Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

You are the common factor in all of your problems.
That, and more waffles.
Ethnocentric Republicans, "Waffles at Eleven"

Apparently I broke some news yesterday: Beat writers tend to disdain bloggers.

By misinterpreting an aspect of a tweet I did overstate the case of one particular fuck you from the beats to the blogs. And for that I apologized to Scott Merkin as I'll apologize to Dan Hayes now, as the incorrect passage was excised. But the larger issue--a haughtiness that comes, perhaps naturally, with the beat territory--remains.

I'm not sure how that comes as a shock. I was once fervently pro-traditional media and anti-blog, at least in one specific aspect: collaboration. In the traditional publication-editor-writer relationship, there are crucial checks and balances, copyediting, and brainstorming, all of which give traditional media a huge advantage over even the best lone-wolf blogger. It is a rare case where a self-published piece (and that includes the "big" bloggers) doesn't have outright grammar errors, if not larger issues of sourcing, attribution, context.

But my view has changed per my last experience with traditional media. Although Comcast boasted no publication per se, I wrote thousands of words per day for the CSNChicago site. Mistakes were caught and headlines improved, sure--but not often enough. Editors have been replaced by producers, whose responsibilities only partially involve editing, too often only after a piece has been uploaded live to a site.

So the job of copyediting, brainstorming, fact-checking and so on--a process that used to be collaborative--is increasingly falling to writers and writers alone. Are many of us up for the task? Sure. But presumptively and virtually eliminating the job of "editor" in electronic media bodes poorly for its future.

Thus I have no choice but to modify my stance, given that all too often a beat writer is a blogger, with greater access, responsibility, stature, and pay.

At any rate, yesterday's post dealt with the White Sox beat forsaking the blogosphere, something I see as a very valuable asset--often in a rather uppity or resentful manner. Pretty much as simple as that. And who knows, perhaps the Twitterpating that went on yesterday surrounding that post and the larger issue of getting to the bottom of Chris Sale's velocity issues will actually lead to a better relationship between the beat and fans.

I might have been different from the rest of my peers last season in that I was flying fairly solo in my writing endeavors. But when a fan was bowled over by a piece, it became a major editorial board vote and I took it as incentive to keep digging in that direction. And if a blog posted an intriguing question that hadn't been answered on the beat, I saw the opening and took it.

Two quick, late cases in point, September 2011. Cleveland Indians pitchers had been drilling White Sox with impunity, ably noted on Twitter. At the first pregame opportunity, I went to Sale, Sergio Santos, and Paul Konerko to get a read on why Chicago hurlers weren't retaliating, and whether or not retaliation was just an NFLization of baseball in the first place, no longer playing a role in today's game.

Upon Ozzie's resignation, it was larry at South Side Sox who captured his blog post stating he was headed to the Marlins before it was pulled down. I happened to catch his tweet and passed the news on, fully crediting his find. Thanks to larry's open eyes, I was able to squeeze the fact into coverage as early as my rough gamer, before Ozzie had left the field. That made my story was the only one with apparent confirmation on where Ozzie was headed.

To me, that's just using open, available and willing resources, nothing to be intimidated or put off by. Had I worked this 2012 season on the beat, I'm sure I would only have increased my dialogue with fans and blogs, especially with Comcast moving on to more unified and collaborative blog overall.

While I hope White Sox beat writers begin to see some in the blogosphere as collaborative partners, I have my doubts.

* * *

I heard from Merk yesterday, and he wasn't happy, beyond my misinterpretation of the #GoBlue tweet cheer. But he jumped to some conclusions that were likely spur of the moment, thus untrue. As much as he thought my chastising of he and Dan's reactions was a cheap shot, his complaint that "I was recording everything" was a similar cheap shot.

But in the spirit of clearing the air, I'll open the door to the press box a bit wider. That comes with hazards, but I imagine no one will object to my reflections this time around.

Mark Gonzales of the Tribune is not the longest-tenured White Sox beat, but he is the most tenured of the writers. Alhough he blushes the notion away, he's a future Hall-of-Famer. There is not a more genuine guy out there, and that's a quality especially hard to find in sports journalism. Given all I knew of the horribleness of Tribune personnel before meeting Mark, I was utterly, pleasantly shocked by how great a guy he is.

On a personal note, Mark displayed kinship I had perhaps not yet earned, which stood out particularly with his disgust at how Comcast treated me. It was nobody's burden, of course, but Gonzo was the only one of my peers who offered any sort of serial sympathy for my plight. And beyond that, he has always been willing to offer supportive words for my actual work--as many as I ever got from my employer itself.

