while packing it in on the major league level. That’s fine, dudes.
It’s just that…
“Under general manager Ken Williams, the White Sox have pursued a “live for the moment” approach that has had them in contention in every season of his tenure, including a World Series title in 2005, with the ’07 season the lone exception.
But the run of continued success has come at the expense of the farm system, which largely has been utilized to acquire players to keep the team on its winning path at the big league level. Those who expertly study such things consistently rank the White Sox at or near the bottom in overall ratings of farm system ratings. And the truth of the matter is that the South Siders are not deep in young talent.
The question is, how much does this lack of depth matter in the White Sox pursuit of the ultimate goal — World Series titles?”
…being mentioned as competitors for the AL Central crown past the month of July is a pretty soft definition for “competing.” There’s been one playoff bid in the last five years, no 90-win seasons, and three sub-.500 seasons. For a General Manager who “prefers to go for more certainty when spending for a title”, that’s a pretty cruddy percentage while absorbing the consistently top-10 salary such an approach demands.
If that seems like an unfair focus on Kenny Williams’ worst period–well, first, recent data is the most significant–it’s because that’s what any justification of the White Sox minor league system is actually focused on. Being ranked dead last in baseball like the White Sox farm system undoubtedly will be for this year isn’t uncharted territory (for example, 2008), but to suggest that it’s inherent to Kenny Williams is fudging the earlier portion of his tenure.
Baseball America Organizational Rankings for the White Sox:
That’s no error. In Kenny Williams’ first year, he was handed what was arguably the best farm system in baseball. If asked about that, Kenny might mention that the 5 top-100 prospects that system boasted were Jon Rauch, Joe Borchard, Joe Crede, Matt Ginter, and Dan Wright, and that while they all reached the majors, he might have done better to trade them all the time the list came out.
That aside, the amount to which the farm system burned as the South Side product reaped the benefits seems to have been muted. In particular, the two strongest teams of Williams’ era (’05 and ’06) thrived with a legitimately average stockpile of talent waiting to take its place.
Since then, the White Sox haven’t escaped the bottom 8 of the rankings, with diminished concern expressed about it because they were busy “competing”. Assuming long-term talent debts for short-term gain that didn’t arrive in full, and seemingly willing to do so until a lack of reinforcements from the farm made the Major League team nonviable too.
As Merkin is bringing it all home about the ideal scenario the White Sox are seeking, he offers this axiom:
“The best alternative is to find a balance between using your own players to both fill gaps in the lineup and acquire players from other organizations who can make impact.”
By that respect, the last 5 years have been a failure. By purging prospects with vigor and skimping on draft spending, the White Sox have skewed themselves at the far end of the spectrum in the debate as to whether to build from within, or pay for proven talent. While there’s certainly a market inefficiency to exploit given how much teams over-value prospects now, this year alone has shown that the White Sox don’t have the limitless payroll to cover the cost that the mistakes that come with such an approach has. Hell, even the Yankees don’t think they can operate that way anymore.
Perhaps the most recent off-season could be seen as a reason for hope. The only time Williams zigged when he was suppose to zag was the Danks extension, which is pretty easy to postulate as being the result of crappy trade offers brought on by a market flooded with cheaper options. That and Danks will be the second-youngest member of the 2012 rotation.
Otherwise, Williams targeted a dire absence of minor league pitching depth, conceded to rely on progression from his in-house talent for many of unsettled lineup spots, and seemed to blink and turn around when a top-end payroll for a below-average team with no farm system stared him in the face. There’s no outpouring of adoration for any of the returns, but it’s a competent and realistic GM who made the Santos, Quentin, and Frasor trades.
And it’s a nice contrast from an extreme organizational approach that’s sought to shirk the enhanced focus on minor league development that the rest of the league embraced that brought things to this point.
Or maybe that was just Dunn and Rios.
Tags: adam dun, Alex Rios, baseball, baseball america, Carlos Quentin, dan wright, jason frasor, joe borchard, Joe Crede, John Danks, jon rauch, Kansas City Royals, Kenny Williams, matt ginter, New York Yankees, Oakland A's, Sergio Santos, White Sox