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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Gambler Kenny's Trade
by Hal Vickery

You usually donít think of Thanksgiving week as one in which a lot gets accomplished. Most people kind of go through the motions the first half of the week in anticipation of gorging themselves on Thursday in between watching football games on TV.

Apparently Kenny Williams doesnít look at Thanksgiving week that way. The White Sox GM spent the first part of the week addressing some holes in the roster, and apparently this is only the start.

The first deal came Monday, and it was a shocker. Less than two weeks after re-signing shortstop Juan Uribe, Williams dropped his bombshell. Jon Garland, he of the two 18-win seasons, was shipped to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Which Is In Orange County on the West Coast of the United States of America in exchange for shortstop Orlando Cabrera.

In making this trade, the Sox suddenly got older. Cabrera just turned 33 this month while Uribe turns 29 in mid-July next season. But age isnít everything. What do these guys do in the field?

Defense is hard to judge, and shortstop is a key defensive position. There arenít too many defensive statistics, and at least to my mind, they all have their weaknesses. But at first glance, itís a mixed bag. In 2007 Cabrera led Uribe in fielding percentage (.983 to .976), but Uribe apparently showed more range, at least as evidenced by their range factors (4.59 to 4.27). Both were well above the league averages in both categories (.970 and 3.97).

Offense is another matter. Uribe never saw a pitch he didnít like. He doesnít know the meaning of the words ďplate discipline.Ē As a result, any experiment in which Ozzie Guillen tried to move him from the eighth or ninth spot in the batting order were doomed to failure at the outset. On the other hand Cabrera is a disciplined hitter who has gotten better, particularly since he came to the American League in 2004.

Plate discipline is the primary reason that Cabrera has a career batting average of .273 while Uribeís stands at just .254. On the other hand, Cabrera has discovered the value of the base on balls in just the past two years. His lifetime on-base percentage is .321, but over the past two years, it has risen to .335 in 2006 and .345 in 2007. Over the same two seasons, Uribeís OBPs were .257 and .284, both below his career OBP of .295.

The only scary thing so far about this trade is that Kenny Williams has said that he wants to sign Cabrera to a multi-year deal. The key here is the number of years. There arenít too many shortstops in history who can maintain their range at the age of 38, Cabreraís age if Williams would extend the remaining year on Cabreraís contract another four years.

The other thing to consider about this deal is the gaping whole that now exists in the starting rotation. Granted, Garland was the number three starter, but this move now places Jose Contreras in that position following a 10-17 season with a 5.57 ERA.

Right now the starting rotation would appear to be Mark Buehrle, Jose Vizcaino, Contreras, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd. Thatís a rotation that wonít have any American League batter shaking in their boots. Hereís hoping that the rest of the plans Williams has includes bolstering the starting rotation.

Williamsí other move this week isnít really official yet, and the Sox have made no official announcement, although a story did appear on the Sox web site stating that a deal was reportedly in the works. Itís difficult to imagine that the Sox would permit a mere rumor on their own site, so I think this can be reported with a fair degree of confidence that it is true.

The report is that the Sox are about to sign free-agent reliever Scott Linebrink to a four-year contract valued at $19 million. This is contingent on Linebrinkís passing a physical.

The physical is a good idea considering the deterioration in his performance last year. Linebrink, who will turn 32 next August , has seen his ERA rise from 1.83 in 2005 to 3.57 in 2006 to 3.71 in 2007. He also gave up a personal high of twelve home runs in 2007 after giving up just thirteen in the previous two seasons. Thatís the bad news.

The good news is that Linebrinkís performance actually improved when he moved from San Diego to Milwaukee. During his 45 innings in Sand Diego, Linebrinkís ERA was 3.80, and he gave up nine of those homers. He only gave up three homers for the Brewers with an ERA of 3.55 (although the ERA is a far cry from what he was used to before 2007) in 25⅓ innings.

The problem with stocking a bullpen is that it is always a crap shoot. One year a relief pitcher can be brilliant, and the next he canít get anyone out. Just ask Kenny Williams about Cliff Politte and Neil Cotts. That makes a four-year deal for Linebrink awfully risky, especially with a $19 million price tag.

Still, nobody ever accused Kenny Williams of not being a gambler. Maybe he should change his last name to Rogers.

______________________________________________________________________

Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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