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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Why the Rangers Won the Trade Deadline

                Carlos Beltran and Hunter Pence may have been the sexiest pick-ups at the 2011 MLB trade deadline, going to the Giants and Phillies respectively, but by the time the season is finished, the Texas Rangers have a good chance of being able to claim that they made the best deals. The Rangers, already armed with a potent offense, decided to shore up their bullpen, and acquired setup men Mike Adams from San Diego, and Koji Uehara from Baltimore. The two moves cost them four young players, but if everything goes as planned, the Rangers will be back in the hunt for the World Series once again this October.

                Adams and Uehara add incredible depth and versatility to the Rangers’ bullpen. Prior to the trade Uehara had 62 strikeouts in 47 innings, to go along with a 1.72 ERA. He dominated all hitters, allowing lefties to bat .136 against him, while righties have not done much better with their .171 average. Incredibly, Adams essentially matched Uehara’s production prior to the trade, with 49 strikeouts in 48 innings, a 1.13 ERA, and a measly .155 batting average against.

               The Rangers got good value in both trades, as they gave up players who had either not yet reached the Majors, or were not major components of the Big League rosters. Let’s explore in more depth what the Rangers gave up, and what impact the trades will have on the team.

What the Rangers gave up:

                Mike Adams was obtained in exchange for pitching prospects Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland.  It was a fairly significant price to pay for Adams, who has been a reliever for his entire Major League career. The Rangers thought what he could bring to their bullpen in the immediate future outweighed the potential of the two young pitchers.

The 20-year-old Erlin is a smaller left-hander, taken in the 3rd round of the 2009 MLB draft. He is currently pitching at Double-A, and has averaged better than a strikeout per inning so far during his minor league career. With a low-nineties fastball, curve, and change, he has three pitches that currently grade out as average or better, making him a good candidate for the starting rotation when he reaches the Majors.

Although he threw a no-hitter back in June, Joe Wieland is a notch below Erlin as a prospect. 21-years-old, Wieland was a 4th round selection in 2008, and like Erlin, is also currently pitching at Double-A. Wieland is purported to have an above average curveball to go along with a fastball in the 89-91 range, and a blossoming changeup. Although he has excellent control and relatively high strikeout numbers, until this season he had also given up a high number of base runners. His Major League future may be in the bullpen instead of as a starter, but he is young enough that there is still room to develop.

Uehara was brought in at a much lower cost than the more coveted Adams, who had been on the wish list of many teams for well over a year. Baltimore sent Uehara to Texas in exchange for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter, two players who had made contributions to the Rangers over the past several seasons, but were not core members of the roster.

Still just 25, Davis is an all-or-nothing slugger, who has bounced up and down between Texas and the minors since 2008. He has freakish power, but has struggled to make consistent contact. A good example is his 2009 season, where he hit .238 with 21 home runs and 150 strikeouts in 419 at bats. If Davis manages to stay in the Majors, his best case scenario is likely a Russell Branyan type career. He may be a useful player for the Orioles right now, but if the team wants to continue to improve and develop young talent, he should not be counted on as a major contributor.

Tommy Hunter was a 1st round selection of the Rangers in 2007. A right-handed pitcher, he was in the Majors by 2008. Until this season, Hunter had pitched exclusively as a starter, but returning from injuries in 2011, he has pitched out of the bullpen. Even though Hunter won 13 games in 2010, he does not have the talent to be a top-notch starter, but is a nice addition to the back end of a rotation or the middle innings as a reliever. The Orioles who have a tattered starting rotation comprised of shell shocked rookies and overwhelmed veterans can use a pitcher like Hunter to eat some innings.

What impact will the trades have on the Rangers:

                The offense of the Rangers is their strength. The five runs per game they average allows them to hang with any team in either league. This offense is important as the Rangers lack a true dominant ace in their steady, but underwhelming starting rotation.

                While they have no true number one, it would be misleading to say that the Texas starters haven’t been good. C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Alexi Ogando have all pitched well so far this season, but none have the cache of a C.C. Sabathia or Roy Halladay- battle tested playoff starters. The newly revamped bullpen will help mask such deficiencies.

The abilities of the Texas rotation will be extended by having a shutdown bullpen to pick them up as soon as they stop being effective in their starts. As long as the starters can consistently give the team 5-6 innings, and not give up more than 3-4 runs, they can turn the game over to the bullpen and have the Rangers in a good position to possibly win just about any game. It is a luxury that not many teams possess.

                Adams and Uehara join a bullpen that already contained some nice pieces. Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes are prehistoric, yet effective lefties. Neftali Feliz has battled control problems and diminished velocity this season, yet at age 23, he is  still one of the best young closers in the game, and has saved 21 games in 26 chances so far in 2011.

The experience and skill of the Ranger bullpen means that most of its members can pitch to any batter in any situation. This is invaluable, as pitchers don’t have to be wasted to face a single hitter, or do other situational work. Even better, both Adams and Uehara are under team control through 2012, meaning the bullpen will remain a strength of the team past this season.

A baseball team becomes dangerous once they have the ability to beat you in multiple ways. The Rangers already had the players to compete with anyone offensively, but the new pieces they added to their bullpen at the trade deadline give them a whole new dynamic. They are now able to overwhelm teams with big run totals, but can also shut them down with pitching, particularly in the late innings, when it counts the most.

Already a playoff caliber team, the Rangers repositioning the back end of their pitching staff has catapulted them back into the conversation of World Series contenders. Although their deadline deals did not net them any stars in the traditional sense, the players they brought in might just end up making more difference than any of the other deals, and tip the balance of power in the baseball playoffs.
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1 comment:

  1. Awesome article! As a die-hard Rangers fan, this put a smile on my face.