White Sox to begin youth movement
GM Williams looking within organization to improve next season
CHICAGO -- The phrase "going young" in the world of Major League Baseball usually translates into "rebuilding" to fans following that particular team.
Judging by comments made by White Sox general manager Ken Williams to MLB.com on Thursday, White Sox supporters just might have to grow accustomed to that youthful approach in 2009. In the mind of the aggressive White Sox GM, though, this change doesn't mean giving up on the goal he sets every year for his team.
"There's nothing wrong with going young if you are good," Williams said. "If there's one thing that I hope doesn't get lost in translation, it's that we still expect to compete for a championship. We might be doing it to a younger degree, with a team that's more athletic and potentially more exciting."
Williams' focus on youth makes a great deal of sense when factoring in the players who seem primed to take over full-time roles at the big league level. During this Thursday's conversation, Williams spoke about second baseman Chris Getz, third baseman Josh Fields, outfielders Jerry Owens and Brian Anderson and potential fifth starter Clayton Richard.
More than a look at the individuals and their specific strengths, Williams eloquently spoke about the necessary infusion of youth to keep the organization strong from top to bottom.
"Let me offer something up to you," Williams said. "If you don't reward guys like Chris Getz for playing the game the right way, unselfishly and hard-nosed every day, what does that say to your scouts and player development personnel who are out there teaching fundamentals to 175 Minor League players?
"What does it say if those players start to look around, thinking how we are being used for trade bait more than used to play for the White Sox? How can you teach the White Sox way, and expect young guys to buy into it, if you don't start allowing guys from the system ...? At some point, you have to look more from within and expect more from within than to always be looking for the next trade."
So, does this theory mean Williams has decided upon Getz as his second baseman for 2009? Does this youthful thinking mean Fields and Getz could be in the 2009 starting lineup at the same time? Williams calmly mentioned how it was a long offseason ahead and to let things play out.
He also sounded as if he's completely confident if that youth movement comes about.
"Absolutely," Williams said. "As we sit here today, everyone knows my confidence in Chris Getz. And the only reason [Fields] couldn't step in when Joe Crede went down was because he was beaten up, really playing on one leg. That doesn't shake my feelings of the caliber of player that he is.
"Josh proved he's a big leaguer in 2007. Do we want him to get better at third base? Yeah, but that naturally will happen because he will be playing 2009 on two legs."
Fields had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee after the White Sox were eliminated from the 2008 playoffs, and told MLB.com that he expects to once again show more of his complete game as a healthy competitor. The free-agent addition of Jayson Nix also provides a nice right-handed-hitting complement to Getz at second, giving Getz a rest or removing him against tough left-handers, according to Williams.
As for the search for a leadoff man, that job also might be filled from within in the person of Jerry Owens.
"I had one scout tell me, one who saw a lot of Jerry Owens, that 'If you didn't have Owens, you would be out looking for Owens,'" said Williams with a laugh. "We went into last year with Owens slated to be our leadoff guy and only an injury derailed that. It's not the worst thing if that's how we end up.
"Al I can say right now is, as I sit here today, that's what we are looking at," said Williams, referring to the entire group of young players moving up to greater responsibilities. "In terms of looking elsewhere, there are certainly sexier names, and I mean by that more popular names. But I'm not sure there are better fits."
Hot Stove action really has just started to simmer, so Williams' plan could change. Even with this strong defense of his prospects, Williams intends to explore all possible options to improve his team.
That exploration will bring about the frequent rumors involving the White Sox. In learning from the past offseason, though, Williams won't be addressing any of the possibilities linked to his team.
Williams will be available for comment, but will neither confirm nor deny the rumor.
"You are going to experience the most vanilla, beige, vague person this winter," said Williams with a laugh. "It just gets, the people keeping track of the daily scorecard, it's difficult to navigate our way through.
"We'll continue to explore any and all options out there. But I think it really hurt us, in terms of our fan excitement and perceptions, for our  offseason to be viewed as a failure versus some of the little wins we had. We will try to avoid that as much as possible."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.