The White Sox bullpen failed Saturday against Boston and they ended up losing badly. Jose Contreras, a pitcher from their 2005 (and most of 2006) glory years, blew out his Achilles tendon, which means that his career is probably over and almost certainly done for the rest of 2008. In another blow, the Minnesota Twins won and now the White Sox are in 2nd place in their division looking up at the Twins
The Chicago Tribune had a semi-apocalyptic article titled "Contreras out for season, White Sox fall out of 1st". From the article:
"Will this be remembered as Black Saturday, the day the bottom fell out for the White Sox? In only one gloomy evening, the White Sox lost pitcher Jose Contreras, their post season ace in 2005, for the season and again lost their grip on first place in the American League Central as they made a flurry of roster moves."
I realize that newspapers need to sell papers and make everything seem significant but I don't think that this is necessarily the case.
For one thing, Contreras was OLD, and he was already on his last legs. Since he comes from a country where even age is impossible to verify, who knows how old he is, but he admits to being in his late 30's. He was hurt and ineffective most of the season, although he clearly wasn't a total liability, and people were optimistic that he was going to come back and play well. This is a sad injury, because it likely means his career is over, and Contreras has a good history with the White Sox, but that doesn't mean that it is the end for 2008.
Thanks to the glory of the internet it is easy to follow up on baseball trades when you used to have to memorize everything that happened. Let's look at the White Sox rotation in 2005, when they won the division:
WHITE SOX 2005 ROTATION
Buehrle - he is still with the Sox, and doing pretty well. He had some tough outings earlier in the year but seems to be back on track, and his rapid delivery (his games have to be the shortest in the league or damn near close) and fact that he is healthy make him a great horse to have on the staff
Garcia - the White Sox traded him to Philadelphia, where he was a TOTAL bust, an epic bust, in fact. According to wikipedia, he had one win and it was called the "ten million dollar" win because that was what Philadelphia paid him. Plus, the Sox got Gavin Floyd out of the deal, who you will see below as a big part of today's rotation (and WAY cheaper). Garcia was out of baseball but wants back in post-surgery, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him back in the Sox bullpen someday, just like how we gave Loaiza another shot in the bullpen (which didn't work out, but it was a low-risk attempt)
Garland - this one hurts. The White Sox traded him to the Angels, and although he had a bit of a slow start, he is now a work horse for that team. We could use Garland right now, and he was young enough that he probably has a lot of good years ahead of him. Likely the Sox figured they couldn't afford to re-sign all these pitchers and made a bet on Buehrle and Vazquez (see below) and got what they could for Garland. Plus, the re-tooled Angels are a lock for the playoffs and we might be seeing Garland there (if we are lucky). Losing Contreras makes this a riskier bet in hindsight. We did get Orlando Cabrera, who is an upgrade at shortstop and currently our lead off batter (one of the fastest starters on our dead-slow team), so it was an OK trade, if we knew we couldn't afford Garland anyways
Contreras - we already talked about him above, the 4th of the starters that made such great starts in the playoffs and world series in 2005
Hernandez - our 5th starter was Orlando Hernandez, who pitched so brilliantly in relief against the Boston Red Sox in 2005 (he came on with the bases loaded and no outs in one of the best innings I have ever seen pitched, giving up zero runs). He owned up to his age and is still, amazingly, playing for the Mets, although he isn't a gigantic contributor. Orlando was part of the trade for Vazquez, below
Brandon McCarthy was a very promising starter in 2005, who pitched a few critical games down the stretch. He was traded to the Texas Rangers for John Danks, who is part of our 2008 rotation and we will hear about shortly. McCarthy has been a bust for the Rangers, although not an epic bust like Garcia and still has potential of coming back in 2009 for the Rangers, but with 2007 and 2008 shot I'm sure they'd like Danks back.
WHITE SOX 2008 ROTATION
This rotation assumes that Contreras doesn't come back, which is pretty much a lock.