Merk has perhaps the most difficult job of all, both in that MLB keeps him hopping year-round and in that he has tighter editorial line that can't be crossed. I wonder sometimes how he would do without positive-spin restrictions, but then, he's chronically nice enough that it's hard to imagine him wielding a poison pen. Merk and I are fans of each other's work and we have been longtime (mostly de facto) teammates in White Sox Magazine. I do regret ticking him off, whether or not we agree to disagree per blogging.

Daryl Van Schouwen came to the beat in 2011 and had the considerable challenge of following in Joe Cowley's footsteps. He has proven to be the reasoned, assuring voice (say, a Robin Ventura) following one much yappier (Ozzie, anyone?). Cowley himself, I have many harsh words for. But it would be remiss of me to not say that while anything but brotherly, Joe has both complimented my work for its uniqueness and in his own way looked out for me, a newbie, on the beat. I wish I would have gotten to enjoy more authentic Joe on the beat, not the more clownish center-stage Cowley.

Doug Padilla, dearly departed to the Cubbies beat, was my closest competitor as such last year. Both he and Joe share a yearning for the spotlight, which can only help you in this line of work. Doug had a strange propensity to want to comment on my every outfit, which is a little odd for a guy wearing chronic polos and jeans. But he and I faced some similar challenges, both in the direction of coverage and in lugging around extra equipment: he audio, me video. Maybe I'll finally get to buy him a beer one day.

While I can't make heads or tails of ESPN's plan for baseball coverage in Chicago (and really, ESPN, ugh), I'll say that Jon Greenberg is by far the best columnist we have in town, across sports.

Scot Gregor is the longest tenured White Sox writer and has had the considerable challenge of adjusting almost exclusively to home coverage as the Daily Herald has shifted its mission. He still finds a unique angle to report from, and has worked hard to be the closest to Paul Konerko among the writers; you can't do worse than the Captain.

As for Scot's admitted old-school approach to bloggers, well, he's made his feelings known. I don't agree with them, and I still react to his back-and-forth with South Side Sox per Dayan Viciedo with sheer amazement. Did I use his curmudgeonly attitude to advance a relationship with "outside" media and fans, to help emphasize myself as a different flavor? Sure. I'm guessing I'm not the first to do so--and if I was guilty of anything, it's that I overprioritized my true boss, the fan.

I also had a lot of fun with two other "home" media, the AP's Travis Miller and The Northwest Herald's Meghan Montemurro. Talking to Edwin Jackson and Gavin Floyd, respectively, was never the same without them.

Yesterday I made a brusque brush of WSCR's Chris Rongey as gruff, but wouldn't you be, doing 162 postgames or more a year? Ranger is a calming and reserved presence in the clubhouse and dugout, sorta wry, sorta mysterious. As has been pointed out to me, his debates with fans even on Twitter are met with increasing respect on his end, and that's a wonderful sign.

I'll make no secret that two folks who performed above and beyond on my behalf at Comcast, producers Jeremy Lynn and J.J. Stankevitz. Jeremy was extremely engaging when it came to brainstorming and feedback, making him a standout editor for me as well as a true partner. J.J. was only just transitioning into a true support position there as the season wore on, but his unfailing energy on the night of Ozzie's departure made our total coverage package better than anyone's on that night.

I know little of my successor at CSN, other than to acknowledge he's brought a lot of energy with him, and that alone provides promise. I'd like to see Dan liven up what can be a pretty stolid beat. There will probably be a few missteps as he adjusts to the responsibility and humidity of his new home, but those missteps will be nothing his predecessor didn't do, and then some.

When I left Comcast, I had a lot to say, and in a rare twist for me, I mostly didn't say it. I left with a gracious mea culpa of a message to those I knew there. I sent a mock news release that edged more toward gallows humor to my peers on the beat. And that's it. For now, though there is unimaginably more to comment on, that's where I'll keep it.

I've benefited from the kindnesses of many along my sportswriting path: Steve Greenberg, Jason Langendorf, William Wagner, Scott Reifert, Anthony Hyde, Adam Kempenaar, Ben Osborne, Ming Wong in particular. I believe I have paid that forward with interest; as a former editor I've advanced story payments to help writers through rough patches, ghostwritten for my own pubs to free up budget. I've led writers to jobs permanent and freelance. I've offered an ear, a red pen, an encouraging word to keep others going.

