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The Heist
Jon Heyman
June 09, 2008
Carlos Quentin was obtained for a Class A player and nearly started the season in the minors; now he's raking
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June 09, 2008

The Heist

Carlos Quentin was obtained for a Class A player and nearly started the season in the minors; now he's raking

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DURING A winter in which Johan Santana, Miguel Cabrera, Erik Bedard, Miguel Tejada and Dan Haren were traded, the White Sox' acquisition of Arizona outfielder Carlos Quentin barely registered as a blip. Quentin, after all, had hit only .214 in 2007 for the Diamondbacks and yielded only a Class A first baseman (Chris Carter) in return. The swap was widely viewed as extraneous tinkering by trade-loving White Sox general manager Ken Williams, or even worse, a Williams mistake.

On the advice of Sox scouts Gary Pellant and Joe Butler, Williams looked past Quentin's weak stats last season. "He basically hit with one hand," Williams says, citing tears in Quentin's left labrum and rotator cuff that dogged him throughout the year.

Despite assembling a roster that unexpectedly won the 2005 World Series and having had only one losing season in his seven at the Chicago helm, Williams—not one to worship at the altar of statistics in a stats-driven industry—has taken his shots. In April, Forbes misguidedly named him baseball's third-worst G.M., and he is unflatteringly portrayed in the popular 2004 book Moneyball. For now, though, Williams holds the title of the exec who pulled off the Heist of the Off-season.

The 25-year-old Quentin has been the biggest reason for another Williams-crafted South Side success story. After a poor spring in which he was in jeopardy of being sent to the minors until speedster Jerry Owens went down with a groin injury, Quentin finished last week second in the American League in home runs (14), RBIs (48) and slugging percentage (.571) and sixth in on-base percentage (.396). Quentin, Williams explains, wasn't merely a target of the White Sox last winter but an obsession going back to last year's trade deadline, when the club unsuccessfully tried to deal for him.

"He's an all-around player. And he's intelligent, intense and hard-working," says Williams, 44, himself a former corner outfielder and, like Quentin, a Stanford man.

Counting the Quentin deal and his more headline-grabbing off-season acquisitions of outfielder Nick Swisher and shortstop Orlando Cabrera, Williams has acquired 152 players in 55 big league trades in the last seven years. The A's Billy Beane—the only other current G.M. to have played in the big leagues ( Beane's career average was .219, one point higher than Williams's)—calls Williams his favorite trading partner.

"He knows what he wants," Chicago assistant G.M. Rick Hahn says of his boss, "and he knows what he's willing to give up."

"I think people understand when they deal with the White Sox, we're not trying to win the deal," Williams says. "The idea that one team got the best of a deal—that drives me nuts."

Swisher and Cabrera, who have both energized the clubhouse, were acquired for commodities that other general managers rarely trade these days. Swisher was obtained from the A's for three top prospects, including hard-throwing pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Fautino De Los Santos (some White Sox people cringed at losing the righthanded De Los Santos in particular), and Cabrera for serviceable, middle-of-the-rotation starter Jon Garland. Williams dealt Garland because he believed young starters John Danks, 23, and Gavin Floyd, 25, were ready to contribute. They have proved him right: Danks, who was part of a five-player deal in Dec. '06 that sent Brandon McCarthy to the Rangers, had a 2.86 ERA in his first 11 starts, and Floyd, who was obtained that same month in a trade that sent Freddy Garcia to the Phillies, had held opponents to a .193 batting average in 64 1/3 innings. "If I recall, I was buried at the time [for the Danks and Floyd trades]," Williams says.

Nothing new there.

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