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Building a Champion: Freddy Garcia

The acquisition of Freddy Garcia was Kenny Williams first real step towards changing the White Sox from perennial second place finishers in the AL Central into World Series Champions. It was the first move from a slugging dominated club to one that would win on the strength of it's pitching and defense.

Garcia began his career with the Astros, signed as a 16 year old out of Venezuela. He rose steadily through the 'Stros farm system, moving about one level per year while posting good, but not dominating, numbers. As a 21 year old pitching well in AAA, he became one of the top 100 prospects in baseball (#61 according to BA), and as such, was a valuable trading chip.

In 1998, Garcia, along with Carlos Guillen and John Halama, was sent to the Mariners in exchange for future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. Johnson provided the 'Stros with a boost on their way to the NL Central crown.

Freddy made his major league debut in 1999, pitching over 200 innings for the Mariners and finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Carlos Beltran. The heavy workload may have taken it's toll on Garcia, as he spent part of the next year on the DL, and pitched only 124 innings in the majors. In the 5 years that have followed, however, Garcia has never pitched fewer than 200 innings.

Garcia's final two (full) seasons in Seattle were disappointments. He pitched only about as well as a league average pitcher (ERA+ of 96 & 98), which nearly led to Seattle non-tendering him as he entered his final year of arbitration. In the end, Seattle held on to him in hopes that they could trade him at the deadline to a desperate team making a playoff push.

Williams had targeted Garcia before the 2004 season, but couldn't get anything worked out. As the season got started, trade rumors surrounded Garcia and the Sox; something that's rare in May. By the middle of June, the Sox and M's agreed to a deal that would send #1 prospect (#25 in baseball) Jeremy Reed, Miguel Olivo, and Mike Morse to Seattle.

The party line from Williams and the White Sox front office was that Garcia would help the Sox as they tried to overtake the Twins for the Central Division crown. The reality was somewhat different, with cornerstones of the Sox offense Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas lost for the season to injury. Garcia was quickly signed to a 3-year $27M contract extension; the first real sign of the Sox organizational shift.

At the time of the deal, the consensus of the baseball community was that Williams gave up too much in Reed, Olivo, and Morse for Garcia, but it now appears that he may have known what he was doing. In fact, the deal is something of a blue print for the subsequent deals he has made. Find a player who is undervalued by his current team due to a sub-par year, injury, or positional surplus, and bring him to the south side while dealing from a position of strength.

Garcia's final two games of '05 were a complete game to give the Sox a 3-1 lead in the ALCS, and 7 innings of shutout baseball to clinch the World Series sweep of the Houston Astros who first signed him.