Being on the beat is being part of a less intense, more sedentary, but still bonded band of brothers. I enjoyed my brief time in that brotherhood and hope that came clear in both my writing and my personal interactions. I said it yesterday: As much as it is hard for a fan to believe, the beat job is near impossible. For that alone, the beats earn our admiration even as they dodge our arrows.

This mea culpa disguised as insight and explanation could end up eulogy. I truly don't know where to head from here. It could be a post tomorrow, or it could be retirement to the farm, where I will cheer on the first-place Pale Hose in a way I (mostly, right Joe and Doug?) couldn't in the press box.

For now, just bang the gong.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Club

You're in the club!
Being in the club means being stirred up by things!
You look about as stirred up as a cesspool!
Dead Poet's Society, 1989

Claire Standish: So academic clubs aren't the same as other kinds of clubs.
John Bender: Ah, but to dorks like him, they are. What do you guys do in your club?
Brian Johnson: Well, in physics we ... we talk about physics, properties of physics.
John Bender: So it's sorta social, demented and sad, but social. Right?

I was happy just gearing up to finish my Ken Williams series, when the haughtiness of the White Sox beat reared its head yet again.

I get that beat writers are protective about their territory. They worked hard, and for a long time, to get their jobs; and in many cases they have to work harder and longer to keep them. (Other times, you just have to get lucky, or know when to look the other way, or, if the media outlet is completely bereft of rules, ethics, or anything remotely resembling couth, you can literally sleep with somebody to get a "professional" gig. But really, that's another post entirely.)

I was there on two beats, Blackhawks and White Sox, and believe me, I was keeping close watch and making notes on any shortcuts some of my peers were taking. And they took 'em (with one exception, who should be obvious to any White Sox reader): Borrowed facts, fake or trumped-up sources, false hustle, bias up the wazoo (here's a fun game...read any home game story and note how quickly and disparagingly USCF home attendance is referenced), bad writing, inept editing. The total package.

On the beat, I was all too often a one-man band, unlike my peers, who had a support staff of editors to check and improve copy. In rare instances maybe those editors would even--gasp--brainstorm ideas with writers. (There were two outstanding behind-the-scenes folks working closely with me on stories and providing such support when I was on the beat, neither of whom probably want to be named by me, shunned. But they were just two people. One a part-timer, with an apparent appetite beyond his ability to eat. So ... )

One thing I made sure to do was keep a careful eye on something else that my peers, for reasons practical and just plain lazy, didn't often, unless you're counting microbrew tips--interact with fans. Frankly, on a beat, you're just that, beat by the ritual and sameness, even in an Ozzie Guillen world, so it became important and interesting to take note of the plaudits and criticisms of fans, the range of which ran from the beyond sharp "bloggers" to just a casual booster of the team.

I was implored by the guy who hired me, a hyperkinetic fella with the depth of a tweet, one of the many in the business world who become expert at being busy while contributing nothing, to bond with fan bases via Twitter. This is something I doubt I would have felt encouraged to do on my own, because frankly, 140-character sharing seemed the ultimate in narcissistic, lightweight, empty, time wasting. But given the conscription, I tried to have fun with it, in my guise as @CSNChi_Beatnik.

I came to take the connections made there more seriously, for two reasons. One was obvious, seeing the sharp commentary from fans and realizing there was something for me to gain there, personally and professionally. Second was seeing how derisively many of my peers tended to treat tweets, and more so, tweeters.

It's how I came to ally myself with blogs (particularly South Side Sox) and be open to fans of any depth, rather than spending inordinate time sniffing jocks and stealing anything I could to stay ahead. On the job, I dealt with upper editors who were either absent completely, or utterly unrealistic in their demands (my company was unconscionably green in the field of journalism, so it was amateur hour, all the way, and I'm sad to say that little has changed): If I delivered desired breaking news or insider info, they had no way to package it and frequently ignored it entirely. If I followed my own instincts and delivered unique content that the other beats could or would not, it was met with mostly one long yawn. Wearing your own sandwich board gets too burdensome.

Blogs connected me with smart fans, way more than a chat would, or, frankly, no offense to cuddly Cubbies fan "Kap," more than a rushed CTL appearance did. A compliment from someone there meant as much or more than one from my peers, who often were just busy surviving the season. Criticism from a smart fan led me to correct or further explain, not to dismiss or ignore. I took all that stuff to heart.

