06/27/2004 8:20 PM ET
White Sox reel in Garcia
Righty gives Chicago needed depth in rotation
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Kenny Williams sat on the top step of the White Sox dugout a couple of days ago, leaned back against the railing as the sun shone brightly on U.S. Cellular Field and talked briefly about some of the trade rumors surrounding his team.
"If I'm going to add someone, I want to make sure he's up here compared to the player we already have at the position," said Williams, using his hands to show a clear separation in talent between what he had and what he was getting. "Otherwise, you don't want to make a move just to make a move and do something to ruin the overall chemistry of this team."
Williams was then asked how his philosophy worked in terms of acquiring a pitcher.
"Pitching is different," said Williams with a wry smile.
Following Sunday afternoon's 9-4 victory over the Cubs, Williams improved his pitching staff by leaps and bounds, but also did nothing but improve the overall clubhouse atmosphere by acquiring Seattle right-hander Freddy Garcia, catcher Ben Davis and cash considerations for catcher Miguel Olivo, minor-league outfielder Jeremy Reed and minor-league infielder Michael Morse.
|Freddy Garcia, Esteban Loaiza and Mark Buehrle will form an imposing trio. (John Froschauer/AP)
The move, literally talked about almost from the first month of the season, comes at a time when the White Sox appeared to fall out of the race to pick up Garcia. In fact, most of the talk this weekend centered on the acquisition of Atlanta hurler Russ Ortiz.
Ultimately, the White Sox paid a steep price to add a pitcher carrying a 76-50 record to the front of their rotation. But in the process, they made a statement about the importance of winning this year and not just winning the American League Central.
"Kenny sent a signal to everyone that this organization is for real," said White Sox catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., who becomes the de facto No. 1 catcher with the trade of Olivo. "You wouldn't trade a catcher with five-tool ability otherwise. That's an unbelievable move. Olivo brings a lot to the table, but we are getting an ace pitcher."
"I didn't believe it was going to come about until today during the game," Williams added. "It was simply me making up mind, I guess, with the agreement of everybody in our baseball department and ownership that we have an opportunity once again to challenge for the division in a much better way."
Garcia, who becomes a free agent after this season, has a salary of $6.875 million this season, of which the White Sox will pick up $3.6 million. Davis, 27, earned $1.4 million and has split his 2004 season between Seattle and Triple-A Tacoma. The one-time top catching prospect batted .091 (3-for-33) with no home runs and two RBIs in 14 games with the Mariners and hit .248 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 39 games at Tacoma.
Davis will join the White Sox in Minnesota, with a corresponding roster move to be made prior to Tuesday's game. It won't be Jamie Burke on the move, who went from preparing to be sent down to Triple-A Charlotte two weeks ago to sharing the starting job with Alomar.
The move doesn't change life for Burke, who still plans to put in work as an infielder and outfielder prior to the game. But the White Sox were willing to weaken themselves behind the plate in order to put together one of the top pitching staffs in the American League.
Dropping Reed, who hit .409 for Double-A Birmingham last season, means the White Sox are hanging on to minor-league outfield prospects Joe Borchard, Brian Anderson and Ryan Sweeney for the time being. Hitting coach Greg Walker believes all four players, who were frequently mentioned in possible trade talks, all have great upsides, but it all depends on what an organization wants specifically.
"I like Reed a lot," Walker said. "He's going to be a good big league player and play there a long time. Reed will be a high-average hitter and play good defense, and he's real smart in the clubhouse. He's more of a contact hitter than the other guys mentioned. He scuffled this spring, but it was not big deal for us because we weren't planning on him being here this year.
"I'm also a huge Joe Borchard fan. People are starting to get frustrated, but they shouldn't. He's going to play here, too. I like them all and I hate to see any of them go.
"But this kid, Morse, the shortstop, is a dynamite talent," added Walker, who worked with Morse in the Instructional League. "He might be the guy when you look back that everyone says 'Oh, man.' He has jaw-dropping talent and to have that kind of juice at shortstop is something special."
Morse, 22, hit .287 with 11 home runs and 38 RBIs for the Barons, while Reed, 23, is hitting .279 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs for Charlotte. It helped the Mariners, and probably hurt Williams, that Bob Fontaine moved from the White Sox to the Mariners in the off-season. The team's former Director of Player Development is very familiar with the South Siders' minor-league system.
According to Alomar, Garcia moves the ball in and out of the strike zone and can command four pitches. He can throw any pitch on any count and relies on a heavy sinker as his out-pitch. Garcia, 27, is 4-7 with a 3.20 ERA in 15 starts with the Mariners in 2004, but he ranks third in innings pitched (107), fifth in strikeouts (82), sixth in ERA and seventh in opponents average (.236).
"Hopefully he comes in and won't change a thing," added White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko of Garcia, who will start Wednesday in Minnesota. "He doesn't have to throw complete-game shutouts. Just give us good innings and he'll be fine.
"Tip your hat to Kenny for making the deal. It's our job to respond to him and show we deserve it. It's there for us, we just have to go out and want to win this division."
It doesn't hurt that manager Ozzie Guillen, a fellow native of Venezuela, is one of the right-hander's closest friends. But for Garcia, friendship has very little to do with what happens on the field.
"When we are on the field, that's all business," Garcia said. "They've got a pretty good team. With how they are playing right now, they've got a good chance to make the playoffs."
Williams believes there's a good chance in retaining Garcia as a free agent after this season, with the help of Guillen and a few other pieces of inside information that the White Sox general manager did not divulge. He also mentioned that if a move is out there that still will improve his team, then the maneuvering has not come to a close.
Roberto Alomar and Carl Everett were added one month before last year's trade deadline last season, and the team struggled against lesser teams shortly thereafter. But Williams' additions eventually helped propel the White Sox to a two-game lead over the Twins with less than one month remaining to play.
The White Sox didn't close the deal in 2003. Not like Williams did on Sunday. With a rotation of Garcia, Loaiza, Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Scott Schoeneweis, the White Sox are now food for thought in New York and Boston, as well as Minnesota.
"We traded a couple of good players, and that's showing White Sox fans and [the media] that we're for real," Guillen said. "Freddy's a great pitcher and I'm real glad to have him. But I'm going to lose one of my favorite players in Olivo. I feel a lot for this kid. He's got a tremendous future."
"As far as the rest of the league is concerned or our division rivals or whomever, I can't be concerned," Williams said of the new perception of his team. "I don't think very much about it. I think about who we are and what we're about. Today, I think we got a little better."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.