White Sox GM Williams making all the right moves

Trade for lefty Liriano another solid addition to roster

It's never easy for Jerry Reinsdorf and the White Sox, but year after year they find ways to stretch the payroll and keep things interesting.

That sweetheart stadium deal certainly helps. So does the Comcast SportsNet Chicago deal. But at the end of the day, they need creative management.

That's what I thought failed them the last couple of years, when Ken Williams had become an inefficient steward of Reinsdorf's resources. But if there was such a thing as Comeback Executive of the Year, Williams would be an easy winner for 2012.

After a quiet offseason, with his hands tied by the previous unproductive moves that brought Jake Peavy, Alex Rios and Adam Dunn to the White Sox, Williams has made all the right moves during the season, the latest being Saturday night's trade for Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano.

"We've had the displeasure of facing him when he's been on top of his game," Williams said Sunday. "He has some of the best stuff in our league, and has for some time now."

Liriano has a 5.31 ERA this season, but Williams is banking on pitching coach Don Cooper helping him develop some consistency, as Cooper did with Edwin Jackson after Williams landed him at the trade deadline two years ago.

And at this point, with the White Sox leading the American League Central and Williams having recently added Kevin Youkilis and Brett Myers without giving up a significant prospect, you'd look foolish questioning Williams. The dude is on a roll.

Williams had seemed pessimistic about adding salary a few weeks ago when he was asked about the upcoming trade deadline. Despite being in first place all but three days over the last two months, the Sox are averaging only 24,705 fans at home, which ranks 24th in the majors.

They took a big hit in season-ticket renewals last winter, when Williams was talking about rebuilding, but things have looked up thanks to two great moves by Williams and his assistants.

Robin Ventura was a high-risk choice as manager when he was hired to replace Ozzie Guillen, and he looks like the early front-runner for Manager of the Year. But the second great move went almost unnoticed.

When Williams and assistant GM Rick Hahn negotiated the five-year, $65 million deal to keep John Danks, they heavily back-loaded the contract. Danks is being paid only $8 million this year, with $7.5 million of it in a signing bonus that is paid out through December. His salary jumps to $14.25 million next year, when the Sox can take Jake Peavy or, more likely, Gavin Floyd off the books.

Without that flexibility, the Sox might not have been able to add the experience of Myers and Liriano to a pitching staff that badly needed more gristle. Those two guys and Youkilis have increased the payroll about $7 million — and that total would have been almost twice as high if Williams hadn't gotten the Red Sox and Astros to send along $6.6 million in those deals.

Williams has never seemed to care about trading prospects and entry-level big leaguers, with Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Hudson, Clayton Richard and Chris Young among those he has traded since the 2005 World Series. This time around he has been able to add veterans without paying a high price in talent.

Eduardo Escobar, who went to the Twins along with lefty Pedro Hernandez, is the best player that Trader Kenny has moved this season. But he probably falls into that group of players scouts consider regulars only on second-division teams, and in Tyler Saladino and Carlos Sanchez, the White Sox have Escobar replacements coming fast in the high minors.

"We think we can compete," Williams said. "(But) we're also building for the future."

September is in the future. And with the moves that Williams has made, maybe October too.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers
 

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