If this was Jon Garland's last start in a White Sox uniform, he certainly went out in style. With the annual Garland trade rumors about to pop up again, the Sox righty gave his bosses something to think about in his last start of the season with a complete game, three-hit shutout of the Kansas City Royals at the Cell.
The Royals are no powerhouse, but Garland looked impressively sharp all night, allowing only five baserunners and gaining his 10th win of the season and second consecutive complete game to go into his off-season of uncertainty on a winning note.
This has really been a tale of three seasons for Garland. During the first months of '07, Garland was on top of the world and looked like enormous trade bait if the Sox wanted to restock for 2008 and beyond. As of July 1, Garland clocked in injury-free with a 3.36 ERA, .239 BAA and 1.16 WHIP.
All three of those rates projected as career-bests, so a statistical decline was a good bet for the dog days of summer.
With several teams in the market for starting pitching and the Sox status cemented as also-rans, Ken Williams elected not to deal Garland in July. He let the trade deadline pass without creating a bidding war between the Mariners, Yankees, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Phillies, Brewers and Mets, all of whom were starving for a dependable starting pitcher to get them into the playoffs-a decision that may cost the Sox this winter.
The return to Earth for Garland came around mid-July when he began to complain of a knot in his throwing shoulder, and continued through a horrific month of August where he put up a dreadful 8.49 ERA, 1.85 WHIP and 356 BAA in 6 starts.
Enter September, where Garland has rebounded nicely to the tune of a 1.38 ERA over his final 5 starts to give him a final line of 10-13, 4.23 ERA 1.32 WHIP, .270 BAA. Aside from his win-loss record, which suffered from an inept offense and bullpen, all of those numbers are actually better than the stats Garland put up in his 18-win 2006 campaign.
So with only one year left on his contract, Sox brass has to decide if the benefits of bringing in young prospects and saving money outweigh the detriment of subtracting Garland from an already shorthanded starting staff.
It won't be an easy call, but I believe the best move will be to extend Garland's contract for three more years and keep him in Chicago. Consistent innings eaters with mid-4 ERAs and little injury history don't grow on trees. At only 28 years old, Garland still has his prime years in front of him and if the Sox intend to compete in 2008, as Williams continues to emphasize, they will need to minimize rookies in key spots.
The best time to trade Garland would have been mid July, when he was putting up career-best peripherals and had 1.5 years left on his contract. At that time I supported a move and if the Sox could have extracted multiple quality prospects from the Dodgers to build around, I would have pulled the trigger on a deal.
But now this winter, as a one-year rental coming off a sub-par second half with big names like Johan Santana and Dontrelle Willis available, Garland's value is significantly diminished. At this point, he would likely fetch something along the lines of what Williams brought in for Freddy Garcia last winter-a fringe starter and a solid reliever or B/B+ minor league prospect. There's just not enough value in a return like that to justify trading away a horse like Garland.
Unless a bidding war brings a nice bounty of stud prospects and shortstops to the Sox door, the best move will be to keep the easy going Californian in Sox pinstripes for the prime of his career.