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Trade Deadline Recap: Texas Bolsters Their Bullpen by Acquiring Uehara, Adams

August 3, 2011

Last season’s AL Champion Texas Rangers have spent the better part of the 2011 season atop the AL West standings. Yet, something seemed missing despite their success. Perhaps this is because so much time was spent this Spring discussing what the team should do with closer Neftali Feliz. Some within the organization wanted to move him into the rotation considering he was a dominant starter for the better part of his minor league career. Others wanted to keep him at the back end of the bullpen after the success he had last season.

Ultimately it was decided to keep Feliz in the bullpen as the team felt it was strong enough in the rotation that it could wait to move their young flamethrower out of a role he had excelled in. This belief was largely predicated on the idea that the team could more easily go out and find another starter rather than a closer should a need arise.

A few months later the Rangers found themselves atop the division and very much in the discussion for the best team in the American League. However, Feliz had struggled and it became evident that there was a need for a reliable veteran arm to help out at the back end of the bullpen if the team was going to not only reach the World Series again, but potentially win it this time. For weeks leading up to the deadline it was widely expected that the Rangers would make a serious run at possibly the best relief option available on the market – San Diego’s Heath Bell. However, rather than giving up their farm system for two months of Bell they went out and acquired a pair of premier setup men – Baltimore’s Koji Uehara and the Padres’ Mike Adams.

Uehara has been one of the lone bright spots for the Orioles this season. In 43 games he’s thrown a total of 47 innings with a 1.72 ERA, 0.703 WHIP, and an impressive 7.75:1 strikeout to walk ratio. Throughout his MLB career (since joining the Orioles from Japan prior to the 2009 season) command has been one of his strengths as he holds career marks of 9.5 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9. Uehara is in the midst of a career season and could potentially be with the Rangers in 2012 if his option vests (he only needs 12 more appearances for it do to do so).

In return, the Orioles will receive a pair of players who were both once highly touted prospects but have failed to see those talents materialize at the Major League level. First baseman Chris Davis is the key piece here from Baltimore’s perspective. Texas has been trying the slugger at third base for part of this season in an effort to get him into the lineup more should he make it back to the Majors. However, regardless of where he played in the field he’s absolutely crushed Triple-A pitching. In 193 at bats he hit .368/.405/.824 with 24 HR and 66 RBI. In 72 at bats with the Rangers those numbers haven’t quite translated as he’s hit just .250/.299/.403. The Orioles have been in need of a first baseman for some time now so he’ll likely get amply opportunity over the remainder of the season to win the job.

Also going to Baltimore in the deal is right hander Tommy Hunter. Hunter has struggled with consistency and a few minor nagging injuries this season which have limited his workload to a total of 45.1 innings between Double-A, Triple-A, and the Majors. Combined he’s 3-3 with a 4.88 ERA. Often projected as an innings eater as he moved through the minor leagues, it seems likely Baltimore will use him in the rotation at some point before the season comes to an end.

In Adams, the Rangers acquire one of the National League’s best setup men as he was having a season quite comparable to Uehara’s. Through 48 games the right hander has pitched a total of 48.0 innings with a 1.13 ERA, 3-1 record, and a 0.731 WHIP. His WHIP since the start of the 2008 season (0.901) is bested only by Mariano Rivera and Sergio Romo. Adams will also still be under team control through next season.

The price for the reliever was high as San Diego was not in a hurry to trade him despite multiple teams expressing interest as the deadline approached. In return, the Padres will receive a pair of pitching prospects from the Rangers who are both fairly highly regarded in Robert Erlin and Joe Wieland.

Erlin was one of the team’s top ranked prospects prior to the start of the season. He began the year in High-A, making 9 starts in which he went 3-2 with a 2.14 ERA. He was then promoted to Double-A where he’s gone 5-2 with a 4.32 ERA in 66.2 innings. Command is a strength as he’s struck out a combined 123 batters with only 12 walks between his two stops on the season. He profiles as a mid rotation starter once he reaches the Majors.

Wieland has followed a similar path this season. In 13 High-A starts he went 6-3 with a 2.10 ERA in 85.2 innings. Once promoted to Double-A he has since posted a 4-0 record and 1.23 ERA through 7 starts. Collectively he’s struck out 132 batters versus just 15 walks. His stock has risen greatly over the course of the season after being named as one of the Rangers Top 30 prospects prior to the season.

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