Fresh start with White Sox was what Floyd needed

Gavin Floyd was traded from the Phillies to the White Sox in 2006. (Nam Y. Huh/AP file photo)

GLENDALE, Ariz. - What Gavin Floyd remembers about his last days with the Phillies is a feeling of unrelenting pressure because he was disappointing the organization that had chosen him high in the draft, given him his first chance in professional baseball, and now was clearly tired of waiting for him to figure things out.

"If you're a first-rounder and they've invested a lot of money in you," Floyd said, "there's a time line. And if you don't meet that . . ."

He smiled thinly as he stood in the spring-training clubhouse of the Chicago White Sox and then folded his 6-foot-6 frame neatly into a chair in front of his locker. There was no need to finish the sentence because the Phils had completed it more than four years ago.

". . . then you get traded for Freddy Garcia, and we don't expect to ever hear about you again."

 That's what happened with Floyd, a starting pitcher with a searing fastball and preposterously sharp curveball, after the 2006 season. The Phillies did indeed run out of patience and trade him (along with someone named Gio Gonzalez) to Chicago for Garcia.

As moves go, it was hard to blame the Phillies at the time, or even in retrospect, but it didn't work out as well as it might have. Garcia was a one-year bust with the Phils, going 1-5 with a 5.90 ERA while he earned $10 million. He disguised a shoulder injury until June, when he was placed on the disabled list - never to return.

Floyd, meanwhile, exhaled for the first time in several years and started a somewhat late maturation that has led him to three consecutive seasons of double-figure wins with the White Sox - including a 17-8 mark in 2008 - and a place in a rotation that is poised to return to the postseason.

"Something I needed was to have a fresh start to free my mind from things that developed over there [with the Phillies]. Ever since I came here, I've been able to concentrate better every year," Floyd said. "Coming here, I've been able to trust in my natural abilities and let things happen."

There are no bad guys in the story. The Phillies tried their best. Floyd tried his best. But his is a cautionary tale for any 18-year-old with fantastic ability who needs time to direct it properly. The Phils gave him some time, hurried him a little out of need, and the reward didn't appear to be on the way. So they gave up on him.

"He's one of those guys where it took a while for his head to catch up to his arm," said one former Phillies insider with knowledge of the situation. "In a way, it's kind of like what they've had to do with [Kyle] Kendrick, but Floyd's stuff is 10 times as good. He's got electric stuff."

When Floyd was a high school senior at Mount St. Joseph's near Baltimore, his fastball was timed at 95 m.p.h., and his breaking ball, as judged by one of those publications that rates such things, was among the top two or three by players his age.

The Phillies selected him with the fourth pick of the 2001 amateur draft, anticipating he would be part of the franchise's resurgence. Floyd was taken in the draft one year after Chase Utley was the first-round pick and one year before Cole Hamels.

Floyd didn't sign with the Phils until late August, one day before he was scheduled to attend his first class at the University of South Carolina, a move that would mean the Phils had wasted the pick. Somebody blinked, and Floyd received a $4.2 million signing bonus. His brother Mike Floyd, an outfielder three years older than Gavin, also was drafted, with the intention of assigning him to the same minor-league teams for a while. Mike was given a $65,000 signing bonus, which is slightly generous for a 22d-round pick.

And that's how it started. Gavin and Mike went to Lakewood in 2002, where Floyd pitched well, and Clearwater in 2003, where the progress continued. By 2004, as Gavin progressed from Reading to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in one season, he was on his own. Mike Floyd's career ended with the Camden Riversharks in 2006.

The level of play at triple A didn't agree with Floyd, or it didn't agree with his ERA, in any case, and his four starts with the Phillies in 2005 and his 11 starts in 2006 were very disappointing. Within the organization, there was frustration, and the Phils decided to cut bait. In 2007, with a rotation built around Jamie Moyer, Hamels, Adam Eaton, Kendrick, Jon Lieber, and Kyle Lohse, the Phillies made the playoffs to start a run that has reached a team-record four straight postseasons.

"I was listening to so many people and influenced by so many people when I was with the Phillies that I didn't necessarily know who I was and didn't have confidence in myself," Floyd said. "I felt I was succeeding early, then hit a patch where I was trying to do too much and started changing things. You try, but it's just not working out, and suddenly they're ready to move on. I was surprised, but it felt like a weight was off my back."

From a distance, the 28-year-old righthander has been happy for his friends who have enjoyed the Phils' recent success. He stays in contact with Hamels and Ryan Howard, his minor-league teammates, and has kept a chest protector given to him by Carlos Ruiz and signed by the entire triple-A team, after Floyd took a line drive in the chest and still made the play at first.

"They gave me my start, but I don't have any what-ifs about if I had stayed there," Floyd said. "I want what they've done to happen with this team I'm on, and I believe we can."

For whatever reason, it has worked out for Floyd with the White Sox. Maybe it would have worked out for him wherever he happened to get his second chance. Some young careers go that way.

The Phillies haven't exactly suffered with his absence, but the story would have been neater if it had happened with them. It's a long time ago now, 10 years since Gavin Floyd stood in the basement of Veterans Stadium and couldn't stop smiling because the future was no longer in doubt.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

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