Maybe it was my rudderless existence on the job, with so little true feedback, that drew me to Twitter crit. Or, maybe I'm just more amenable, engaging, and interactive than the average guy. That, as you probably now know, is the swiftest means of losing a foothold in the business world, where sociopaths rule and the good guys too often do finish last.

In the link up top, Scott Merkin of whitesox.com--a guy who once characterized me as a "true man of the people" for my varied, hilarious fan interactions--"respectfully" dismisses the exhaustive study of Chris Sale by SSS's colintj as "pie charts," while lauding Robin Ventura's "gut"--which even Merk might admit has been pretty lacking when it comes to all things Sale. Later, colintj winsomely takes it up with Dan Hayes, who dismisses Sale's clearly diminished velocity with true asininity--"Can't throw 96 mph & expect to pitch 7-8-9 innings." As if that was the point, at all.

*Deleted text; see below.

If you aren't challenging a beat writer, they are OK with fans and even "bloggers." But if you imply they are not doing their jobs, you must be an idiot. They are paid to write about the White Sox, you're not. And while you're at it, use your real name--and move out of your parents' basement.

Joe Cowley's outrageous tweets, mercifully now emptied into Lake Michigan along with all the other bile and detritus and sewage our daily digestion produces, are of course an extreme lesson in how not to interact with fans. But the more subtle, shake-your-hand stab-your-back engagement is even more dangerous. What choice does colintj have but to continue interacting with the Merks and Hayeses, in hopes they will deign a question or criticism with kid gloves and not dismissive hostility?

It's not just Merkin or Hayes, of course. Last summer when the SSS tiff with Scot Gregor over the Dayan Viciedo Conspiracy Theories, I was amusedly dialoging with some of the principals, reporting live from beat row on the harrumphing and mocking going down in the Gregor-Merk row in front of me as it all unfolded. Ranger Rongey, who met me in the dugout with a usual greeting of, "I hate people" throughout last year, has had a number of Twitter battles with fans--because he just doesn't get enough on postgame radio. If the Phil Rogerses or Dan McGraths or Dave Van Dycks of the world used Twitter for anything more than a one-way pneumatic for all that's fit to puke, lord knows there would be a Twit kerfuffle a day. 

Beat writing is an impossible task. I have told some bloggers I admire that in a way, it's not a fair fight. To do any artful writing at all is a beast of a challenge when you're faced with a day-to-day drill of locker room--manager--transcribing--game action--tweets--postgame--rinse--repeat. I had the thrill of juggling obtrusive camera equipment on the road, then praying I could upload the bounty back to Chicago in less than an hour or two, on top of the common beat duties as well.

And I have feet in both camps, still. I write for the White Sox and have occasion to step into the clubhouse. But given no daily, "professional" outlet, I'm way more blogger than beat. I'm not sure that's the wrong place to be.

*Note: This post was edited some hours after posting, as Scott contacted me to offer a brief explanation of what seemed to be the most dismissive interaction of his and Dan's tweets. I took it out of context and overreacted to that aspect, and for that misunderstanding I apologize.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Almost Beaten to the Punch

Remembering ...
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
as they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.
Gwendolyn Brooks, "The Bean Eaters"

Beane Counter: Moneyball aside, Ken Williams 
never has outfoxed Oakland's GM. (Jed Jacobsohn/GI)
At some point, White Sox GM Ken Williams will cease to recall that team in Oakland, the one that was going to move to Chicago under Charlie Finley in the mid-197os, once the White Sox vacated to Denver.

If the butterfly effect didn't turn Oakland GM Billy Beane the player into an MVP, perhaps life would have played out somewhat the same, and Beane would now be the decade-plus tenured GM in Chicago, not Williams. And Beane operating in Chicago would probably mean two Hollywood movies based on his general managing, not one--or at least an Academy Award for Brad Pitt (who says he doesn't like baseball but boy, can he toss a transistor radio in digust!).

That Beane is Williams' doppelganger hardly needs rehash (but if rehash you must, read my  man Jimmy Margalus at South Side Sox and scroll down through the comments as well, h/t larry).

The fourth installment of this de facto report card on Ken Williams hones in on the trade partners he's profited most from; there is a fair amount of repetition, but lists nonetheless are broken out by GM and by team. If you're familiar with the first three parts on this blog, few if any of these moves will be news to you, and you very likely already had the breakdown of best and worst trade partners in the back of your mind. But here it is, in top fives all spelled out for you.

