Saturday, December 17, 2005

Javier Self a Merry Little Christmas

Item: White Sox reportedly trade El Duque, Luis Vizcaino, and Chris Young for Javier Vazquez and a lot of cash. This deal is still unannounced last I checked due to physical exams and, possibly, MLB needing to approve the cash part. (When is the last time the commissioner didn't?)

Javier Vazquez displaces El Duque and Brandon McCarthy as the supposed fifth starter in the rotation, at least for now. The deal placed a lot of pressure on Jose Contreras and Jon Garland to come to terms on an extension, keeping the pitching staff together. At last report, Contreras is the most likely to cave first. When the music stops, whoever doesn't sit in Chair Number Five gets traded, and not necessarily to a favorable ballpark (How about Tampa Bay, Jon? Or Texas more your style?)

Vazquez, obviously, is the ex-Expo phenom who suffered an epic collapse in 2004 in the second half of the season as a Yankee and then turned in a pedestrian effort in 2005 for the D-Backs. The question for Vazquez is how much of his performance suffered from the combination of substandard defensive teams and uninspired coaching. Those won't be problems with the White Sox. His propensity for giving up fly balls in worrisome in the Cell, of course. But he is certainly an upgrade over El Duque in what's-left ability and in health status, and while overpaid, as a back of the rotation starter he's a very good pitcher.

Vizcaino and El Duque were roster filler at this point in their careers for the White Sox. Vizcaino's role was essentially mop-up relief, and El Duque's healthy history means he can't be projected to put up 200 innings ever again. Certainly El Duque served an important role in the 2005 team, but you can't get all sentimental and assume he'd do it again.

Giving up Chris Young may turn out to be prohibitively expensive. "May". Young turned in a monster power season as a youngster at Birmingham, a park which kills home run hitters. His 26 homers probably repesent about 25% fewer than he'd have hit if the Barons played in a neutral ballpark. One problem for Young was contact -- he strikes out a lot -- and maybe the White Sox have become a little gunshy since the Borchard experiment, but still, a five-tool outfielder with that kind of pop could turn out to be a real find. If Young shows he can hit for average and play center field, the White Sox may regret the trade. If he ends up a .260-hitting corner outfielder with power and 60 walks a year (Carlos Lee), they won't, really. You can't compare Young to Jeremy Reed statistically because they are so different, but I remember the gnashing of teeth over Reed's being traded for Garcia, which resembled the gnashing over Young last week. I doubt any White Sox fans regret that deal now after Garcia's duel with Backe in the championship clincher; if they do, well, I suggest they should re-examine what they think is important in a baseball season.

Further, if the White Sox use the little auction they're having to lock in Contreras and if he can maintain his improvment, and if they can flip Garland's incredible season into a star position player like Blalock or Tejada or a handful of high-level prospects, the White Sox may never miss Young.

If they don't, another possibility is this gives the White Sox more than an excuse to put McCarthy in the Charlotte pantry long enough to set his career money clock back one more year and a five-deep rotation that could be among the most feared in baseball history. That alone may be the key to the deal, in the long run.

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