Pitching has been the Angels' strong suit during their 2002-07 "mini-dynasty," beginning with their 2002 World Series championship squad, and on Monday, they continued establishing that as their focus, acquiring right-hander Jon Garland from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for shortstop Orlando Cabrera.
It's a curious trade, not only for the Angels, but also the White Sox; on either side of the deal, the implications seem to suggest more moves are probably in the works.
For the Angels, Garland joins a staff that has ranked in the game's upper half in ERA in each of the past six seasons, including 11th in 2007 (4.23). A typical middle-of-a-rotation type, Garland takes a back seat talent-wise to John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver, though that could help alleviate the pressure on him to be a staff leader, something he was often asked to do in Chicago. It's possible, in fact, this opens up a deal of Ervin Santana, who would likely battle Joe Saunders and Dustin Moseley for the fifth-starter role, assuming nothing else changes on the mound. Remember, in the past, Santana has been linked to trade rumors for players like Garrett Atkins, Mark Teixeira and Miguel Tejada.
With the Marlins' Miguel Cabrera reportedly joining Tejada on the trading block, and both probably still in the Angels' sights, call it a good bet the Angels have something else up their sleeves. It's hard to imagine the team dealing Cabrera, a Gold Glove shortstop who ranked first at his position in the American League in fielding percentage (.983) even if his range regularly earns a middling ranking (12th of 24, 4.42 in 2007), without having a fallback plan. As things stand today, Erick Aybar, a career .311 minor league hitter who has averaged 32 stolen bases per year as a pro, is the favorite to assume Cabrera's spot.
The problem: Aybar was a bit too much a free swinger in his minor league career, with an underwhelming .348 on-base percentage for a player who hit for so high an average, and playoff teams such as L.A. rarely trust shortstops so inexperienced. He'll be a sleeper if the Angels don't acquire a better option, but I'd bet upon them doing so.
Former shortstop and top prospect Brandon Wood, converted to third base this past season, might seem a candidate to shift back to shortstop, but call that more unlikely even than Aybar playing there every day. Wood is an intriguing power prospect with a shot at significant playing time in 2008, but it's at least as likely he'd be included in a trade as shifted back to his original position.
As for Garland, his value shouldn't change much, outside of the fact that he'll escape U.S. Cellular Field, a homer-friendly ballpark. That might mean a quarter-run benefit in ERA, though Chicago's park hardly seemed to work against him. Since his breakout 2005, when he finally seemed to maximize his potential, Garland has a 3.75 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 46 games (45 starts) at U.S. Cellular, compared to 4.38/1.35 numbers in 51 road starts. Not that his road starts should be too troubling, but we're talking a definite four-plus ERA type. Garland averages only 4.8 strikeouts per nine innings for his career, 4.2 in 2007, and pitchers who put the ball in play that much generally don't contend for ERA titles.
Over in Chicago, despite the White Sox having re-signed Juan Uribe to a one-year, $4.5-million contract on Nov. 7, Cabrera takes over as the everyday shortstop. Uribe actually isn't significantly less with the glove than Cabrera (.975 career fielding percentage, 4.91 range factor at shortstop; Cabrera is at .978/4.55), and he has more power, but Cabrera is quicker and more skilled with the bat. Angel Stadium of Anaheim limited his power production a bit, so a return to double-digit homers is likely, but the value Cabrera brings is solid defense, a .280-.290 batting average (or better) and 20-plus stolen bases. As a No. 2 hitter, he should improve the White Sox' top third of the order.
Uribe is hurt most by the deal; he's either on his way out of Chicago or destined for a utility role in 2008. A free swinger, Uribe wouldn't warrant much more than AL-only middle-infield consideration in the latter role. As is, home runs is his primary categorical value, as he batted .235 in 2006, .234 in 2007, terrible numbers for fantasy.
On the mound, Garland's departure means one of two things: Either the team has a free-agent target in mind to replace him, or the Sox hope to clear a rotation spot for a spring training battle between prospects Gio Gonzalez, Gavin Floyd and perhaps Lance Broadway. That'd be a key one to watch if things on the mound remain as they are today.
I don't expect either team to stand pat, though. My best guess: Uribe in a utility role in Chicago is more likely than Aybar as a starter in Los Angeles.
Tom Glavine returns to Atlanta
It's tough to do, without a doubt, but there comes a time in any player's career, even a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer, when it's time to declare him "done." Tom Glavine, you've enjoyed a stellar career, you've won 303 games, a World Series (in 1995) and two Cy Young awards (1991 and 1998), but as a pitcher with the ability to offer any notable contributions, I'm sorry to say that it's time to declare you done.
Oh, a return to Atlanta, on what the Associated Press is calling a one-year, $8-million contract, will generate plenty of excitement for Braves fans, perhaps lead to double-digit wins and a fitting final season to a brilliant career. But Glavine, as a fantasy factor, shouldn't be counted on for anything more than spot-start consideration in 2008.
Consider that in five years in New York, calling pitching-friendly Shea Stadium his home, the best ERA Glavine attained was 3.53, his best WHIP was 1.29. Those aren't bad numbers, but they slipped to 4.45/1.41 rates in 2007, below average for our purposes. Plus, in his final 21 starts this past season, Glavine managed a 5.18 ERA, 1.49 WHIP and 3.60 strikeouts per nine innings, all at the ripe old age of 41. And we all know how that season ended.
Pitching guru Leo Mazzone is no longer with the Braves, so don't count on any magic happening with this left-hander. He'll warrant spot-start status when the matchup calls, but in terms of ERA/WHIP and full-season value, don't expect much better from Glavine than what he provided you in 2007, which wasn't all that good.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.