Favorite Partners
1. Pat Gillick, Philadelphia Phillies (19.6 net WAR and $53.8 million surplus value in four trades)
Moneyball may have played Williams for a rube, but Gillick is a Hall of Fame executive who was picked clean in his first two dealings with the White Sox GM. Freddy Garcia-for-Gavin Floyd stands as Williams' second-best deal, and the Aaron Rowand-for-Jim Thome swap, when factoring the $22 million tucked into Gentleman Jim's front pocket, played out as a masterstroke.

2. Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers (16.9 net WAR and $56.7 million surplus value in two trades)
Williams owes his advantage over Daniels almost solely to John Danks, with help from Brandon McCarthy's arrested development. 

3. Bill Bavasi, Seattle Mariners (17.0 net WAR and $37.2 million surplus value in two trades)
The Freddy Garcia deal proved a steal for Williams; an even bigger one came knocking at his door a year and a half later, when Matt Thornton came to the South Side for Joe Borchard.

4. Doug Melvin, Texas Rangers/Milwaukee Brewers (6.3 net WAR and $18.8 million surplus value in two trades)
Williams got a minor win--though neither player produced positively--in his 2000 swap of Aaron Myette to Texas for Royce Clayton. But the big win of his career--spiritually speaking, at the very least--came in dealing Carlos Lee and his larger salary north to the Brewers for Scott Podsednik.

5. Dan O'Dowd, Colorado Rockies (5.1 net WAR and $6.2 million surplus value in four trades)
Despite the four trades, Williams' plus value in dealing with O'Dowd comes almost exclusively from snatching Juan Uribe away from the Rockies.

Least Favorite Partners
1. Billy Beane, Oakland A's (-20.5 net WAR and -$75.8 million surplus value in four trades)
Enough said about Beane, eh?

2. David Littlefield, Pittsburgh Pirates (-5.1 net WAR and -$14 million surplus value in three trades)
It's a nice sign that after Beane, the trade losses fall to a much more break-even level for Williams. Of course, that his second-weakest spot came from a GM notorious for his giveaways isn't a good sign.

3. Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals (-3.6 net WAR and -$19.1 million surplus value in five trades)
It's a well-rounded joke that Williams can't keep his hands out of Kansas City, swapping any and all minor players as if there was a rider in his contract he must. The only significant deal torpedoing KW here is acquiring the car wreck that was Mark Teahen.

4. Frank Wren, Atlanta Braves (-4.9 net WAR and -$11.2 million surplus value in three trades)
The Scott Linebrink dump in 2010 turned out to be a virtual wash, so this standing almost exclusively centers on the swap of Javier Vazquez to Atlanta in 2008.

5. John Hart, Texas Rangers (-4.5 net WAR and -$10.6 million surplus value in two trades)
Merely choosing not to include Frank Francisco in the Carl Everett trade would have kept Hart off of this list of Williams killers.

Favorite Teams
1. Philadelphia Phillies  (19.6 net WAR and $53.8 million surplus value in four trades)
2. Texas Rangers (12.4 net WAR and $46.1 million surplus value in four trades)
3. Seattle Mariners (17.0 net WAR and $37.2 million surplus value in two trades)
4. Colorado Rockies (5.1 net WAR and $6.2 million surplus value in four trades)
5. Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals (4.1 net WAR and $6.6 million surplus value in five trades)
The highlight of trades between Chicago and this transitional franchise was acquiring Bartolo Colon for an injured Orlando Hernandez and the retreaded Rocky Biddle and Jeff Leifer. Current GM Mike Rizzo badly burned his bridge with Williams during the Dunn non-trade of 2010, so don't expect any big deals anytime soon between the Pale Hose and and Nasty Nats.

Least Favorite Teams
1. Oakland A's (-20.5 net WAR and -$75.8 million surplus value in four trades)
2. Kansas City Royals (-3.7 net WAR and -$24.1 million surplus value in seven trades)
3. Pittsburgh Pirates (-5.1 net WAR and -$14 million surplus value in five trades)
Chicago is a major market fond of crying poor, so perhaps the reason Williams fares so badly in deals with the Kansas Cities and Pittsburghs of the majors is misbegotten solidarity?
4. Atlanta Braves (-4.9 net WAR and -$11.2 million surplus value in three trades)
5. Cincinnati Reds (-3.2 net WAR and -$2.3 million surplus value in eight trades)

Coming up next is a grab bag of trade and free agent data for the White Sox under Williams, including the projected best- and worst-case scenarios for KW's "active" deals, what teams Williams will not trade with, and some quick and dirty analysis of his trade deadline work in 2012. Also, answers will be forthcoming on burning questions pitting Williams vs. opponents: Who's earned more cash in trades? Who's made worse projections on minor leaguers? And, of course, what do "future considerations" really mean?

