As I've written before, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams seems content to take another victory lap with his 2005 championship team -- in 2008, mind you. But his deal of starter Jon Garland for shortstop Orlando Cabrera means the Sox will field a better team -- four out of five days, anyway. For that reason, it's always been an old baseball saw that you don't trade an everyday position player for a pitcher, and the illustrations of that being wrong are few and far between (although the Detroit Tigers trading Howard Johnson for ace reliever and soon-to-be 1984 MVP Willie Hernandez comes quickly to mind). Score that for the Sox. But Garland is 28 to Cabrera's 33; score that for the Anaheim Angels. Otherwise, the more you look at the deal, the more it seems a wash, just a bit of tweaking for both teams.
Garland was an essential part of the 2005 champs, no doubt. When he developed the grit to stand tough and win 18 games -- two years running, as it turned out -- it's part of what made those Sox a powerhouse. But he seemed to lose interest at times last season, and who wouldn't on a 90-loss team? He was signed only through next season (as is Cabrera, although Williams insists he wants an extension) and expressed little interest in giving the team the sort of "hometown discount" that kept Mark Buehrle in the fold. How much better would he have gotten? The brand-new Bill James Handbook 2008 projected him at 10-13 with a 4.22 earned-run average next season with the Sox -- no great loss, although if Williams thinks he can replace that with John Danks or Gio Gonzalez, more power to him. And the possibility always remains that Garland could thrive in a return to his southern California homeland.
What did the Sox get in return? A really good player, but one due for a downturn. Cabrera hit eight home runs, drove in 86 runs, and batted .301 last season while scoring a career-high 101 runs, and his .345 on-base percentage was close to a career high. But his Gold Glove was a typical product of sportswriter voters rewarding a hitter who plays decent defense. John Dewan's "Fielding Bible Awards" in the James handbook ranked him 11th in the majors, and he didn't even place in the top ten overall for the last three years combined. James projected him at nine homers, 73 runs batted in, and a .273 batting average next season in Anaheim, and he should better those numbers at relatively homer-happy Sox Park. But a player who doesn't walk much shouldn't be expected to sustain his performance into his late 30s. He's better than Juan Uribe, sure, but only for a year or two.
What does it all mean -- or at least indicate where Williams's motives are concerned? It seems clear he wants to make another run at a title with a veteran team, what with Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, and A.J. Pierzynski all signed for the next couple of years, and if Joe Crede returns at third base alongside Cabrera that would make for an air-tight left side of the infield. But if that means moving Josh Fields to left field, where Scott Podsednik just got moved out, where do the Sox find a leadoff man, especially if they pursue Torii Hunter -- an excellent player, but not a leadoff man, and not worth the multiyear deal he's demanding -- in center? Then the only opening is at second base, where among potential leadoff men Luis Castillo has already signed with the Mets and Kaz Matsui seems set with the Astros. Is Williams prepared to bet the house on Danny Richar as a leadoff man? He ain't no Dustin Pedroia, the sort of young star real repeat champs find to replace a veteran. Regardless, it's a veteran White Sox team, even as Williams is already relying on Danks, Gonzalez, and Gavin Floyd to fill out the rotation. And in the words of another baseball saw, young pitchers will break your heart.