"We have some players that have garnered some interest from a number of clubs. We've got to exhaust ourselves to make sure that if we end up making a deal or we stay the course and try to add to it, that we know exactly what we are getting ourselves into."
While White Sox fans would like to know the makeup of the 2012 squad immediately, if not sooner, the real direction of the team might not be figured out until May or June of the upcoming season. It's an assertion Williams put forth at the end of the disappointing 2011 campaign, and there doesn't seem to be much of a change one month later.
Part of the uncertainty centers on established veterans such as designated hitter Adam Dunn, center fielder Alex Rios and right-handed pitcher Jake Peavy coming off efforts well below their lofty career averages. Gordon Beckham, arguably the team's top young talent, also will be trying to bounce back from a dismal offensive showing.
Williams would love to guarantee bounce-back efforts from all of the above. He just can't take on all the risks involved in that sort of guarantee following his team's all-in $127-million commitment and ensuing 79-win debacle.
"It wasn't so long ago that we went into last offseason and we had a very defined group of players who we were interested in," Williams said. "We got those players and we felt good about ourselves, not only for the 2011 season, but for the 2012 and '13 seasons.
"That didn't materialize, so again, I had to ask some very hard questions. And if we are to reasonably project where we are going to be next year, a lot of it honestly would be guessing, because we didn't anticipate some of the years we got from people.
"So, I'm not going to stand here or you aren't going to hear me anywhere else present any other case other than we just don't know what we are going to get. We have to factor that into the situation in terms of 2012 planning and beyond."
Those current players drawing interest from the opposition mentioned by Williams would be left-handed starter John Danks, outfielder Carlos Quentin, right-handed pitcher Gavin Floyd and left-handed reliever Matt Thornton. Danks and Quentin both figure to get raises in their final arbitration year before moving into free agency following the 2012 season, while Floyd ($7 million in '12, $9.5 million club option in '13) and Thornton (two years, $12 million, $6 million club option for '14) provide key potential contributions to contenders at an affordable salary.
Let's say Williams moves any or all of these candidates for younger, Major League-ready or near Major League-ready talent, indicating a desire for the team to go young. Then Dunn starts clearing the fences in April and Peavy looks more like the National League Cy Young winner for the Padres than the injury-plagued White Sox hurler. It would leave the White Sox wanting for one or two of these of established players in pushing to catch the Tigers in the American League Central.
Of course, the opposite could hold true if Williams hangs on to everyone and the struggles continue. That dilemma is what keeps Williams in a holding pattern.
"Listen, we are going to do the same as we always have," Williams said. "We have started the process, and we are going to sit down and determine what our course of action is based on what we think our current chances are and protecting the future.
"If we can do both and give ourselves a chance to win at the same time while growing from within as we have for the last 12 years, we'll continue down that road. If I feel like at the end of the day that the best scenarios presented to us are those in which we have to take that big step back, then we will do so and field a younger team. It's still with the mindset of winning."
With just over $91 million already committed to 13 players, it seems tough for the White Sox to make significant payroll reductions. Williams quickly pointed out that "chump change" wasn't being talked about in any sort of cuts, so "it's all significant."
"I have not been asked to do anything other than formulate the plan of attack and the best course of action for us as we stand here today," Williams said. "Do I have an idea where we are? Yes, and it's a little bit less than what we had last year.
"There are so many things that are sitting on the peripheral that we have to factor into the equation that you can't. We've got marketing issues we have to get resolved. We've got sponsorship, advertising, sales. All of that, as I've tried to articulate over the years, it's combined to come up with the formula of what we can afford or can't afford.
"At the same time, you are having conversations with agents to see what the possibilities are of maybe being able to sign an arbitration-eligible player or a potential free agent, not only this upcoming year, but maybe even the year after that. It all goes into the equation. It's an evolving process."