Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com
I Trust It Like The Ground
by Derek Smart
About four or five times yesterday, I started and stopped writing about this Sun-Times piece that makes mention of the interest Scott Williams has been generating during the Cubs' various trade talks this winter. I eventually decided it wasn't worth my energy. It was one report in one paper, and truth be told, it wasn't really saying much of anything.
Then came this morning's article in the same rag, and this time around, instead of being a snippet buried in a larger piece, it was the entire gist of the thing, right down to the quotes from Williamson saying he understood he could be trade bait, and that it would be nice to get a shot at closing games again anyway.
Here's the thing: I don't have an issue with Williamson being dealt if it helps the team as whole - even though if I were handicapping dominance and value in the Cubs' relief corps, he'd be my favorite to take both crowns. What gets me is the logic being used to justify it. Here's a sampling, first from yesterday:
Some scouts view Williamson as a possible eighth- or ninth-inning reliever. With the Cubs signing Bob Howry and Scott Eyre to handle setup roles for closer Ryan Dempster, where Williamson figures into the equation is undetermined.
And here's some of what appears today.
Williamson also might pitch so well in the Cactus League that the Cubs want to keep him as part of an improved bullpen. But where would he fit in with setup men Bob Howry and Scott Eyre brought in to support closer Ryan Dempster?
He has asked himself that.
"Yeah, which is kind of useless for me and useless for this team," Williamson said. "They got two really good pitchers as free agents. You can't send down Michael Wuertz; he's pitched too good the last couple years. [Todd] Wellemeyer is out of options, and he's a young guy you probably want to hold onto."
So, let me get this straight. A team that is stockpiling starting pitchers to provide depth as others recover from injuries, while also providing someone to turn to in case of catastrophe - a strategy which makes perfect sense considering past circumstances, even though there's a good possibility it could result in roster overload down the line - this same team might be so concerned with what to do with the likes of Wuertz and Wellemeyer or when in a game a good reliever pitches that they could ship Williamson off to other climes.
In other words, there's no displacing Eyre or Howry from their financially prescribed "setup" duties, and if fully healthy, Williamson is just too good to be used in anything but the eighth or ninth inning. This is, to put it bluntly, a load of crap. If you "can't have too much pitching," as we've heard so often in this and other years, then the old saw applies equally to rotation and bullpen, and any thoughts that fly in the face of that are disingenuous at worst, and ideologically inconsistent at best.
Now, I also realize that the Cubs themselves haven't made these statements, and that there's a decent chance that Mike Kiley is simply seeing what he perceives as an overflow of talent that should be rearranged and pursuing it as a story in an otherwise boring Spring. However, I think we've all seen the Cubs and other organizations use the media to float these types of ideas enough times to be at least reasonably suspicious of the origin.
In the end, I'll concede that any deal that involves Williamson and helps the Cubs get better is a positive on its own, but what this issue really comes down to for me is this: if talks about acquiring Williamson are being initiated by other teams with an interest in his talents and a will to pay for them, then bully for Jimmy. Talk and deal away. But if the Cubs are shopping him because they lack the imagination to use all the talent their bullpen possesses, then that's a deeper philosophical issue that, while it could reap benefits in the short term, bodes extremely ill going forward.