Part One: Ken's WAR wins
Part Five: What-ifs, and other trade miscellany.

The fine print: In many cases, exact details of cash consideration are unavailable, so educated guesses were made. Some player-for-considerations deals have been skipped or omitted. WAR data came only from Baseball-Reference, while yearly dollar/WAR values were estimated primarily from Fangraphs data. Players included in trades who never contributed for the acquiring team at the major league level are not listed. Numbers are through July 28.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Adam's Ribbies

Zen cannot dispute the proof.
A paycheck is the ultimate truth.
Ethnocentric Republicans, Buddha Drives a Beemer"

Burro Grande: The free-agency game isn't played without hazards. (Nam Huh/AP)
Two years ago, White Sox GM Ken Williams famously unraveled his team in pursuit of Adam Dunn, then the lonesome slugger responsible for not only scoring but driving in all the runs for the Washington Nationals.

Williams had a .683-OPS of a Ty-D-Bol man named Mark Kotsay at DH, who was inserted in lieu of the productive Jim Thome (.933 OPS with the White Sox) at the visionary behest of manager Ozzie Guillen, who desired a 13-man player roster filled with able defenders at interchangeable positions--even the position that doesn't require defense.

With the White Sox whooshing into contention on the backs of a superior starting staff and solid bullpen, Williams wanted relief for his offense, Kotsay be designated and Guillen be damned.

New Nats GM Mike Rizzo--who had dealt in an assistant capacity with Williams before, helping to orchestrate the third-worst value deal of Williams' White Sox tenure by plucking Chris Young from the South Side--was the man in charge of moving Dunn. And smoke-to-flame direction pointed to Edwin Jackson-- a pitcher Rizzo pushed to acquire with the Diamondbacks--as the key to a Dunn deal.

Williams did his part, swapping an apparently overmatched and easily-rattled Daniel Hudson for Jackson, with the thought of flipping E Jack City to Washington for a couple of months of the Big Donkey.

But, in a decision that took Rizzo right off of KW's Christmas card list, the Nats GM began pouting, seesawing, and otherwise raising the ante on Dunn, who was almost certain to walk at the end of the season.

In the end, nobody got what they wanted. Jackson was no boobie prize, putting up 4.0 WAR in his White Sox tenure but never breaking out of the inconsistency that has seem him relegated to seven teams in less than 10 seasons. Rizzo got a White Sox first-rounder for Dunn, rather than a ready-made major leaguer plus prospects. Rizzo's former club, Arizona, did OK, coaxing 4.2 WAR from Hudson at a bargain-basement price. (Though it's fair to note 3.7 of that WAR came in the wheezing garbage time that ended the Snakes' 2010 season and just 1.4 came in last year's surprising playoff run, backhandedly confirming Williams' hunch that Hudson might not be a pressure pitcher. And DHuddy was positively awful over nine games in 2012 before succumbing to Tommy John surgery.)

Williams did end up enticing Dunn, but in a manner that might have undermined the slugger's four-year value to the White Sox. Rather than joining the club in the midst of a playoff push in 2010 (although Dunn claims he would have done everything possible to prevent moving his family in-season, not the state of mind most adaptable to instant DH production in Chicago), Dunn came in as the primo signing of the 2010 offseason. The resulting pressure (and his poor conditioning, unreadiness to DH, and, oh, a burst appendix) produced essentially the worst season in modern baseball history.

At his current pace, it will be another year or so before Dunn works himself out of the -3.1 WAR hole that 2011 placed him in, meaning that in the best case scenario, the White Sox will pay $56 million for one typical Dunn season over the course of four years.

Meanwhile, Rizzo did get his prize, Jackson, ponying up $11 million for just one year as Washington hoped for a .500 season and no unnecessary commitments in case Stephen Strasburg exploded again, or Bryce Harper responded meekly to major league pitching. Auditioning, again, for next year's contract, E Jack City is on pace now for the second-best season of his career.

Free agency is not without its hazards.

