Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Trading Block

The White Sox announced that Jon Garland has signed a 3-year, $29 million contract that will keep him in a Sox uniform through the 2008 season.

Of Garland and Contreras, the two pitchers who (until today) were scheduled for free agency after the 2006 season, I felt that Jon Garland was the one the Sox should re-sign. First, Jon Garland's ground ball tendencies make him a better fit for US Cellular Field than Jose Contreras. Second, Jon Garland is all of 26 years old, making him a likely candidate for improving over the life of his contract, rather than declining. Contreras, at an alleged 34 years of age, is much more likely to decline over the course of his next contract.

The fact that Garland has re-signed puts the Javier Vazquez signing in a somewhat puzzling light. With Garcia, Buehrle, McCarthy and now Garland locked up through 2007, trading for Vazquez only makes sense if the Sox are going to trade Jose Contreras, the horse that went 3-1 for them in the playoffs and was the ace of the rotation in the 2nd half of 2005.

But there is also another possibility - that the Sox will keep all six starters (including McCarthy) in 2006, with McCarthy spending either the entire season or the bulk of the season in AAA Charlotte polishing his game and getting to replace Contreras in 2007. This would make a great deal of sense, as the Sox would not only have a dominant rotation in 2006, but would also create salary room in 2007 when Contreras leaves via free agency. Contreras may also become more valuable trade bait during the course of the 2006 as teams look for pitching help. If the Sox can get a top of the line prospect for Contreras - say Brandon Wood of the Angels - as well as some help wherever they need it mid-2006, that could be a nice strategy. In addition, if a rehabbed-by-Cooper Vazquez puts up decent numbers, he too could fetch a bunch by trade. All in all, the Sox are sitting in the cat bird's seat with six effective starters.

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