Sources: Hunter could be on Sox within a week

November 19, 2007
By Joe Cowley
Ken Williams has learned to accept fans and media often tossing him into what he refers to as “The Idiot of the Day Club.’’

But the trade of Jon Garland to the Angels on Monday afternoon for shortstop Orlando Cabrera was “Phase 2’’ of the offseason facelift only because the club is feeling all but certain that “Phase 1’’ was accomplished over the weekend.

Sources both in the Sox organization and the camp of free-agent outfielder Torii Hunter have told the Sun-Times that the two sides could be signing a contract within the week.

In other words, while it appeared Williams was playing checkers in the Garland for Cabrera deal, he was actually playing chess, staying moves ahead of the game.

According to one source, Hunter had met with the Sox twice in the last two weeks, getting the financial details of what was being offered in that second meeting. While an agreement had not been reached as of Monday afternoon, the source said that “the climate’’ was there for a deal to be announced soon, unless another team comes in at the last second and blows Hunter away with an offer.

Enough so that Williams cleared the way for the Hunter acquisition by trading away Garland and his $12 million contract for the ’08 season.

With Cabrera at shortstop and Hunter in center field, not only would the Sox add two Gold Glovers to the mix, but now have the hole in the No. 2 spot of the lineup filled with Cabrera, while Hunter would offer protection for the “big three’’ of Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye in the batting order.

“The main focus of the organizational meetings was getting back to the formula in 2005 – pitching and defense,’’ the source said.

While losing Garland is a hit for the pitching part of the formula, privately some in the organization felt that Garland had reached his ceiling in 2005 and ’06, winning 18 games in both years, and with the right-hander hitting the free agent market after ’08, he would price himself out of what the Sox felt was a comfortable range.

Garland himself knew the writing was on the wall, telling the Sun-Times back in September, “If I had to guess right now, I would say that I’m more likely to get traded than to sign back, only because looking around this clubhouse and depending on which way they want to go with the team – whether Kenny wants to go young or build a winner here – at least on the starting staff, I bring the most attention.’’

That doesn’t mean that the starting rotation isn’t taking a hit, however.

After the proven arms of Mark Buehrle, Javier Vazquez and Jose Contreras, the Sox will rely on John Danks to step up after an inconsistent rookie campaign, while the enigmatic Gavin Floyd will get the first shot to fill the vacancy left by Garland.

Pitching coach Don Cooper made it a point to say that he backed whatever moves Williams felt would make the team better, but also realized that the pressure now grows for all five starters – no matter who they are come April 1.

“With Buehrle, Contreras, and Vazquez, I mean we need 15 wins each from them and there is no room for error for them,’’ Cooper said. “John Danks, his grace period, learning curve, just got quicker. And then with Gavin, if it is Gavin, we need him to pick it up where he left off in September.

“Again, we know we have to do a better job with the bullpen and that will be addressed. My only concern is the players we have here. The job is to get into the playoffs and win a World Championship. Right now, we lose Jon garland, that means someone else is going to have to step up.’’

The next step for Williams if he does land Hunter this week, is adding a proven leadoff hitter/left fielder, which could be accomplished in shipping third baseman Joe Crede out in a trade. The bullpen will then be the focus for the remainder of the offseason.

“Kenny wants to get back into the playoffs and feels this trade will help,’’ Cooper added. “I back it. There’s a track record here. I mean he’s already orchestrated one championship team here.’’