Williams says Sox want Guillen

By David Haugh
Updated: September 23, 2010

CHICAGO — Cut through all the melodrama of this suddenly disappointing White Sox season and one truth has emerged after talking Wednesday with general manager Ken Williams: Whether Ozzie Guillen returns to manage the Sox in 2011 is entirely up to Guillen.

It won’t come down to Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf having to choose between baseball sons Williams and Guillen, the second-longest tenured GM-manager partnership in baseball. It will come down to Guillen choosing between the Sox and managerial free agency.

Your move, Oz. Be careful what you wish for.

“I am not planning on making a managerial change before next season,” Williams told me over the phone. “That said, with one more year left on his contract and another (for 2012) with the team option, if those are terms he’s no longer happy with, (Jerry and) I understand and respect him enough to let him out of his deal.”

Somewhere, Marlins owner Jeff Loria smiles at the thought of reeling in his big fish. Williams’ comments open the door for the Marlins and possibly the Mets eventually to request permission to interview Guillen, who lobbied for a contract extension Wednesday in both Chicago newspapers.

Guillen would galvanize either of those team’s fan bases and offers a proven style of play that fits in the National League — despite a terrible Sox September that provided an odd backdrop for requesting a new deal.

Relayed Williams’ comments via the Tribune’s Mark Gonzales after Wednesday’s 4-3 victory in Oakland, Guillen didn’t exactly sound like a guy leaning toward removing the doubt over his status.

“He’s the general manager (and) he has all the right to say what he wants to say,” Guillen told Gonzales. “I have it very clear about how many years of contract I have. One day I have to win the division (for the option to vest in ’12). I got my money. I got my time. I just want to secure it for my family and see where we stand.”

Another team may tempt Guillen with more long-term security. But the Sox offer potentially two more years in a city where Guillen is beloved and enjoys the benefit of the doubt — a fact he seemed to realize when telling a group of reporters he wants to stay in Chicago “the rest of my career.”

“If that’s the point (of Williams’ comments), we have a two-year deal, then I make my decision,” Guillen said. “When I talk to them to see what’s going on, that’s cool. But I will talk to them and ask them exactly what they want. And if that’s what they want, then I make my decision.”

For a guy who consistently talks about not needing money or feeling pressure, Guillen pressing the contract issue now surprised more than just Williams, who said he felt “blindsided.”

Maybe Guillen knows from third-party sources how much interest the Marlins have and was gauging the Sox’s level of commitment. But if one of Guillen’s players brought up his contract status during a slump, imagine how many bleeps the manager’s response would require.

“I’d rather the energy be directed at finishing strong,” Williams said.

Yet barring an AL Central title, it doesn’t sound like even a strong Sox finish would have provided the impetus for a new contract for Guillen.

“It’s just not the right time,” Williams elaborated. “There is a year left on his contract, two years from the team’s perspective, unless he would like to decide otherwise. If he does, I’ve talked to Jerry and we agree if this is something he doesn’t want, we’re not going to stop him.”

Realizing how many will interpret that willingness given the way the Ozzie-Kenny relationship is dissected as much in Chicago as Jay Cutler-Kristin Cavallari, Williams stressed how much he wants Guillen back. Through all the controversy, Williams insists he never wavered that Guillen was the best manager for this team.

Separating personal and professional can be easier said than done considering both men’s combative personalities. It was Aug. 26, for instance, when a source said Williams’ loud candor in Guillen’s office upset the manager enough that Guillen was seen marching through the building to Reinsdorf’s office as upset as some ever have seen him.

Guillen was nearly 30 minutes late for his usual media session that day because he was asking Reinsdorf where he stood.

Williams wants to focus on the bigger picture, his strong desire to keep one of baseball’s best managers in the Sox dugout. The Sox without Guillen in ’11 would provide a sagging fan base even less reason to come to the Cell, not to mention take away the face of the franchise who holds players accountable every day.

“The man helped bring a World Series to Chicago,” Williams said. “It wasn’t that long ago I approached Jerry after the ’07 season, my worst as a GM and a bad one on the field, and asked to extend Ozzie’s contract.”

“That’s the kind of confidence I had in the man and still do.

Anyone suggesting I don’t think he’s the right man for the job is not studying the history.”

As for his own future, I asked Williams what he thought of the idea of providing a buffer between him and Guillen by taking a new title to make Rick Hahn the general manager.

“No, not for me,” Williams said. “I won’t rule that out one day.”

“My competitiveness to win a world championship in Chicago has not waned one bit. The weariness from lack of sleep and trying to figure out how to right the ship, that’s exhausting, yes. But I’m not tired of my job here.”

For the good of the Sox, hope that Guillen concludes he feels the same way about his.