By now you've heard the Sox have made the first of their off-season moves, swapping Freddy Garcia for Former big deal first rounder, Gavin Floyd, and former White Sox farmhand, Gio Gonzalez. My first reaction to the deal is, given the current price of free agent pitching, Kenny could have, nay, should have gotten a better return. It's not a terrible deal, but since I can't see how it immediately improves the '07 team, I'm not exactly excited.
The first step in evaluating this trade has to be assessing Freddy's value to the '07 Sox. ZiPS projected him to give the Sox 212 innings with an ERA of 4.46. But ZiPS has no idea that Freddy was struggling to break 90 on the gun all season. Of course, it also has no idea that Garcia was dominating in his last 5 starts thanks to the (re)emergence of a splitter.
Which pitcher are the Sox giving up? Probably a little of both. He might beat the 4.46 ERA projection with the Phils thanks to the change in leagues and move from USCF to CBP, which features a smaller HR park effect, though it's still a launching pad. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Freddy suddenly washed out. He looked dead in the water for the first 5 months of '06. Similarly, I wouldn't be surprised if he regains his old form and makes Kenny look like a fool for giving up on him.
Garcia's place in the rotation will now be filled by Brandon McCarthy. Though officially, the Sox say Floyd and McCarthy will compete for a rotation spot, I think we all are in agreement about who the winner of that competition will be. ZiPS projects McCarthy to give the Sox 142 innings of 4.69 ERA. The innings are limited because of his time in the bullpen last year, but ZiPS is not a playing time indicator. Extrapolated to 200 innings, McCarthy's projected 4.69 ERA is about 5 runs worse than Garcia's 4.46. 5 runs is about half a win, almost negligible, but not quite.
Basically, the deal upgrades the Sox rotation if you think McCarthy is likely to meet or exceed his projection while Garcia and his 87MPH heat fail to meet his. If your of the opinion that McCarthy can't match Garcia's production, there's no way I can spin this deal for you with the Sox on the winning side of the ledger in '07.
So that takes care of the 1-year of Garcia, but if the Sox held onto Garcia they could have gained 2 picks as he left for free agency. Those picks would be between 16 and 50 of the 2008 draft. ETA on any prospect picked up with those picks would be 2010 at the earliest. And that would be with a highly acclaimed college player who advanced quickly. Instead the Sox decided to take two arms formerly drafted in the first and supplemental rounds who are considerably closer to the majors.
Gio = John Danks minus three inches -- At this time last year, Gio was one of the brightest young pitching prospects in baseball. Most were waiting until they saw him succeed in AA before they placed him in the top tier, as that's a level that where many a diminutive lefty stalls. Gonzalez didn't quite stall, but he didn't blow away the competition like he did in A-ball either. He struggled with control and the longball as the season wore on, and drew concerns about whether he was fully healthy.
The HR rate may have been a bit of fluke, but we'll have to wait and see. Gio allowed a HR on 14.3% of his flyballs against a league average of 8.6% HR/FB. He also walked a batter every other inning, which says to me that he had some mechanical flaw develop once he left the tutelage of Mr. Perdew in Winston-Salem where he posted the best BB/9 of his minor league career.
Like the sub-heading says, Gio is very comparable to the pitching prospect we were after from Texas, John Danks. The main difference is their frame. Danks is 6'2" while Gio is 5'11". That frame difference is what makes many scouts favor Danks despite Gio's individual pitches being rated better. Gio can touch 93 with his fastball, though he sits in the low 90's. His best pitch is probably his curveball, and when he left the Sox organization his change could be described as average but developing.
Floyd is the Joe Borchard of pitching prospects -- Floyd was the 4th overall pick in the 2001 draft, receiving a huge signing bonus of $4.2M to sign with the Phils. He then posted good, but not elite, numbers on a quick accent to AAA, where he has stalled for the last 3 years. He's spent some time in the bigs during that stretch as well, which probably has hurt his development.
He had developed from golden boy to persona non grata in Philly, where they might even be less patient than NY with young talent. His scouting report makes him sound like a case for the pitching doctor, Don Cooper. He's lost some velocity in recent years, but still sits in the low 90's and features a big curveball. Philly scouts compared him to both Jon Garland and Chris Carpenter, neither of whom did anything notable at the big league level prior to their 25th birthday. Floyd turns 24 in January, so there's still some hope. If he doesn't succeed by April of '08 though, you'll likely never hear of him again.
While the official word on Floyd is that he'll be competing for a rotation spot, I feel he has a better chance of making the ass end of the Sox bullpen in '06, taking over McCarthy's role of disappointing young starter out of the pen.
Denouement -- With the current price for pitching being what it is, I think we're going to be see at least one trade like this each year for the foreseeable future. Williams never wants to find himself in the same position the Sox found themselves in '03-'04 without a 5th starter. He's going to compile as many young arms close to the majors as he can while still maintaining 5 major-league tested arms in the rotation. This is pretty much the same strategy Billy Beane used in Oakland as the big three neared free agency.
The Sox now have five 23-year-old or younger starters who figure to start at AAA or higher in McCarthy, Floyd, Haeger, Broadway, and Gonzalez; plus a couple of 21 & 22-year-olds who figure to be at AA next year in Harrell and McCulloch. Obviously, not all of these arms will turn into viable rotation candidates. That's part of the reason you should see at least 2 pitching prospects coming back in the eventual deal next year for Garland or Vazquez. The Sox are trying to build a pipeline of pitching talent that can withstand the usual attrition and flame outs that are to be expected in prospect development. The best way to accomplish this, while simultaneously limiting risk as much as possible, is to trade your starters with 1-year remaining before free agency for multiple arms at AA and above.
It's hard to portray this move as much more than a lateral move with potential in '07, but it helps secure the future of franchise as the current rotation ages and eventually leaves. Not an outright fleecing like we had been hoping for, but certainly not terrible enough to get all bent out of shape about.