Sunday, July 24, 2005

Trade Winds

With MLB trading deadline just a week away and my beloved White Sox looking poised to play deep into October, this is a very exciting time as I dream about all the big trades the Sox can make. I find myself constantly checking all the sports websites to see if the White Sox made a deal. The name being talked about the most in Chicago is Marlins starting pitcher A.J. Burnett who throws consistently in the mid to upper 90s along with a filthy curveball. The Chicago Tribune reported today that the Sox are in "serious discussions" about a trade that would send left-hander reliever Damaso Marte and top pitching prospect Brandon McCarthy to the Marlins for Burnett. How close the White Sox and Marlins are is unclear. It does appear that Sox would only agree to this trade if they can sign Burnett, who is a free agent after the season to a long-term deal, as Kenny Williams has said he will not trade top prospects for a "60-day rent-a-player". That could ultimately derail any potential trade between the Marlins and Sox as one source told the Chicago Tribune that Burnett will not sign a long-term with the Sox. So if the Sox can pull off this trade and get Burnett to sign to long-term deal (which appears to be an iffy proposition right now), is it a good trade for the Sox? The short answer is no.

There is no question that Burnett has great stuff and would an upgrade over Jose Contreras. However, the Sox would be giving up way too much in this deal. The sticking point for me is giving up Marte. While Marte has been inconsistent at times this season, the Sox are going to need Marte if they want to go deep into the playoffs. Playoff games are not only won with great starting pitching, but with also great relief pitching. One of the reasons the Yankees were so successful in the late 90s was that they had an outstanding bullpen. If the Sox were to trade Marte that would leave the Sox with three reliable relievers: Neal Cotts, Cliff Polite and Dustin Hermanson. The Sox might be able to get away with just three reliable relievers if Burnett was a sure-thing, but he's not. In fact, if Sox were to acquire Burnett, they would basically have their version of Kerry Wood minus the constant shoulder problems and a little better control. While Burnett throws really hard and strikes a lot of hitters out, he is just a .500 pitcher in his career(43-43 after beating the Giants today) and has never won more than more than 12 games in season. While I think that Burnett would handle post-season pressure a lot better than Contreras who seems to shutter at the thought of pressure based his not-so-stellar years with the Yankees, it is unclear what the Sox would get from Burnett in the playoffs. He could very easily go out pitch 8 shut-out innings and strike out 12. He could very easily pitch 3 innings and give up 7 runs and 12 hits. If the Sox are going to trade a quality left-handed reliever, they better get a guy who you are very confident could pitch deep into games come playoff time.

In order for this to be a good trade for the Sox, they need to trade Contreras instead of Marte. The Marlins have allegedly long-coveted Contreras and ESPN's Buster Olney reported yesterday that the Sox were offering Contreras and McCarthy for Burnett. It's not clear what the Marlins thought of the proposal. Yes, Burnett is inconsistent, but he is a lot less inconsistent than Contreras. Contreras has never had a season with an ERA under 4 whereas Burnett has had an ERA under 4 three of the last four years and the one year he did not, he blew out his elbow in April. I have a lot more confidence that Burnett could shutdown the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Angels or the A's than Contreras. The thought of Contreras starting in the playoffs scares the hell out of me. Not to mention by trading Contreras, it would free up some money to sign Burnett, though I would not include McCarthy in the trade unless they sign Burnett to an extension. Sox GM Kenny Williams faces some difficult choices over the next seven days, and based on the successful wheeling and dealing he has done the last two years, I'm confident that if a trade goes down, it will help the Sox more than hurt them.