Acquired C-S Jarrod Saltalamacchia, SS-R Elvis Andrus, LHPs Matt Harrison and Beau Jones, and RHP Neftali Feliz from the Braves for 1B-S Mark Teixeira and LHP Ron Mahay; acquired LHP Kason Gabbard and OF-Ls David Murphy and Engle Beltre from the Red Sox for RHP Eric Gagne and cash; designated INF-S Desi Relaford for assignment; activated 2B-R Ian Kinsler from the 15-day DL; recalled LHP A.J. Murray from Oklahoma (Triple-A). [7/31]
Okay, all kidding about deadlines aside, time to catch myself up on the Rangers’ achievement on deadline day, make up for the ground lost to a power outage now that I have my site duties fulfilled, a Sun article filed, and the weekend to hold off for a few hours yet. There’s still baseball to discuss, after all.
As far as Daniels’ performance, it’s sort of good and good-looking, but also sort of an incomplete proposition, because while I’m impressed with the package he’s brought in for Teixeira, any suggestion on whether or not he got value for Gagne really depends on Beltre realizing his potential. In that, the Gagne trade has one element in common with the deal that took the Tex out of Texas–Elvis Andrus won’t be 19 until the end of August, and Beltre won’t turn 18 until November, long after he’s wrapped up his first season as a pro–and at that age, never that it’s a partial year in one of the complex leagues, he’s 17 years old. He hasn’t been doing all that well (.208/.310/.400, while striking out in a third of his at-bats), but considering his age, and his physical gifts, you have to give the Rangers some benefit of the doubt. Beltre has the range for center, but he might outgrow it; happily, in addition to a good set of wheels, he has the arm and the power potential at the plate to make it in right field. He’s a blue-chip maybe, and that has value, but nailing down how much is a matter of conjecture.
Similarly, you have to give Andrus some benefit of the doubt because of his age despite his generally weak performance in the High-A Carolina League (.244/.330/.335, with 25 steals in 32 attempts). He’s walking in ~10 percent of his plate appearances, not something you see from every young Venezuelan. His range afield and an arm that can make the plays from deep in the hole make him one of the more interesting shortstop-as-a-shortstop prospects in the game. But the danger is that he may not get all that much better at the plate, at which point, you’ve got… what, Royce Clayton? That’s a useful player, but not a star.
The rest of the Gagne deal did at least bring the organization two players who can play in the majors, but neither Gabbard or Murphy have much in the way of star power. Gabbard’s main claim to fame is generating groundball outs; he had more than 2.5 times as many groundball outs as caught flyballs in his 14 starts for the PawSox this year. He also had only seven quality starts in those 14, and three in his seven for the parent club, solid enough work for a fifth starter type. Therein is the problem–a fourth or fifth starter is what Gabbard is right now, and it is perhaps his ceiling. In this, he’s not really that different from guys like John Rheinecker or John Koronka–just about good enough, and perhaps in a less difficult run environment than Texas’, possibly quite capable of sticking, but perhaps no better a proposition to be even that than his quality start rate. There’s some concern that Murphy’s glove won’t play for years and years in center, which suggests that he might have to make it as a fourth outfield type, maybe even make a nice platoon starter considering he hit .300/.368/.468 against right-handed pitching. If he’s the lefty-hitting part of a job-sharing arrangement in center, splitting time with someone like Marlon Byrd, that’s useful, and can be the difference between a pathetic situation (think Cubs) or having a true star. There’s some potentially hidden hope in that Murphy’s seen to have more power than he’s shown in games, and that’s something that might be more easily exploited moving to Texas, but that’s a maybe. These are just two good parts, not the players who have to pay off to make these deals work for Daniels.
Which brings us to the other components of the Braves’ deal–Salty and the pitching. It looks as if the Rangers are content for the time being to eventually make the young catcher their regular backstop (assuming he doesn’t somehow flunk out in instructional league this fall), but for the time being, they’ll do as the Braves did, moving him between catcher and first. That’s important, because to my mind, Saltalamacchia really must be a catcher for the Teixeira deal to really pay off, not as an exchange of kind, but as a matter of acquiring a star talent at a position where they’re in short supply. If you look at Salty’s five-year forecast, you wind up with a guy who’s going to slug into the mid-.400s with OBPs in the .350 range. That’s a huge offensive advantage in lineup construction at catcher, and a guy who isn’t killing you if he’s at first base. Since he’s under control for the next five years or so, what do you think you’re going to be able to find and afford with the money you save having relatively cost certainty with Saltalamacchia in your lineup–a first baseman who hits better than that, or a catcher who hits anywhere close to that well? In short, Salt catches, or the Rangers aren’t even holding themselves in place.
The pitching is the usual collection of interesting and talented hurlers you always find plying their trade in the Braves system. Harrison, Jones, and Feliz all rated in the top 20 prospects in the Braves’ system for Baseball America before the season, and two of them–Harrison and Feliz–rated in Kevin Goldstein’s preseason top ten for the system. So, picking from wee Braves, you couldn’t have done much better on the pitching side of things. That Feliz rated so high might surprise some, but Kevin’s an admitted velocity whore, and Feliz throws freely and easily into the upper 90s, and supports it with a nasty slider that needs work, and his change is even more notional; if he were only going to be a reliever, it wouldn’t be hard to envision Feliz becoming some sort of latter-day blend of Jeff Nelson and Joel Zumaya, but seeing as he won’t be 20 until next spring and is still starting in the short-season complex leagues, we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves. In short, Feliz is to pitching what Beltre or Andrus are as position-playing prospects–really, really interesting, and so young as to defy easy analysis.
Harrison hasn’t embarrassed himself in his first full season at Double-A, but he also hasn’t exactly excelled, allowing nearly four runs per nine innings and a hit for every frame, but striking out six per nine, keeping the ball in the yard (only six souvenirs in 116 2/3 IP) and walking fewer than three batters per nine. He’s a lefty with reliable low-90s heat, a plus curve, and a plus change, so it’s easy to want him.
Finally, there’s Jones. Problems with his off-speed stuff led to a move to the pen, and while we’re talking about a 22 year-old (the horror!), he’s throwing long relief work, so starting doesn’t have to be ruled out of his future if he can throw a promising curve and change more reliably. If not, he’s “only” a lefty with consistent low-90s heat, and if he tends to generate a lot of flyball outs and that might make you worry about his future in Texas, staying in the pen wouldn’t prevent him from having a productive career.
The question is whether the package adds up. The best young catcher in the game, two hard-throwing lefties, an even harder-throwing righty, a toolsy shortstop, an equally toolsy pair of center fielders, and a guy who can step into the back end of a big league rotation right now… for a quality first baseman and perhaps two months from a fragile sometime star-quality reliever? It may not knock your socks off, but in this market, with prospects at a premium, it seems to me that Daniels did exceptionally well. That might seem strange considering how much we have to defer to more scouty instincts than performance analysis, but there should be no doubt that the two deals brought in a ton of talent, and that it’s good enough to do something to redeem Daniels’ otherwise shaky reputation as a trader. It’ll take years to see if Andrus, Beltre, Feliz, and Jones pan out, so there’s still the very real possibility that this deal will add considerable to the good fortune of Daniels’ eventual successor, but if the young GM is still running the show when we get a full read on how well these two deals worked out, that will mean that some things will have gone very well indeed. We’ll have to wait and see.