An Overreaction to the Big Contracts Landed by Pitchers?
A few weeks ago, about all White Sox fans might have expected from GM Ken Williams was a trade involving one starting pitcher leaving Chicago to fill a hole in the lineup, which would make room for Brandon McCarthy in the rotation. The White Sox have changed their game plan, according to Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rogers, in reaction to the mind-numbing salaries handed out to suspect pitching in recent days. How do you explain a five-year, $55 million deal for Gil Meche? Or even the four-year, $40 million contract for Ted Lilly and his 59-58 record in eight big league seasons. The White Sox arguably had the best rotation in the game heading into 2007, but Rogers writes that they now are looking at cashing in on those starters rather than face the cost of high-priced long-term deals to keep them down the road. Freddy Garcia is gone, as was widely speculated, but now Jon Garland is on the block as the White Sox look to acquire young, talented but inexpensive pitchers who could take over those rotation spots in the next couple of years. The Sox have a history of not extending long-term deals to pitchers, and this new approach seems to be owner Jerry Reinsdorf (over)reacting in "vintage Reinsdorfian my-way-or-the-highway logic," as Rogers puts it. Perhaps Chicago is ahead of the curve and is responding in a way that would serve more teams well before they're stuck paying for a high-dollar free agent or two to fill rotation spots. On the other hand, the Sox have Garland, Jose Contreras and Javier Vazquez under their control through 2008. Only Buehrle, coming off a bad year, can leave after the upcoming season. It's not an overly costly rotation, so why not make a 2007 run with it while Jermaine Dye and Joe Crede are still under contract and Jim Thome isn't on the decline. If the Sox crash and burn in 2007, bailing on members of the rotation at the trade deadline still could bring top pitching prospects. This rotation, skillfully and patiently built over a number of years, should get a chance to lead the team to its third-straight 90-win season. Another odd aspect of the Sox's new strategy is that right now, with marginal starting pitchers landing stunning contracts, one of the relative bargains in their rotation might land a dependable outfielder or leadoff hitter. If the Sox believe they must react to what's going on in the market, cash in for a sure thing that would counter the loss of starting pitching. The Sox have some impressive, young pitching talent, and the chance to acquire more will always present itself if they choose to bail on the entire rotation. A pitcher dealt this winter should have landed a regular who fills a key hole. For now, with Garcia dealt for young arms, they shouldn't be so quick to ship Garland to Houston or anywhere else.