It's only June, and it's only interleague play, but there may not be a more fascinating pitching matchup than the one taking place tonight, when Edwin Jackson and Daniel Hudson square off 11 months after they were traded for each other.
In terms of performance, Hudson only holds a slight lead in terms of results, although his peripherals are much prettier. Each pitcher had rough April and rebounded to pitch well since, so at least on paper, you could swap one for the other and not see much of a difference.
But that's the problem. They weren't supposed to be swappable at this point, in the context of a division race. Hudson was supposed to be limited by the lack of a strong third pitch (he's relying on his slider more now), while Jackson was supposed to flourish under Don Cooper's tutelage. Neither has happened yet, and time is running out. The Diamondbacks have Hudson for four more years after this; Jackson is a free agent after earning $8.35 million this year.
Making matters more concerning, the Sox had to throw in another arm to seal the deal. And said arm is making headlines in the minors.
On the season, Holmberg is 7-3 with a 2.61 ERA, and he's recorded 74 strikeouts to just 13 walks over 76 innings. This is notable for two reasons:
- Holmberg was the second-round pick for the White Sox back in 2009, out of high school in Port Charlotte, Fla.
- Holmberg is just 19 years old.
Had the White Sox not shipped Holmberg out with Hudson in the Jackson trade, he would be the top pitching prospect in the White Sox system. This isn't hindsight, because he was all over everybody's Top 10 lists, and most ranked him the best pitching prospect behind Hudson.
- White Sox Outsider 2010: No. 9 overall.
- Larry's list: No. 8.
- John Sickels: No. 7.
- Baseball America: No. 8.
- Baseball Prospectus: No. 10 (behind Hudson, Clevelan Santeliz and Santos Rodriguez).
Lest we overreact, Holmberg still has a long way to go. There's a reason why TNSTAAPP endures some 10 years after it surfaced.
For instance, it was a big deal when the White Sox traded Fautino De Los Santos in the Nick Swisher deal, as he was mowing down hitters at Kannapolis and Winston-Salem at the age of 21. But then he had Tommy John surgery, and he was forced to come back as a reliever. Granted, he would likely be pitching in the White Sox bullpen if they had held onto him, but in the third season after the Swisher deal, it looks like he won't come close to the potential he showed at the time of the trade.
But it's still important to consider, because Holmberg has turned himself into a standalone trading chit at the very least. The White Sox could use those. And even if we didn't know Holmberg would show such encouraging signs so early, it made little sense to include him in the deal. The Diamondbacks were a last-place team getting rid of a big contract, and they received a major-league-ready, league-minimum pitcher with some upside in return. Why did the Sox need to sweeten the pot? Why did they need to do it with a talent they deemed worthy of a second-round selection?
These are good questions, and they could become even better ones based on the outcome of tonight's game. Hudson and the Diamondbacks are six games over .500, and time is on their side. Jackson and the White Sox are four games under, and the clock continues to tick.