Monday, November 19, 2007

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Cabrera/Garland Trade
By David Regan - Rotowire.com
November 19, 2007

Periodically this off-season, I’ll be chiming in with my non-biased thoughts and opinions regarding the Angels’ off-season transactions. As a brief biographical note, I write for Rotowire.com during the baseball season and I am good friends with Chuck Richter.


Today, we’ll be looking at the unexpected Jon Garland – Orlando Cabrera trade.

Back when the Angels signed Cabrera to that four-year, $32 million deal in December 2004, I admit I was highly critical committing four years to a guy coming off a .264/.306/.383 season with the Expos and Red Sox. It seemed former GM Bill Stoneman had over committed to a guy who, sure, had a big hand in breaking the Red Sox’s 86-year World Series drought and sure he was a very good defender, but $32 million for a .689 OPS?

The deal looked even worse when in 2005, Brandon Wood hit 43 home runs for High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Cabrera hit .257 with eight home runs. The last two years, however, Cabrera improved to OPS’ of .738 and .742, including a .301 average in 2008. Cabrera has also been an above-average defender, finishing 11th among major league shortstops in 2007’s Fielding Bible Awards (a much more reliable indicator than the Gold Glove awards). At the same time, Wood has been shifted to third base and has seen his stock regress, as his propensity for strikeouts has hurt him at the upper levels.

I admit, today’s deal leaves me confused. It’s certainly not about the money. Garland is scheduled to make $12 million in 2008 before becoming a free agent. Cabrera will earn $9 million and is also slated to hit the open market next off-season.

Angels fans must have some questions about this deal. Let’s try and answer a few of them:

1. What do the Angels do at shortstop?

Internal options would seem to be Brandon Wood and Erick Aybar. I’ll say right now that I don’t see Aybar as the team’s long-term solution. He showed relatively nothing (.237 in 194 at-bats) in 2007 and would seem to be a long-term utility man. Wood? Well they moved him to third, but from what I’ve heard, he can handle the shortstop position defensively at the big league level, but the Angels have to be wary of his 69.8% contact rate in AA/AAA the last two years. It wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world to turn the job over to Wood, but I’m not sure the Angels go that way. If Wood isn’t the choice, then free agent options include former Angel David Eckstein (looking for a four-year $36 million deal – good luck Dave), Cesar Izturis, and Royce Clayton. Not exactly the most attractive options.

Prediction: Wood gets the job.

2. Does this pave the way for a deal for Miguel Cabrera or another third baseman?

I wouldn’t be surprised. The Angels now seem to have a surplus of starting pitching with Lackey, Escobar, Weaver, Garland, Santana, and Saunders. Would the Angels consider dealing Kendrick and Weaver for Cabrera? Perhaps. An infield of Kotchman, Figgins, Wood, and Cabrera would certainly be enticing.

Prediction: Trade for Cabrera or Miguel Tejada.

3. Is Jon Garland any good?

Before you get excited about a possible contract year effect for Garland, take a look at the 2007 performances of free agents Andruw Jones, Kip Wells, and Jason Jennings. The best thing we can say about Garland is that he’s reliable. Garland has logged at least 190 innings in each of the last five seasons and with the way the disabled list is littered with pitchers each year, there’s something to be said for such consistency. In 2007, Garland was 10-13 with a 4.23 ERA for an awful White Sox team after coming off back-to-back 18-win seasons (thanks to very good run support). Of most concern for Angels fans has to be the huge dip in his strikeout rate last year to 4.2 per nine innings. That’s beyond mediocre and when you consider that his walk rate jumped up as well, Garland simply didn’t have a very good season. Some will note that three very bad starts skewed his ERA and that is true – if you throw out his worst three starts, Garland’s ERA dips from 4.23 to 3.31, but don’t most starters’ ERAs drop dramatically if you do the same?

The bottom line: the Angels got a #4 starter who is going to eat innings. Nothing wrong with that. They also received the flexibility to trade a starter should the opportunity arise, but it wouldn’t surprise me if in 2008, both Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana had better final numbers (or close to it) than Garland. His ERA should improve in a more hitter-friendly ballpark, so perhaps I’m underestimating him.

4. What’s next?

No one knows, perhaps not even Tony Reagins, but one thing is clear: the Angels aren’t done. If the season were to start today, they would have six viable starting pitchers (not necessarily a bad thing concerning the injury factor) and the starting left side of the infield would be Aybar, Wood or Izturis at SS and Figgins at 3B. That won’t be the case opening day. If I had to guess, one of the Miguels will be an Angel on Opening Day and depending on the price, Angels fans should be hoping for Cabrera rather than Tejada. Other options would seem to include Scott Rolen, Troy Glaus, or Joe Crede.
Love to hear what you think!

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