What does Kenny Williams think Don Cooper is -- another Dave Duncan?
In a nutshell, yes.
White Sox pitching coach Cooper was put on the spot a litttle bit when GM Williams explained Friday afternoon why he traded for Edwin Jackson. Williams said Cooper, along with Ozzie Guillen, advocated for a veteran starter rather than rookie Daniel Hudson continuing in the No. 5 rotation spot. And he said that Cooper watched an hour of Jackson video Thursday before he the deal was finalized.
Cooper does not have the reputation of reclamation-project master Duncan, but he's done his share. Jose Contreras was the best-known. Throw Gavin Floyd in the mix. Cooper, who could easily be a character on a sitcom set on the streets of New York with his Big Apple accent, does uplift under-performing pitchers and lights a fire under their backsides when they are laggards.
Jackson could be his biggest project, getting him in shape for his first Sox start Wednesday in Detroit. He is the on-base-percentage encourager of the National League. He led the NL in earned runs yielded. He's walked 60 and given up 141 hits in 134 1/3 innings.
Jackson's 1-0 no-hitter over the Rays in St. Petersburg on June 25 was a beaut -- eight walks and one hit batter allowed, with in a wild pitch for good measure, wrapped up in a neat 149-pitch package. Is that Diamondbacks manager still employed? A few days later I asked Ozzie Guillen if he'd leave in a pitcher that long with a no-no going. "Tough decision," Oswaldo replied, and it sounded like he would have given him the hook.
No way Jackson even sniffs 120 pitches as a Guillen rotation member now. The Sox are taking a decent gamble here. Just give us five or six decent innings, and we'll turn it over to the 'pen. The pressure is off. Jackson will be a fifth starter, not a No. 2.
He's also a hedge against a slow comeback by Jake Peavy. I talked to an orthopedic guy with experience in sports injuries recently. Although the Peavy surgery to re-attach a large muscle to his shoulder bone was a success, the injury has scarcely been suffered by pitchers before. The doc suggested Peavy could pitch again, but not in his accustomed fireballer persona. Maybe he ought to look at how Freddy Garcia, another former hard thrower, does it as a guide. In any case, the Sox did not want to be caught short in the rotation next season if Peavy has to go slow in a number of different ways. Jackson is under their control in 2011 for a semi-reasonable $8-plus million.
Williams made another decision to go pitching-first. He won't raid his big-league roster to pay for Adam Dunn. And the Nationals didn't seem hot on getting Jackson as another development project. There was no imminent "flipping" of Jackson for Dunn as overheated media outlets reported all Friday afternoon. A Nats source in the know said he had not heard of a Jackson-for-Dunn deal as of early afternoon, so we have to assume the discourse between the teams has died down.
The Sox are scoring enough runs now without a Dunn-style thumper. Of course, that could change in August as they play a ton of games against the Twins and Tigers. By then, however, Williams expects more teams to drop out of contention and make additional players available through waiver deals. That's how he landed Alex Rios last August. The Sox could benefit from a lesser-level hitter than Dunn, and such commodities should be within their grasp before the Aug. 31 deadline for qualifying for postseason rosters.
At least Williams took action with more than 24 hours to go before the trade deadline. I don't know what's holding up Cubs counterpart Jim Hendry's expected trading of lefty Ted Lilly. Hendry, who takes plenty of knocks anyway, can be defended in one angle here. He shouldn't just give away Lilly. He's a tough pitcher who can solidify a contender's rotation down the stretch and doesn't cost a mint.
Love the July 31 trade deadline. Even for teams in the middle of lost seasons, it's a highlight. That's why baseball with all its problems and antedliluvian thinking still has an allure unmatched by even the better-marketed NFL and NBA. There's nothing like a baseball trade actually accomplished after all the rumors and posturing.