Buehrle - our #1 starter, seems back in form
Vazquez - Vazquez is an enigma. He is among the league leaders in strikeouts, and has great stuff. Yet somehow he doesn't put up big win totals, and it isn't necessarily for lack of run support. We need Vazquez to put up wins and avoid the "big innings" from the competitors in the back half of 2008 to make the playoffs. The Sox traded for him after the 2005 season, giving up Hernandez and Chris Young, a center fielder who put up over 30 home runs for Arizona in their 2007 playoff season and whom the Sox clearly could have used in center over the last few years
Floyd - pitching well for us this year, hopefully this is a long term trend and not a flash in the pan
Danks - also pitching well for us this year
Now we don't have a fifth starter (really), since Contreras is out. Ozzy can pick someone from the bullpen, or someone from the minors.
Realistically, the fifth starter doesn't have to be that good. If your fifth starter was .500, you'd think that was great. If they keep you in most games and chew up some innings before you end up going to the bullpen, that is fine, too.
In 2004 (the year before the championship) the White Sox had an absolutely impossible time finding a fifth starer. I remember some games when their rotating cast of abysmal starters were routinely giving up 10 runs a game; sometimes their offense kept pace so it looked like a football score.
Summary of Moves
If I had to rank the moves from post-2005 to today with regards to the rotation, here we go:
- Trading away Garcia for Floyd - an A+ trade - you can't do better than this - you get rid of what would have been an albatross on your finances and pick up a replacement starter, to boot
- Trading away McCarthy for Danks - an A trade, given that McCarthy has been basically out of baseball the last 2 seasons
- Signing Buehrle to a big contract - a B+ move - he hasn't been dominant, but he chews up a lot of innings, and looks like he is getting stronger for the rest of 2008
- Trading Garland for Cabrera (and dumping his soon-to-be-big-package) - the accountants would probably like this, and Cabrera is a good-hitting shortstop, but this trade has to be graded a C at best, probably a C-. We definitely could use Garland right about now
- Trading Hernandez and Chris Young (center fielder) for Vazquez - Vazquez has great stuff and could make this an A trade if the White Sox pull through in 2008 but realistically this is a C (or C-) trade right now, since Young is doing so well with Arizona and everyone knows the White Sox could use a center fielder (especially a young, cheap one you can lock up a few years). Hernandez was a throw away in the deal
So if you add in an A+, an A, a B+, a C- and a C together, you are getting a B, which isn't too bad. the White Sox know that they can't just sign everyone and stand still, and then re-sign someone else (on top of the existing contract) if they fail. The White Sox don't have the money for this, so they have to be gamblers.
As far as the bullpen goes, in 2005 Jenks took over and he is the closer today, and an above average one. The bullpen was strengthened by picking up Dotel and Linebrink, although Linebrink's injury has hurt us badly (for a while the Linebrink / Jenks combo was potent like the Marmol / Wood combo; both have fallen on hard times recently, although the teams are making other moves).
The rest of the Team
Comparing 2005 to 2008, the rest of the team is a wash, or 2008 is a bit better than 2005. Carlos Quentin is playing out of his mind and an upgrade over 2005. Alexi Ramirez is also a big upgrade, and we have Thome and Cabrera. Konerko is on a downward slide, and Crede is better than ever when he plays but he has been hurt. Dye is a class act both years.
As far as speed and defense, in the word of Moneyball, who cares? In the Michael Lewis book the A's famously don't care about defense or team speed (very much) - they do care about pitching, walks, and hitting.
What it All Means
In the end, it only matters if you beat the competition. The White Sox benefit immensely from the slow start of the Tigers and the implosion of the Indians. A full analysis of the White Sox vs. the Twins in terms of a comparison is frankly beyond my time to do a reasonable analysis, but I'd say that we have a decent shot, if our players (Crede, Linebrink) come back from injury and especially if Minnesota suffers some injuries.
As far as getting deep into the post season, Buehrle is going to have to pitch like a #1 starter and Vazquez will need to make the trade worth while. The offense will have to keep their heads up and stay consistent. After that, it is a crap shoot.
But I'd say that the White Sox have done decently well with their off-season moves.