No surprise, Williams pulls plug on season

By Phil Rogers
Updated: September 1, 2009

CHICAGO — So much for Year 1 of the Jake Peavy era.

It turns out Mark Buehrle was right on the money when he questioned how trading four pitchers for a guy on the disabled list was going to help the White Sox compete this season. Ken Williams admitted as much on Monday night by becoming a trade-deadline seller, exactly one month after being a trade-deadline buyer.

Just when you think you’ve seen everything …

It’s not really a surprise that Williams pulled the plug on the 2009 season. That was actually something of a called shot, thanks to a memo he sent around the big leagues early Monday, advertising the availability of his core players.

But it was stunning that he traded Jim Thome out of the American League. The U.S. Cellular Field fan favorite went to the Dodgers, who won’t be using a designated hitter before Game 1 of the World Series.

And it might be even more stunning that he got a live arm in return for Jose Contreras. I wouldn’t have guessed he’d get anyone with a pulse.

Colorado, trying to catch the Dodgers or win the wild-card race, are sending the Sox right-hander Brandon Hynick, a 10-game winner at Triple-A Colorado Springs, including a seven-inning perfect game. That’s a good deal for the Sox, if only because it means they have to say an overdue farewell to Contreras, one of the heroes from the 2005 World Series.

They received Class A second baseman Justin Fuller from the Dodgers for Thome, who like Contreras was a great guy who will be missed. He’s a future Hall of Famer who is better in person than on the back of his baseball card. But he’s 39 and his body becomes a bigger risk all the time, with his back and heel constant concerns.

Factor in the presence of 23-year-old Tyler Flowers, who between Double A and Triple A has a .426 on-base percentage, .520 slugging average and no position to play with catcher A.J. Pierzynski signed through 2010, and you can see why Williams might decide it’s time to let the big guy go.

It’s unsure how much Thome will be used in the regular season, as Joe Torre is happy with the left-handed-hitting James Loney as his first baseman — and Thome has played only one game at first since 2007–but he could be a huge help if the Dodgers reach the World Series.

With the AL winning the All-Star Game, as many as four Series games could be played in the AL park, with a designated hitter in the lineup.

The two trades came just before the 11 p.m. deadline for postseason eligibility. Williams apparently decided to pull the plug after Sunday’s loss in New York, the Sox’s seventh in eight games.

They lost again Monday as he was on the phone, completing the deals with the Dodgers and Rockies, and discussing who knows how many possible trades with other teams.

It’s no surprise Williams would welcome offers on veteran players. He has made more deals than any other GM during his nine seasons.

He’s offering this crop of talent because the White Sox had slid six games behind Detroit.

But where would they be if they had 11 wins from Javier Vazquez, 22 home runs from Nick Swisher or hundreds of grounders fielded cleanly by Orlando Cabrera, Joe Crede or Juan Uribe? Those were the veterans Williams discarded after last season, when he quietly cut the payroll by about $25 million.

Those cuts seemingly provided the flexibility that allowed Williams to add Peavy and Alex Rios over the last month. The addition of Rios meant at least one of the bats in the middle of the order wouldn’t return in 2010. Few thought Dye would outlast Thome.

Who will be the next to go?