Commentary

White Sox buyers in empty market

They need a new pitcher, but few teams are selling

Originally Published: July 19, 2009
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

Whither Arnie Munoz?

Remember little Arnie? He was one of the cast of (seemingly) thousands to start -- and fail -- as the White Sox's fifth starter in 2004, and he did it so spectacularly that he never got a chance to start in the majors again. Eleven runs in three innings will do that to you.

In 2004, the Sox were one starting pitcher short all season, and they wound up finishing 83-79, good enough for second place in the AL Central and an October vacation.

Sound familiar?

If the White Sox are serious about competing for a playoff run, and not just a first-round-and-out appearance, the time is growing short to make a deal. The Sox are 47-44 after Sunday's desultory 10-2 loss to Baltimore, but still just 1½ games back in the AL Central, with the schedule about to get tougher.

[+] EnlargeClayton Richard
Jerry Lai/US PresswireClayton Richard not only has struggled as a starter but has also lowered his status as trade bait.

Remember Grinder Ball? This is Meat Grinder Ball. Tampa Bay comes to Chicago for a three-game set starting Monday, followed by divisional road trips to Detroit and Minnesota. When the Sox get back, the Yankees and Angels come calling to end July and open August.

With Clayton Richard treading water and Jose Contreras no sure thing, it's no secret that general manager Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen would love to acquire a frontline starting pitcher before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. But the pickings are slim, to say the least.

Take a gander at the also-ran teams, and you will find more than a few starting pitchers with albatross contracts. I'm sure Williams and his staff are tired of looking for help and tired of being told that the guys they actually want are not available. Not to mention all the time spent laughing at media types like me telling them how to run their business.

The biggest pitching name out there is Roy Halladay, but the price probably won't be right. The Sox would be crazy to give up their young major league talent for a year-and-two-months rental. Plus, Halladay is making $15.75 million in 2010. Is he worth getting rid of guys like Alexei Ramirez or John Danks? No. Armed with a no-trade clause, Halladay probably wouldn't want to pitch at the Cell anyway.

Now, if the Jays would take the guys rumored to be in the long-failed Jake Peavy deal, Richard and lefty reliever Aaron Poreda, then you're talking. But what's the exchange rate on Richard's 5.42 ERA? Would anyone want him as anything more than a throw-in player?

Richard, if you haven't been paying attention, is the reason the Sox are sweating their rotation right now. He's been unable to make the transition from the bullpen, where he wasn't that good to begin with. In his last five starts, he's lasted just 18 innings (which includes a rain-shortened game) and given up 21 earned runs.

He starts Tuesday against the Rays and brings a 5.75 ERA in 12 starts, totaling 56 1/3 innings (less than five innings per start). He's walked 28 in as a starter, and once he's behind in the count, forget about it. After he goes 2-1 on a hitter, opposing batters are hitting .393 (13-for-61) with 14 walks.

Guillen recently put Richard on notice, even joking that President Obama looked better on the mound in St. Louis than Richard did in his last start.

[+] EnlargeBartolo Colon
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireThe Sox have trouble merely keeping tabs on Bartolo Colon, let alone relying on him to start.

There isn't anyone in the minors knocking at the door, though there are two familiar veterans with a shot.

Bartolo Colon is rehabbing his balky knee in the minors, not that the Sox are counting on him heavily to return. Heck, they didn't even know where he was two days before his first rehab start. Another insurance possibility showed up at the Cell on Sunday in Freddy Garcia. The only thing you can count on with those two is that they would sweat a lot while shagging flies.

The Sox re-signed Garcia in early June, more than a month after the New York Mets released him from their Triple-A team. Garcia has pitched three times in the majors -- last season with Detroit -- since undergoing shoulder surgery after making 11 starts for the Phillies. That, of course, was after the Sox traded him to Philly for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez in a resoundingly one-sided deal.

Garcia, just 33, told the media he was feeling good, of course, and pitching coach Don Cooper will watch him throw Monday. He should report to a minor league team soon, and only then will anyone know whether he can get anyone out with his diminished velocity.

