Sunday, April 1, 2012
Early Saturday morning, White Sox general manager Ken Williams sat down with a White Sox television crew and discussed spring training and his expectations for the 2012 season in a 20-minute conversation.
Here is the transcript of the complete Q&A:
Thoughts so far on the job Robin Ventura has done…
It’s been a good camp. Not just him, he’s got coaches on his staff that are a cut above. I think its best described as I had high expectations, and they exceeded those expectations. They exceeded them pretty quickly and pretty consistently. We just had our last meeting of the spring, and I thanked them for that. I thanked them for a nice relaxed, professional and attention-to-detail camp. I’ve got a lot of confidence that whatever happens throughout the course of the year, if anything goes against our plan, it won’t be because they had not prepared our players to be in the best positions to succeed. These guys have really stepped up.
Have the veterans bought into the new coaching staff?
Well, yes. There are not too many options that Robin and his coaching staff leave you with — you either buy in or you move on. It’s something that I can certainly appreciate, but it’s not so draconian in its presentation. It’s a conversation, an explanation of the expectations they have, and again that attention to detail. Our players have gravitated toward it in a very big way.
How tough has it been to step back and let it be ‘Robin’s camp?’
Well, it’s actually very easy. I’ve always thought that it’s about the players and the fans first, and then we’re all kind of on the peripheral in terms of, in my case, bringing in as much talent as we can bring in, and in Robin and his staff’s case, getting them to play to the best of their abilities. In terms of me stepping away from the media, some of the stuff generally I’ve done, that’s not a very difficult thing for me to do.
That’s probably the easiest thing for me to do in a number of years. We sit around, we have great dialogue and meetings in the morning, and we don’t often have to call a formal meeting around here because we’re always talking and engaged. And the players have been very engaged and very expressive toward how they feel about our chances this year and what’s happened in their preparation.
How close can Jake Peavy get to returning to his old form?
I think a lot of people have more question marks than we do regarding our club. We are confident that Jake is going to give us the best year that he has a White Sox. That assumes health, as always, with everyone. Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, (Gordon) Beckham – all the so-called question marks that people have pointed to in determining the prognostications, if you will.
We’ve got a lot less questions than they do; we’ve got a lot more confidence in these men than they do. That’s all right, though, because it begins and ends when you cross that white line. And there have been teams we’ve had in the pas that have been very, very talented, teams that when we crossed that white line we haven’t played very well. We hadn’t deserved it. We had come into the season being the team to beat. And there have been times when people thought, “They’re not going to do so well.” And we’ve exceeded those expectations. We think this is going to be one of those years. But again, quiet humility, grind it out, get your work in and just continue to try to beat that door down. That’s kind of our mode of operation.
How important is a fast start, being above .500 going into June?
Everyone wants to get off to a fast start. What we are concerned with is: let’s get off to a consistent-play start. We’ve got a tough Texas team that we’re opening up with, we’ve got Cleveland and Detroit, and you know this is the American League – there are no breaks in the American League. What we’re after is consistent pitching, starting pitching and in our bullpen. We think we’re talented on both ends. And consistent, fundamentally-sound defense as well as offense; situational getting the job done. The little things will matter more with this team than they ever have. Well I won’t say never, because we’ve had similarly-built offensive teams. But the little things, particularly at the top and bottom of the order, will matter the most. The guys in the middle, I think they’re going to do what they do. But it’s how we play the game on the edges.
Your thoughts on predictions Sox will lose 95 games?
Yes, I have some thoughts on it, but I’m trying not to be controversial. I’ve got some thoughts – I think they’re wrong about that, but we have to prove it. I think certainly we are a team that can compete, but we have to be in the mindset that I think they’re in. Which is we can’t take any at-bats off, any plays off, any innings – everybody’s got to do their part. It’s not about one or two guys, it’s collectively as a group. I think that’s more important than anything. But people are mistaken if they think we’re that kind of team – that kind of team that’s going to be on the losing side of things.
Do you agree with Konerko in saying it could be a successful year without making the playoffs?
I think often times, people take one little thing that someone says and they put the context around it, they shape it how they want to shape it. I know Paulie. I didn’t even have to talk to him about this because I know Paulie – and he wants to win. And he expects to win. What he’s talking about is something outside of that, that doesn’t have anything to do with what he feels about the team or what he wants as a goal for this team. We’re on the same page there. I think it’s important to be expansive in that statement when we talk about what he said.
With developing young guys, even if there’s no World Series can it still be successful?
Well, here’s the variable that we have as scouts and front office people, scouting and minor league development people. We have the advantage because we’ve seen Hector Santiago, we’ve seen Tyler Flowers, we’ve seen Brent Morel and what they can all do. We’ve seen these guys, like Viciedo, we’ve seen that they can compete at a high level and what they are bringing to the table. The people that are talking about the makeup of our club don’t have that inside angle to draw from. Paul Konerko, being on the major league team, and the rest of our players didn’t know what they had until they saw it. They didn’t know, for instance, what Nestor Molina, who we got from Toronto, is about and wondering why we would move Sergio Santos until you see, ‘Oh that’s what they’re talking about.’ That’s why they did it, for the short term and the long term. For the short term we’ve got that covered because we have guys who go into the bullpen like Hector Santiago, like Nate Jones, who are young guys, like Addison Reed. So we have that covered. Listen, it’s not an accident that we led the majors in quality starts and the least amount of bullpen innings for almost a decade. That’s not an accident. We have a systematic approach that works.
So you’re really excited about this season?
You know, I am. And part of the reason, to be honest, is that people are saying what they’re saying. And we know we’re better than that. We think our fans are going to be pleasantly surprised when it’s all said and done. But again you’ve got to get out there on the field and prove it.
