Monday, June 28, 2004

A Blessing in Disguise?

Originally, I had planned a post for today entitled “The Fifth Element”, which was to be about the pickle the Twins currently find themselves in regarding their fifth starter situation. However, something much more pressing occurred on Sunday that requires extrapolation. John and I weigh in on the big trade that went down in the AL Central.

Freddy Garcia and Ben Davis are traded to the Chicago White Sox for Miguel Olivo, Jeremy Reed, and Michael Morse

The gut reaction many Twins fans will have to this trade is “Holy criznap! The White Sox just traded for the best pitcher on the market! We’re screwed!” I choose to rise above this reaction and look a little deeper into the trade. Honestly, I do not think this will make or break the AL Central race. For sure, this is going to be a two-team race (eventually) between the Twins and White Sox. But Freddy Garcia, as good as he used to be, is not the ace that he used to be. For sure, he is still a solid pitcher. He’s 4-7 this year with a 3.20 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. However, in 2002 and 2003 he was pretty average, posting ERAs of 4.39 and 4.51 respectively. Yes, he is still a good pitcher, but not the kind of guy that will win a pennant for you. And not worth what the Sox gave up for him.

That last sentence touches on the most important aspect of this trade: the huge price the White Sox paid to get arguably the best pitcher on the market. First of all, they gave up one of the most promising young catchers in the league. Olivo hit .270 with 7 HRs and 25 RBIs for the Sox this year, and had a respectable .799 OPS (for a catcher). He’s only 25, has good speed for a catcher, and is solid defensively. Not exactly an untradeable commodity, but Olivo is a guy you hate to give up on. His new replacement, Davis, was absolutely putrid this year before being sent down, and although he is a capable major leaguer he will struggle to fill Olivo’s shoes.

The Mariners were also able to finagle the White Sox top prospect, 23 year-old OF Jeremy Reed, out of the deal. Now, I know you’ve all heard lately that Reed is overrated, but it can’t be denied that he should still become a very good major league player. He was lights-out in 66 games at AA last year (1.065 OPS) but has been only human in his first season at AAA this year, batting .279 with 8 HRs and 12 steals in 272 ABs (he does have 36 walks to 33 strikeouts though). There was some speculation that he would make the team out of spring training this year, although that failed to materialize. The third player in the trade was the AA third basemen Morse, who is just 22 years old. He is having his best minor league season at Birmingham, as he already has 11 HRs and 38 RBIs. The bottom line is : White Sox GM Kenny Williams simply gave up too much for a pitcher that makes almost $7 million this year and really isn’t that good anyway. Yes, this trade does help the Sox solidify the 5th spot in their rotation for now, but what about next year? And 2006? Obviously, the White Sox aren’t concerned about such trivialities.

John’s take:

We have to strike back. Then again, maybe not. While it's scary that at this point the biggest flaw on the White Sox we all have been pointing to now appears to be fixed, nothing has changed. The Twins are a team that defies the odds because they play as a team. Heck, they've actually been outscored by their opponents this year and still sit in first place. They have a winning formula and stick to it. They have proven that they can survive slumps and injuries. Their pitching is still better then the White Sox and really coming around. Their hitting has been troubling as of late but they have always been a streaky bunch. Then you couple in that the Twins have yet to make a move of their own and what they stand to gain from returning players and it becomes scary for the White Sox.

Freddy Garcia has been a great pitcher this year, he has been a great pitcher in past years. Unfortunately he had some terrible years wedged right in the middle. Which Freddy Garcia is going to show up? He has never played in a World Series and while he has pitched very well against the Yankees in the playoffs, he really doesn't qualify as a true ace. The White Sox still gave up "ace" quality prospects to get him. Jeremy Reed could be special and should have brought much more in a trade.

Oliva was a vital part of a team that has lacked chemistry in the past. They will miss his talent behind the plate. Ben Davis has never lived up to his own hype. It is true that the White Sox have more firepower than the Twins. They always have. They just can't find the way to put those pieces together. I expect them to surge for awhile following this trade then fall into a slump in which they can't get out of.

In the meantime, the Twins do need to make a trade of their own. They have no in house candidate ready to take the fifth starter spot in the rotation. Geurrier has looked terrible and isn't the answer. It would be unacceptable for the Twins to not take from their glut of outfielders and turn it into something useful. There is also a huge gap in the middle of the bullpen as evidenced by yesterday's game. The Twins should not put it all on the young Jesse Crain to be the savior. There are good veteran relievers out there who will get the job done. Another bat would be nice to see, but I see the team coming out of its hitting slump soon.

The Twins need to be aggressive too. A window of opportunity only lasts so long. They have a bright future and present. Standing pat would be a mistake as long as doing something doesn't mortgage the future.