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Building a Champion: Jon Garland

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Jon Garland came to the White Sox, quite famously, in a trade with the cross-town Cubs for the services of Matt Karchner. The year was 1998. The Sox were just one year removed from the White Flag trade, and were smack dab in the middle of the first season of the misguided "The Kids Can Play" marketing campaign. The Cubs, meanwhile, were in the middle of their best season in a decade, and needed some veteran presence for their bullpen.

A year earlier, Garland was the Cubs first round pick, 10th overall. -- The Sox last top ten pick was some guy named Frank Thomas. Only Atlanta has a longer stretch of non-top-10 first picks. -- This was the Cubs chance to make a run. They still didn't win the division, but hey this was the first time in 9 years that they finished better than 3rd. You have to strike while the iron is hot.

The main reason the Cubs traded him was a disappointing campaign in the Low-A Midwest league as an 18 year old. His velocity was down from the year before, topping out in the high 80's; a death sentence for a right-handed first rounder. Garland was similarly disappointing at his Low-A stop that year in the Sox system.

The next year, however, the velocity was there, reaching 91-92 on the fastball. He would go on to have a very good season at High-A for a 19 year old, and a respectable showing at AA Birmingham. He was a top prospect only because of his age relative to the league, but that would change in 2000.

Garland started the season in Charlotte, Chicago's AAA affiliate. There, he had his best season to that point in his professional career. He went 9-2 with 2.26 ERA in the smallest ballpark in the International League. He was called up and made 13 starts for the White Sox as the youngest player in baseball at 20 years old.

The next 3 years, Garland struggled to assert himself as anything more than a league average starter. Jerry Manuel seemed to hamper his development as much as anything. It seemed he was always waiting with the quick hook to pull Garland.

2005 was a breakout year for Garland. After once again putting up league average numbers in 2004, he cut down on his walk rate significantly. The result was a WHIP that ranked 4th in the AL, and translated into the 9th best ERA in the league.

Garland is entering his second year of arbitration eligibility, and should be due a salary in the $7+M range. I expect the Sox to sign him to a 3-year $22.5M deal that were being handed out like Halloween candy during last year's free agent period, or end up being the centerpiece to a large trade.

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2005 Highlights: Back-to-Back Shutouts | That Tejada strikeout (no video) | 3rd shutout
2005 Postseason Highlights: Complete Game vs. ANA