The Dirty Digits
Depending on how you slice it, Williams has done either really well in free agency (if you count commitments to his own players (i.e. re-signings, arbitration avoidance and extensions) or just OK (bringing in outside players and knowing when not to re-sign a current White Sox).

Counting all signings, Williams:

Has signed 113 players and let 34 sign with other teams.

He's signed 151.4 player seasons, giving up 42.

He's acquired 170 WAR, giving up 28.2.

The dollar value of the players he's signed is $641.2 million, while allowing $102.2 million to walk.

He's paid his signings $618.7 million in salary, while players cut loose signed for $164.9 million.

The overall surplus value--the dollar value players produced, above player salary--that Williams has signed is $22 million.

The players he's let go have produced -$62.7 million. By far the bulk of that negative value is taken up in two deals: Maggilo Ordonez's seven-year, $99.2 million contract (producing -$52.2 for the Detroit Tigers) and Bobby Jenks's two-year, $12 million deal (producing -$13.8 million for the Boston Red Sox).

If you remove White Sox re-signings and extensions from the mix, Williams has gotten just a little bit more than he's paid for:

He's signed 85.2 seasons worth of outside players, producing 54.1 WAR.

The dollar value of that WAR comes to $210.8 million, so with salary paid ($204.7 million) it leaves a surplus value of $5.6 million. 

Over 12 seasons, that means Williams' outside signings have averaged a $467,000 value to the White Sox.

Great Free Agent Signings: The Nifty Nine
These Williams deals all topped out with more than $10 million in surplus value for the White Sox.

1. December 17, 2004: White Sox claim Bobby Jenks off waivers from the Anaheim Angels.
Surplus Value: $20.9 million
We know the story; Jenks was an irresponsible mess with the Angels, a million-dollar arm in a 10-cent head. He applied just enough focus and received just enough guidance to make it to the White Sox in time to be Closer Phase III for the eventual World Series winning White Sox, which bought him five years of future tolerance from his grateful employers. Almost all of Jenks's net profit to the White Sox came in 2007 and 2008, when he was still being paid minor-league money; from 2009 on, Jenks was a terrible underperformer, and Williams dumped him on the other Sox at the right time.

2. December 11, 2002: White Sox sign Mark Buehrle to a three-year, $17.5 million contract extension.
Surplus Value: $17.5 million
That's right, in the contract that covered 2004-06, Buehrle delivered twice the value of his salary. His best season of that bunch, a 4.5 WAR in 2005, still ranks as only the fifth-best of his career.

3. January 22, 2008: White Sox sign Alexei Ramirez to a four-year, $9.9 million contract. 
Surplus Value: $16.9 million
His $5 million contract in 2012 will result in salary already catching up with Ramirez's value (an underperforming 0.8 WAR so far), so this four-year honeymoon might be the only plus-value years of the Missile's tenure on the South Side.

4. October 21, 2009: White Sox claim Alejandro De Aza off waivers from the Florida Marlins.
Surplus Value: $16.6 million
In three seasons with the White Sox--although 2012 has been the first he broke camp with the big club--De Aza has provided nearly equal value to the more ballyhooed, perennial Gold Glove candidate Ramirez. Perhaps Guillen could use De Aza now...

5. July 8, 2007: White Sox sign Mark Buehrle to a four-year, $56 million contract extension.
Surplus Value: $15.3 million
Do you get the feeling that Buehrle has given back more value than any player in White Sox history? Even as his yearly pay more than doubled, he brought back nearly as much value as his earlier extension with the White Sox. But what would turn out to be Buehrle's last contract with Chicago almost didn't happen, as a crushingly bad 2007 season lit the idea of a rebuilding effort that neither Buehrle nor the White Sox would benefit from having him around for. Of course, this "advance the core" thinking also led to an extension for Jermaine Dye (see "The Seven Stinkers," below).

6. January 17, 2006: White Sox sign Joe Crede to a one-year, $2.7 million contract to avoid arbitration.
Surplus Value: $13.6 million
This was Crede's last, great hurrah with the South Siders. He would never be the same player, or provide the White Sox with surplus value, again.

7. November 11, 2011: White Sox sign Jose Quintana to a one-year, minimum-salary contract.
Surplus Value: $12.2 million
Not even Williams or assistant GM Rick Hahn at their wisest could have forecasted such a season-saving role Quintana would have for the 2012 White Sox in lieu of the injured John Danks. As great a find as Philip Humber was in 2011, Quintana is on pace to bring even greater value to the South Side by season's end.

