July 30, 2011
Adding bullpen help was a trade deadline priority for the Texas Rangers. On Saturday, they got some relief.
The Rangers acquired pitcher Koji Uehara(notes) from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for first baseman Chris Davis(notes) and right-hander Tommy Hunter(notes). The Orioles also will include $2 million to the Rangers in the deal, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun.
Of the setup relievers available, the Rangers might have gotten the best. He's had an outstanding season, with 62 strikeouts in 47 innings, along with a 1.72 ERA in 43 appearances. Opposing batters are hitting only .152/.191/.287 against him. Even more intriguing is that Uehara is better against left-handers (.136 average in 96 plate appearances) than righties (.171 in 78 PAs).
While Uehara might not close out games for the Rangers (he wasn't doing so with the Orioles), he still becomes the team's best reliever. But if Neftali Feliz(notes) continues to struggle with his control (4.7 walks per nine innings this year) and strike out fewer batters (6.3 per nine), Uehara provides Ron Washington another late-inning option.
He won't be a very expensive player for the Rangers, either. He's owed the remainder of his $3 million salary this season and with 12 more appearances, he'll trigger a vesting $4 million option for next year. (The $2 million Baltimore included in the deal should help with that.)
His tremendous power has made him a tantalizing player for the past six seasons. Hitting 17 home runs in 80 games during his 2008 rookie season set the bar high. But ever since then, Davis has struggled to reach that level of success again.
In 2009, Davis got his chance to be the Rangers' starting first baseman. But swinging for the fences also resulted in a lot of strikeouts.
He struck out 150 times, the seventh-highest total in the American League and the 10th-highest in franchise history. And for all that big swinging, Davis only managed 21 home runs to go with a .238/.284/.442 average.
Davis never really recovered from that disappointment. The Rangers sent him back down to the minors several times to work on his swing, and he would crush Triple-A pitching, batting .337 over the past three seasons. But whenever Davis was called back up to the big leagues, the same problems developed. He's been shuttled between the minors and majors six times since 2009.
In the meantime, the Rangers had to move on with other players. Justin Smoak(notes) appeared to have leapfrogged Davis at first base. That is, until he was dealt to Seattle last season in the Cliff Lee(notes) trade. But then, as Texas made its postseason run to the World Series, Mitch Moreland(notes) took hold of that position.
During spring training this year, Moreland did nothing to lose the job. That left Davis to ask for a trade if there was no spot for him on the Rangers' major league roster. Those wishes weren't accommodated, and Davis opened the season with Class AAA Round Rock.
Moving to the Orioles, Davis might have another shot of realizing those big league dreams. Derrek Lee(notes) has been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. And manager Buck Showalter probably has some familiarity with Davis, having been the Rangers' skipper when Davis was drafted in 2006.
The Orioles also get some help for their starting rotation in Hunter. While he didn't start any games this year for the Rangers, largely due to a groin injury he suffered in the spring, Hunter did make 41 starts over the previous two seasons. Baltimore may also like a groundball pitcher who relies on control working in a hitters' park like Camden Yards.
Last year, Hunter was a surprising 13-4 with a 3.73 ERA. But his inability to miss bats with his stuff was exposed in three postseason starts, as he gave up 16 hits in 11 1/3 innings. He might not eat up as many innings as the Orioles might prefer, but he does provide another veteran presence for a young pitching staff.
While Davis and Hunter might seem like a lot to give up for a middle reliever, neither player really figured into the Rangers' current plans. Uehara provides immediate help for a team looking to make another run to the World Series.