Will there be any surprises with the roster cuts?
Well, we were optimistic about Nate Jones coming into this year in the bullpen. Here’s a guy that throws 97-100 mph with a hard breaking ball and a good changeup too that he’s just now starting to show more. I think he’s been so intent on showing the power stuff that he has here in early in camp that he didn’t show as much of the changeup. But our guys are down there now talking about that. So he’s a guy that I thought, ‘well maybe he needs another half of a year of seasoning, but let’s keep out eye on him because if he takes one more step forward he’s going to be a guy.’
Addison Reed shows you a little bit of what he has last year. You don’t even have to watch Hector [Santiago] pitch, just watch the hitters’ reaction to some of the pitches that he throws. That’ll tell you what they think about that. We’ve got the makings of some things. Chris Sale’s first couple of outings down here, they were not pretty. But we kept saying don’t worry about Chris Sale, because we know that he is a starter and he just has to get back in that mindset. I think the last few times out he’s shown that, and shown that in a big way. So when you talk about your fourth starter – fifth starter or however it lines up, I think right now Robin’s got him as Sale-Humber 4-5, more to break up the left-handers than anything – we think we have a rotation. It’s hard to come up with some of the numbers that the prognosticators are coming up with because we look at our rotation and say, ‘Well this guy can win 15, this guy might be better than that, and this guy can win 12-15.’ So it’s a little difficult for us to understand all the negativity, but we think more than anything it’s because we had so much positive thinking last year and we didn’t live up to those expectations. So people are a little upset and a little weary about where we are. But there’s still the same group of talent out there, and all they have to do is do their part. They don’t have to do anything more, just do their part.
What have you seen from Gordon Beckham so far?
He’s been in and out of his swing. What I like is that I see he, Robin, Jeff Manto and Harold Baines all talking about his mindset. Gordon’s a guy that wants to square the ball up and hit it hard all of the time. One thing Robin has been able to convince him of is that it’s ok to get fooled and still bloop a base hit – and be happy with that. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to square up the baseball. So he’s now in a better position, I think he’s in a better mindset defensively. If this guy hits .270 he’s going to win a Gold Glove because he’s that good out there. That’s one of the other positives, when you look at Brent Morel and the way he plays defense, Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham, you know Paulie doesn’t have the greatest range in the world but if he gets a glove on it you know he’s catching it. He’s smart over there as well, so the infield defense is looking good. Again, another positive.
Is it important for Adam Dunn to get off to a fast start?
Again, I think everyone and anyone wants to start out hot. But that’s not always the case. When we open up the season we’re going to have our hands full with the Texas Rangers, fortunately we’re going to put some pitching out there that can match their pitching. So we’ll see at the end of the day how it comes out. But Adam I don’t think has to start out hot, but he has to build. He needs to start out making as consistent contact as he has down here, seeing the ball well, taking nice passes toward the baseball, and he’ll get his share of hits here and there and build on that. I think it’s a mistake if he thinks, or if anyone thinks, that he should start out blazing hot and that’ll be the tell-tale of the entire season. I think that he needs to build, it’s a slow build, and I hope the fans support and encourage him, because if they’re on our side the encouragement helps. The converse of that just doesn’t.
What’s the difference between you now and when you first started the job?
More gray (laughing). When I came into this interview, I realized that I hadn’t shaved my mustache before I came in. I felt like I shouldn’t wear it so much because there’s so much gray on it. But the biggest difference is patience I think.
I talk to our hitters about controlled aggression, that baseball is a game of controlled aggression, and one day I caught myself listening to what I was saying and thought that I need to practice that a little bit more too. A little bit more patience, a little bit less intensity, but with that same intensity when it’s needed. That same drive when it’s needed. But to a large degree, you kind of are what you are, and I desperately, desperately want this team to win another World Series. I make no apologies in the way we’ve gone about our business trying to accomplish that goal. I know there have been criticisms leveled against us in the way of trying to continue to churn it out, churn it out, and go after it at the risk of moving a young player here or there. But we made a decision a long time ago. I sat down in front of everyone the first day I was hired, and I talked about not one World Series championship, but run the table. I talked about multiple World Series championships before my tenure was out. And simply I’m not going to make any apologies for trying to do that year in and year out. Along the way you’re going to make some mistakes. When you’re entering into a high-risk, high-reward sweepstakes that’s what it is. Sometimes you’re going to end up with mud on your face. And that happens, anyone who’s been in this chair for a dozen years, guess what, you’re going to have some of that. But if we make mistakes here, whether it be player acquisitions, personnel of any sort, we’re going to make them high-risk, high-reward. If it turns out well we’ve got ourselves a chance for another championship. If it doesn’t, you know, I can stand up and look in the mirror, look at our fans and say we gave it our best shot.
It looks like you’re having more fun…
Well, it’s been a good camp. It’s been a good camp.
We saw you taking cuts in the batting cage a few weeks ago…
No one has tape on that, right? You’ve got tape on that? Well, wait a minute: No. 1, Kevin Hickey’s throwing. I’ve been tempted to activate Kevin Hickey for another left-hander in the bullpen because he’s so nasty out there during BP, so that was my first mistake. Second mistake was a probably should’ve bunted once to get the timing down, it’s been a few years since I’ve picked up a bat and swung. I mean I played in Chicago, so it’s not like I can pretend to be someone I’m not – even when I could swing it, I couldn’t swing it.
After Paul Konerko’s stand-up triple in Saturday’s game, he was replaced by a pinch runner to great applause by the dugout and the crowd. On his way off the field at the end of the inning, Williams tried to call the bullpen to connect with Konerko.
“I just wanted to make sure he was OK,” joked Williams.