Now, Scott Podsednik's return to the South Side has been a pleasant surprise. But if Garcia can come back, they might as well call Cliff Politte, Dustin Hermanson and Neal Cotts, because something's in the air with 2005 retreads.

Speaking of 2005, another former Sox pitcher is likely on the market in Jon Garland, but does the team want anything to do with him?

Garland, now with Arizona, went 36-17 in 2005-06 with the Sox, but no one's writing the California dude love letters to return. Not to mention he's 5-9 with a 4.45 ERA for the last-place Diamondbacks. Money's not a huge issue, considering he's due the remainder of $6.25 million this year, with a mutual option for $10 million next year and a $2.5 million club buyout, but he's more of a last resort.

Free agent-to-be Cliff Lee could be dealt by the Indians, but I don't see Mark Shapiro trading him to a division rival. If he offers Carl Pavano, Williams shouldn't offer anything more than Josh Fields and Gordon Beckham's iPod playlist of The Outfield's greatest hits.

[+] EnlargeZach Duke
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicThe Pirates' Zach Duke is available…

Maybe the Royals would pay Williams back for his love of their awful relievers by gifting the Sox Floyd Bannister's kid, Brian. Probably not, though.

How about this last weekend's opponent, Baltimore? Jeremy Guthrie looked pretty solid against the Sox on Sunday, giving up two runs on three hits in eight innings. I'm sure former Cubs lefty Rich Hill would prosper here. Guillen would love to peruse Hill's self-help library.

In truth, there aren't a lot of obvious moves, especially since Williams supposedly wants to deal only for an impact player. He's certainly not a panic-trade kind of GM.

I spent a good deal of Sunday's snoozer perusing rosters and salaries looking for a match for the Sox, and one team stuck as a potential partner: the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pirates are always up for a trade, historically coming up on the short end of every deal. Maybe they'd be willing to move Zach Duke, who avoided arbitration last year and signed a $2.2 million deal for this season. Considering that Duke (8-9, 3.38 ERA) will likely get a big raise next year, the Pirates could move him, but they might also require a team to take shortstop Jack Wilson; second baseman Freddy Sanchez; or first baseman Adam LaRoche, who will be a free agent.

Wilson and Sanchez recently turned down rather insulting contract extensions, which the Pirates then rescinded. Sanchez would be the more attractive of the two, given his ability to play multiple positions and his history as a stable (if not powerful) hitter, but Wilson's fielding prowess could come in handy for a team that has the fourth-most errors (68) in baseball.

Let's say the Pirates demanded the Sox take one of the two. The Sox could lead the deal with second baseman Chris Getz, who could hit .300 in the National League. That would make room for either infielder, especially if it allows Alexei Ramirez to play some second base. Most likely they'd have to throw in a well-regarded prospect, along with Poreda or Richard. But hey, it's the Pirates. They might take an autographed Jim Thome bat and call it a day.

[+] EnlargeChris Getz
Ron Vesely/Getty Images…but the White Sox would likely have to give up Chris Getz.

This is all conjecture, of course, and the Sox and Pirates don't have much of a recent trade history aside from the 2005 Damaso Marte-Rob Mackowiak blockbuster done during the Dave Littlefield era. But my deal makes sense.

While he's valuable, the Sox would have to stomach losing Getz, who homered Sunday and is hitting .301 in 32 games in the seventh and eighth spots and has formed a strong one-two punch with Beckham.

It's reasonable to assume Williams would like to add a defensive replacement outfielder to back up Carlos Quentin (when he returns) and Podsednik, who will move to center. But I don't think it's that important. He can make do with Brian Anderson as a backup and Jayson Nix as a fill-in, if the team has to move or dump Dewayne Wise.

While you'd think a ton of teams would be looking to dump salaries in this economic climate, it's not that simple. There are too many teams in playoff contention and not enough "for sale" signs.

The Rays come to town Monday. Williams has 11 days left to work his magic. If the Sox are into second chances, Arnie Munoz is surely available. After that, it's all speculation.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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