GLENDALE, Ariz. – Kenny Williams felt he was cheated out of a second chance in his baseball career.
He hasn't forgotten.
Now, as general manager of the Chicago White Sox, Williams' own disappointments make him willing to take a chance on others. It's why players like Bobby Jenks, A.J. Pierzynski John Danks and Carlos Quentin, key players in the White Sox's title hopes, have been acquired in recent years.
And it's why Williams didn't hesitate to trade for right-hander Jake Peavy last July, even if he was recovering from ankle surgery. It's why he didn't hesitate to make a waiver claim on struggling Toronto outfielder Alex Rios, even though he has five years and $58.7 million remaining on his contract. And it's why this past off-season he made trades for Mark Teahen and Juan Pierre, both considered excess baggage with their former teams, and brought in free agents J.J. Putz and Andruw Jones.
From a business standpoint, he is gambling on high-reward athletes and below-market values.
From a personal standpoint, he is providing an opportunity he never received.
During the final days of the spring of 1988, Williams suffered an ankle injury initially described as a slight sprain. By late May, however, he could no longer play with the pain.
"There was this new thing out, called an MRI, and it showed I had a broken ankle," Williams said. "That's the last time I was given a chance to play every day."
In the next three years, he saw limited playing time with Detroit, Toronto and Montreal, and then, after 36 games with Milwaukee's Class AAA Denver affiliate, Williams' playing career ended.
"That might explain what allows me to look at people whose stock is down or whose careers have been derailed a bit differently than some," said Williams. "There is a residual behind that. Those types of players, given a second chance, also understand what is to have lost what they once had, and if they can bounce back they are stronger. They can give you something in a tough situation."
He glanced at the workout fields of the White Sox spring training complex, saw a slimmed-down Jones, who has lost nearly 30 pounds thanks to a winter workout program, and sees a Gold Glove-winning All-Star who is still in what should be the prime of his career, turning 33 during the season. Instead of being concerned by the .207 average he compiled with Atlanta, the Dodgers and Texas the last three years, he sees a bargain, signed for a base salary of only $500,000 with just $1 million in incentives.
Putz is an All-Star closer, who was available at $3 million only because he underwent right elbow surgery last June, although he has been given a clean bill of health. Teahen was a potential non-tender candidate in Kansas City, but Williams gave him a three-year, $14 million deal, which he sees as a potential bargain when Teahen rebounds this year.
The Dodgers agreed to pick up $10.5 million of the $18.5 million Pierre is due this year and next, which means Williams added a veteran center fielder/leadoff hitter for $8 million over two seasons. He also sees Pierre as a great role model for Jared Mitchell, the White Sox's first-round draft choice last year, just like he feels Omar Vizquel can help in the ongoing adjustment of Alexei Ramirez.
And then there were the high-priced gambles on Peavy and Rios.
He wouldn't take no from Peavy, who blocked a trade from San Diego to the White Sox in June, but consented to the deal when Williams made a second run at him in late July. Peavy, at the time, was recovering from ankle injury, and he also had a three-year, $52 million contract extension that kicked in for the 2010 season. This time, he said yes.
"We didn't consider it a risk," said Williams. "We had all the information we needed to make a sound decision. We knew about the guy's makeup. We knew about his medicals."
What Williams also knew was that if Peavy had been healthy, the Sox would have had serious competition for Peavy, which would have driven up the price San Diego could seek.
With Rios, Williams knew his power numbers were down, but he also knew that if Rios had been producing runs he never would have been available for the waiver claim of $20,000.
"Our thoughts were, 'he had a bad few months, but he's only 28, and is a plus defensive player with plus speed and plus power. He is primed to bounce back."
Much has been made about the sizable guarantee Rios carries, which causes Williams to chuckle.
"I could have given up (prospects) and brought down the amount of the contracts we assumed, but I didn't want to give up the players," said Williams. "It's my job and (vice president/assistant general manager) Rick Hahn's job to make the budget work. If we aren't worried about (the salary) why should everyone else be?"
It's all about providing players a second chance.
And Williams isn't worried if others want to second-guess.