Monday, August 20, 2012

The Devil's Deal

Lucky number seven called my name and passed on by.
Well he came back, don’t you know,
with his brother six in tow,
and that's how number thirteen wound up by my side.
Johnny Hickman, “Lonesome Johnny Blues”

Nosfera-tude: Who'd have known Floyd and Danks came to Chicago in deals with the devil?
There are two trades on Chicago White Sox GM Ken Williams’ resume that stand above all others, and they took place within three weeks of one another at the end of 2006.

It always had been an uphill climb for Williams on the job, but his December 6, 2006 acquisition of Gavin Floyd (along with Gio Gonzalez) from the Philadelphia Phillies for Freddy Garcia was the first unadulterated steal of his tenure. Three weeks later, he pilfered John Danks (and Nick Masset) from the Texas Rangers for Brandon McCarthy, thereby setting up 40% of his rotation for several years to come.

At that moment, Williams was riding higher than he ever had. After all, the White Sox had won 189 games over the previous two seasons and snapped an 88-year title drought in 2005. There was every reason to believe that the Pale Hose would win another 90 in 2007 and continue on as a serious factor in not only the AL Central race, but the fight for the pennant, season after season.

But at that moment, after securing Floyd and Danks in trades that at the time could have been perceived as salary/veteran dumps, the only place Williams would go was down. For any lows of the early years of his tenure (paging Todd Ritchie), it’s been rough going for the GM since acquiring Floyd and Danks.

As Gavin prepares to ascend to the mound to take on Garcia and the New York Yankees on Monday night, the question is thus begged: Was the Floyd-for-Garcia trade Ken’s own deal with the devil?

Yes, there are the obvious signs that some satanic skullduggery was at the core of Ken’s holiday shopping in 2006, namely the shoulder problems that would see Garcia win just one game for the Phillies and delay McCarthy’s ascendance into a reliable rotation piece. And noting those shoulder woes doesn’t even begin to acknowledge another Beelzebubba moment of that month: That Williams, just one year after dealing diminutive future starting star Giovany Gonzalez as part of the Aaron Rowand-Jim Thome swap, was able to steal him right back from Philly along with Floyd.

Alas, it got much more complicated and painful for Williams ever since.

In the six years leading up to the Floyd and Danks deals, Williams traded away 84.1 seasons’ worth of players and acquired 82.8. Those players dealt had a 57.5 WAR, and the players acquired amassed 74.4. The dollar value of the players traded away was $204.3 million, and the players brought to Chicago totaled $275.2 million. The overall surplus value of the players dealt was $74.4 million, and those acquired were $15.8 million.

In the almost five years since the Floyd and Danks deals, Williams has traded away 46.7 seasons of players and acquired 31.6. The WAR of the traded players totals 35, compared to 21.4 of the new White Sox. The dollar value of the players traded is $154.4 million, of the acquired just $94 million. The total surplus value of the traded players is $53.6 million, of the acquired players -$19.6 million.

Obviously, subtracting the two best deals of the Williams era is going to tarnish the overall statistics. But the contrast of pre-December 2006 and post- is staggering. Take the difference in WAR, for example. The key hallmarks of a Williams deals are:

1. he brings a huge WAR advantage to the White Sox in trades and 
2. he tends to pay pretty dearly for that WAR advantage.

Will dealing Floyd away save Ken's soul?
But look at that post-December 2006 WAR differential: Here Williams has “lost” the WAR battle, as the players he’s dealt have earned 164% more WAR than those acquired. His biggest strength as a GM has failed him.

Williams has had a similarly rough track record in the free agency arena post-December 2006 as well. In his first six years, players Williams allowed to sign elsewhere accumulated a total surplus value of -$47.7 million, while players signed by the White Sox have amassed a surplus value of $77.1 million. In the five years since, Williams has cut loose a total surplus value of -$15 million, while the players he’s signed have compiled a surplus value of -$45.9 million.

Put in a slightly different way, seven of the eight best WAR trades and five of the six best surplus value trades Williams made came before December 2006.

Floyd has been the subject of almost constant trade rumors over the past few years, which is puzzling given that until this season, he’s always been a great value for the White Sox, basically drafting right behind Danks in terms of his overall value to the team.

However, it's now very clear that the righthander has been the equivalent of an upside-down horseshoe hanging in Williams’ office. Perhaps once the GM deals Floyd away, Williams can break out of his Swisher-Dunn-Rios-Young slump that has marred the latter half of his tenure.

P.S. to Groovy Gavin: When the Grim Reaper guised as the GM comes for you, be sure to cite the names Youkilis, Liriano, and Myers, and don’t forget to mention how very good the second half of 2012 has been to everyone. We’d love to keep you in town, big fella.

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