Kenny Williams: Shrewd Businessman

Since the games being played this month don’t count, every story gets put under the microscope. So when Adam LaRoche suddenly retired because he couldn’t bring his son with him to spring training, everyone felt the need to share their opinion. After looking at all the facts, Justin Gorman thinks that Kenny Williams was just doing his job.

This week has featured virtually non-stop coverage of the retirement of… Adam LaRoche. I’ll link to a couple stories in this sentence so I don’t have to rehash the details.

Let’s not beat around the bush: I’m here to tell you the “sympathy for Adam LaRoche because Kenny Williams is mean” argument is a complete waste of your time. Kenny Williams is the Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox, and the White Sox are walking into 2016 with the 15th highest payroll in the big leagues to the tune of about $113M. Keep in mind, this is a business first.

Williams (and by extension, the White Sox front office) has the authority to make the rules. They also have the right to do whatever they can to improve their financial bottom line, as well as make the team more competitive and put the team in the best position to be successful going forward. The front office is the group who have been placed in charge of running the business of the Chicago White Sox they establish the rules of the workplace.

Adam LaRoche, with a career slash line of .260/.336/.462, was due to make $13M this year riding the bench for the South Siders. Over his 11-year career, he has only played first base and designated hitter, and the White Sox will start opening day with superstar Jose Abreu entrenched at first, and several preferable options for DH. This offseason, Chicago added Austin Jackson to a group of outfielders that included Avisail Garcia, Melky Cabrera, and Adam Eaton all of whom could contribute at DH. The acquisitions of Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier provide them with some infield flexibility if Robin Ventura wants to give either a break from the field, each would be a more serviceable DH than the 36-year-old (and declining) LaRoche, who put up an abysmal .207/.293/.340 in 2015.

If Kenny Williams deliberately pushed LaRoche’s buttons, knowing exactly how to make him choose to retire, then Williams deserves gobs of praise. Had LaRoche stuck around and made the roster, the Sox would have been stuck with an aging player who had never been more than mediocre and was showing signs of decline. Even if he was released, the White Sox would have had to pay him his guranteed $13M. Barring the extremely unlikely scenario of finding a trade partner willing to absorb LaRoche’s salary, retirement was the only way Chicago could claw back that money.

There are many talking heads calling out Williams for being insensitive about LaRoche’s relationship with his son that’s not his problem. His job is to make the business of White Sox baseball run better, and intentionally or not, he accomplished that with this move. Some players have suggested Williams could be more in tune with the dynamics of the clubhouse that is also not his direct job, he hired Ventura, David Boston, Joe McEwing, and the rest of the coaching staff to do that for him. No one person can do everything in a baseball organization some must concentrate on the players, others on the economics. They invariably have one another in their peripheral vision, but they have to focus on their job. If the staff had warned Williams on the severity of the clubhouse backlash and he ignored them, that would be one thing, but we have no evidence of that.

If I were a White Sox fan, I’d be thrilled with the retirement of Adam LaRoche. This team already had a legitimate shot to be competitive this year, and now has even more payroll flexibility to make a splash at the trade deadline if they so chose. They could also tuck that $13M away, and spend it next offseason on a player who is actually going to play to the level of a $13M player. Far from the bad rap Williams has been getting from the fans and media, today we should be piling on him all the credit he deserves.

Read why Lisa Carney thinks that the LaRoches should be allowed to stay, and find out why Jimmy Wulf believes that both sides share some of the blame in this situation.

Justin Gorman has written about manager tirades, baseball contracts, an illegal delivery, and the case for expansion.

Follow Justin on Twitter @j1gorman.

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