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July 31, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Texas Gunslingers

by R.J. Anderson and Jason Parks

IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RP-R Mike Adams from Padres for SP-L Robbie Erlin and SP-R Joe Wieland. [7/31]

Over the last two days, Jon Daniels has transformed a bullpen with the fourth-worst earned run average in the American League into a unit that looks frightening on paper. Daniels first acquired Koji Uehara on Saturday, then spun around and brought in setup man extraordinaire Mike Adams on Sunday.

Adams was last involved in a July trade in 2006 when the Indians dealt him to the Padres for Brian Sikorski, coming just days after the Indians claimed him on waivers from the Mets. To say the market for Adams’s services was more expansive this go-around is an understatement as he now might be the best setup man in baseball. Since 2008, Adams has the eighth-best Fair Run Average amongst relievers with more than 150 innings pitched. The rest of the top 10 is provided below, courtesy of Dan Turkenkopf:

Jonathan Papelbon 2.65
Hong-Chih Kuo 2.71
Jonathan Broxton 2.81
David Robertson 2.92
Andrew Bailey 2.94
Matt Thornton 2.95
Heath Bell 3.00
Mike Adams 3.03
Mariano Rivera 3.10
Daniel Bard 3.15

Texas had reported interest in a number of those names, including Bailey, Thornton, and Bell, the three of whom directly precede Adams. The only real concern with Adams is how he will pitch outside of PETCO Park. It’s a concern shared by most pitchers who leave the Padres, but one that does not appear legitimate with Adams. He is a groundball pitcher with fantastic strikeout rates and good stuff, making him the opposite of the fly-ball pitchers with fringe stuff that you tend to worry about moving away from PETCO.

There may be some future ramifications from this trade for Neftali Feliz too. With Adams under control through the 2012 season, you have to wonder if the Rangers will consider moving Feliz to the rotation and using Adams as their new closer. Of course, that’s a conversation for the winter and next spring. For now, Adams, Feliz, and Uehara will form one of the sturdier endgame combinations in baseball. —R.J. Anderson

SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired SP-L Robbie Erlin and SP-R Joe Wieland from Padres for RP-R Mike Adams. [7/31]

In exchange for reliever Mike Adams, the Padres will receive the pitchability duo of Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland from the Texas Rangers. Let’s take a look at the two arms, what they bring to the table, and why this deal makes sense for both parties.

Robbie Erlin
Last week, I wrote an article on Texas Farm Review about Robbie Erlin and the reasons why I thought he would be a good chip to offer to San Diego in exchange for a reliever. The backbone of that piece was about Erlin’s future role in Texas, or better put, the deficiencies in Erlin’s skill-set that might be exploited in Arlington but would be more suited for a park like Petco. More on that in a minute.

After being drafted in the third round of the 2009 draft, the California native displayed an 80 grade aptitude for the mound, showing the polish and poise of a seasoned veteran. Standing a generous 6’0’’, the lefty brings a solid-average arsenal to the table with a fastball that can work in the low 90s (mostly 88-91) with good arm-side run on the ball. The secondary stuff is good, but not great, with the change and curve both showing plus potential at times and his overall command allowing the pitches to play up in sequence; Erlin can throw lefty-lefty change-ups for strikes and isn’t afraid to pitch backwards if he feels he has an advantage by doing so. This is what defines Erlin. Despite not possessing the standard characteristics of a future number two starter, that is exactly what Erlin could become in the comforts of San Diego thanks to his ability to fill-up the zone with strikes and win the mental battle that takes place when a hitter steps into the box.

As I detailed in the Texas Farm Review article, Erlin isn’t without deficiency, and it’s my belief that those issues would negatively affect him had he remained with Texas. Because of his stature and his release, Erlin struggles to create a step-plane to the plate and often falls victim to the long ball when his solid-average stuff catches too much of the plate. In a home park like Petco, Erlin could continue to fill-up the zone with his fastball, despite the fact that his heater has more tail than sink, and allow the spacious stadium to participate in the process. In my opinion, Erlin is the perfect pitcher for San Diego to acquire, and I’m not just saying that because I wrote about it on the 20th. Okay, that’s part of it.

As he continues to mature, Erlin will no doubt add nuances to his arsenal (already working on a cutter), and as his plus-plus control develops into plus-plus command, the southpaw will continue to find ways to exploit his opponents. Erlin is a student of the game and one of the smartest pitchers I’ve ever been around. He has a true distaste for hitters, and if you beat him, he will find a way to win the next battle. In fact, when charting games, Erlin will often keep a separate page of notes on the hitters, writing down tendencies and weaknesses so that he can exploit them when it’s his turn. San Diego is getting a very, very good pitching prospect with a very, very bright future. I think his style is a better fit for Petco, and even though the loss of Erlin will sting the Rangers’ system, his value to the Padres exceeds his value with the Rangers.

Joseph Wieland
Weiland is another pitchability type with good stuff that plays up because of control and an overall feel for the mound. Wieland was drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 draft (out of high school), and has taken positive developmental steps from day one, finding his way to Double-A Frisco by age 21. Standing 6’3’’ and weighing 175 lbs, Wieland is a prototypical starter with a clean delivery, good (but not great) stuff, and the ability to throw strikes. His fastball has range, working in the upper-80s to low 90s and bumping a little higher in bursts. The pitch has some boring action, but he shows a very strong feel for command of the pitch, locating it within the zone with efficiency. His secondary arsenal flashes above-average potential with a curve that he can throw for strikes and drop at 60 feet.

Like Erlin, Wieland is quite the gamer, always looking for the advantage, attacking hitters with a plan rather than with a “here it is, hit this” type of approach. With a deep arsenal that also includes a fringy changeup and the makings of a very good slider, Wieland has the command and the delivery to become a solid-average starter at the major league level. I don’t see Wieland developing into a monster on the mound but rather a pitcher with a safe floor that isn’t going to pitch a Game One but isn’t going to embarrass you in a Game Four. I don’t see much projection left in the arsenal, but he will continue to refine his repertoire, and if the slider continues to be an effective weapon against lefties (as was evident in his recent no-hitter against the San Antonio Missions), Wieland could become a realistic option at the major league level at some point in the 2012 season just the same as Erlin.

The Padres just added two major league quality pitchers to the mix, and I’d bet my career (what career?) that both arms find a way to contribute at the major league level within a few seasons. I think Erlin stands a chance to have the better overall career, but Wieland isn’t a pitcher to sleep on, and both should become solid-average starters. The deal was safe and smart for both teams. The Padres received two arms designed to pitch in a big park, and the Rangers received a very good bullpen arm to add to their already impressive collection. For me, the deal is a win-win. —Jason Parks


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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