Saturday, August 20, 2011

Jim Hendry Fired, Kenny Williams On The Hot Seat?

With the unfortunate galvanizing news of Jim Hendry losing his job, there remains one more GM on the hot seat in Chicago.

Kenny Williams went "All-in" during the off-season. He landed behemoth Adam Dunn to add power and walks to the lineup. Unfortunately, Dunn hasn't worked out as well as everyone had hoped. I predicted 50 HR's from Dunn in US Cellular Field alone -- the best park to hit a home run in the entire majors. But Dunn has struggled all season long (statistical outlier?). He has cost the Sox 13 runs this season as well as a -2.2 WAR (average player at the MLB level has a WAR of 2).

But how much of this is really on Adam Dunn? Shouldn't Kenny have done (no pun intended) his homework? He should have known that moving an everyday player from the National League to the American League (to DH) will result in a lack of output. Kenny already has two strikes (Jake Peavy, Alex Rios) and perhaps he should have used some restraint. Mike Imrem wrote:
A former major-league manager once stated the obvious to me: The danger of bringing players in from other teams is those teams know more about them than you do.

So, maybe the Padres knew better than the Sox did that Peavy’s body was in danger of breaking down.

Maybe the Blue Jays knew better than the Sox did that Rios looked like he was gliding when he actually was loafing.

Maybe the Nationals knew, even though they did try to re-sign him, that Dunn would suffer in a big market and a pennant race.

Those are the risks a general manager takes when he builds a team from the outside rather than the inside.
That last sentence is key; "you build value from within." Although Kenny had success putting together a hodgepodge of players for the 2005 run, that isn't a model for long-term success. I always look at teams (e.g. Cubs, White Sox) who overpay veterans as a bad M&A deal. Sure, the deal looks good on paper, but once it starts siphoning cash flow, there's a problem. In fact, I do not think there's much difference in M&A and free agent failure:

  • CEO (GM) overconfidence
  • Pressure from market forces
  • Incompatible cultures
  • Overvaluation
  • Lack of target firm (player) knowledge

Will Kenny's "All-in" approach payoff this year? Feh -- probably not. The season isn't over for the White Sox...yet. But attendance is correlated to team performance. And as the White Sox struggle to stay at .500 and fill the seats, fan confidence declines with each passing game. For an accountant of Jerry Reinsdorf's experience, he'll only swallow losses for so long.

The White Sox are unfortunately a small market team in a big market city. They don't draw the fans regardless of performance like say the Cubs (though, their attendance numbers have declined as well) and they don't really have the cash to open up the checkbook every season. So they have to come up with creative ways to add value. The Tampa Bay Rays did this through great leadership, creative analytical analysis, and thinking outside the box. I believe the White Sox need to implement the same approach. Until they do so, Kenny Williams is on the hot seat.

Image source.

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