8. November 19 2004: White Sox sign Jon Garland to a one-year, $3.4 million contract to avoid arbitration.
Surplus Value: $11.2 million
Garland, never short on feist or pride, put money where his mouth was and led the World Series champions with 18 wins in 2005.

9. December 12, 2005: White Sox sign Jon Garland to a two-year, $17 million contract.
Surplus Value: $10.7 million
Like Buehrle, Garland took on a bigger contract and still provided more than $10 million in surplus value to the White Sox in 2006-07. 

Free Agent Busts: The Seven Stinkers
Seven of Williams' deals will live in -$10 million value-plus infamy.

1. December 3, 2010; White Sox sign Adam Dunn to a four-year, $56 million contract.
Surplus Value: -$29.9 million
The good news is that there is still plenty of time in the deal for Dunn to turn his surplus value around enough to finish in the black. The bad news is that the early returns are poor, no matter what sort of comeback season 2012 has been. Consider that Dunn's ballyhooed "three outcomes" (homer, K, walk) production compares faintly to the South Side's last slugging DH, Thome. Gentleman Jim stuck out his share of times, but a White Sox slash of .265/.391/.542 indicates he was no mere three-outcome hitter, in spite of less speed than Dunn and hitting against some of the same diamond-shifting defenses. The result was an average of 2.7 WAR in Thome's four South Side seasons; Dunn is on pace this season to tally 1.8 WAR.

2. April 1, 2006: White Sox sign Jose Contreras to a three-year, $29 million contract extension.
Surplus Value: -$21.6 million
Who could have imagined that Contreras, in the middle of the greatest stretch of his pitching career (and on as good a run as any starter has been for the White Sox in recent memory) would turn this extension through 2009 into an April Fools' joke? He fell from a 3.5 WAR in 2006 alone to a 1.7 over his last three years in Chicago combined.

3. August 10, 2009: White Sox claim Alex Rios off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Surplus Value: -$20.9
Like Dunn, Rios could easily reverse the damage caused by his poor 2009 and 2011 seasons in Chicago, and he has more time to do so. In WAR terms, Rios is basically a wash--but the White Sox have paid nearly $21 million to a consummately replaceable player so far in his time on the South Side.

4. December 8, 2009: White Sox sign Mark Teahen to a three-year, $14 million contract extension.
Surplus Value: -$14.9 million
The trade for Teahen wasn't exactly a kick in the crotch--but the sight-unseen extension from Williams, along with a gift of the third-base job, sure turned out to be. As much as having dumped the 2012 portion of the extension ($5.5 million) on the Blue Jays may satisfy Chicago's bottom line today, Williams proved much too zealous here.

5. November 30, 2005: White Sox re-sign Paul Konerko to a five-year, $60 million contract.
Surplus Value: -$14 million
As much as it's impossible to imagine the latter-day White Sox without the Captain, PK did not provide nearly a fair value back to the White Sox on this mansion-building contact bonanza. By contrast, the deal Konerko signed in 2010 has been square for both sides ($20 million so far paid, $19.4 value provided).

6. August 18, 2007: White Sox sign Jermaine Dye to a two-year, $21 million contract extension.
Surplus Value: -$11.1 million
Toward the end of a -1.9 WAR season for Dye, Williams made the bold move of keeping the band together by extending Dye--an infinitely riskier proposition than re-signing Buehrle, the GM's other in-season extension. The move looked to pay off somewhat in 2008, as Dye put up 2.4 WAR. But in 2009, Dye fell completely off the map defensively and suffered an offensive meltdown in the second half. The beloved right fielder never played again.

7. December 8, 2006: White Sox sign Mike MacDougal to a three-year, $6.1 million contract extension.
Surplus Value: -$10.9 million
Some three years to the day before Williams extended another ill-fated former Kansas City Royal, Teahen, he re-upped MacDougal. It's a testament to how terribly MacDougal would pitch from 2007-on (-1.1 WAR) that he turned a mere $6.1 million into an eight-figure value loss for the South Siders.

Part One: Williams' WAR wins.
Part Four: Who bullies Ken? (A study of GMs)
Part Five: What-ifs, and other trade miscellany.

Fine print: In many cases, exact details of cash considerations are unavailable, so educated guesses were made. Some player-for-considerations deals have been skipped or omitted. WAR data came only from Baseball-Reference, while yearly dollar/WAR values were estimated primarily from Fangraphs data. Players included in trades who never contributed at the major league level are not listed.