Sunday, July 31, 2011

What they're saying about the Uehara trade

Yesterday, the Orioles made two trades. First, they sent Koji Uehara to the Rangers in exchange for corner infielder Chris Davis and pitcher Tommy Hunter. The O's also sent $2 million to the Rangers in the deal. Second, the O's then shipped Derrek Lee and some cash to the Pirates for prospect Aaron Baker, a Single-A first baseman. Baker is not viewed as a top prospect.

The Lee deal was made to free up playing time for the newly acquired Davis. The O's possibly saved some money on the rest of Lee's deal, but it also hasn't been reported how much cash they're sending to the Pirates. Still, it's a minor move that was a no-brainer.

The Uehara trade, though, is more important. Here's what others are saying about it:

- "Both Hunter and Davis are under team control for a long time. Uehara has a vesting option for 2012, worth $4 million with additional bonuses. This looks like a good longer-term gamble for the Orioles, while the Rangers land immediate help in exchange for two guys who probably weren't in their future plans." Jeff Sullivan, Baseball Nation

- "Davis has more upside, but is less likely to reach it. Really, he should spell his name with a ‘K,’ because his career strikeout rate (31.7%) would rank among the league leaders every year if he qualified for the batting title. He’s been trying to cut down that number with limited success, but really he should be focusing on his walk rate. Players like Russell Branyan have shown us that a bad strikeout rate, paired with a strong walk rate and gobs of power, can make for a useful (if winding) major league career. At this point, he’s a flier taken by a team looking to acquire young talent." Eno Sarris, FanGraphs

- "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." Ian Casselberry, Big League Stew

- "Edged out for playing time in Texas by the more consistent Mitch Moreland, Davis has mashed this season in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, batting .368/.405/.824 with 24 home runs in just 193 at-bats. (He hit .327 in the PCL last year to finish second in the batting race.) Still, Davis lacks plate discipline and figures to remain a streaky hitter prone to slumps and short bursts where he's a force—in other words, a lefthanded-hitting Mark Reynolds. . . . The Rangers used Davis' third and final minor league option to send him to Round Rock this season, so the Orioles will have to keep him in the big leagues in 2012 or risk losing him on waivers." John Manuel and Matt Eddy, Baseball America

However, leave it to Keith Law to provide the snarky take on the O's haul:

Playing with Tinkertoys? RT @drtomfowler: @keithlaw If MacPhail calls Davis & Hunter building blocks, what is he building?Sun Jul 31 04:04:49 via Seesmic

Most people seem to think the deal was a win-win for both teams. I rather would have had Andy MacPhail target some actual prospects, but it's hard to argue his logic in making this trade. As long as the O's play Davis consistently, they should be able to figure out whether he's competent enough to stick in the majors or if he's, in fact, a 4-A player. Hunter should have no problem sticking in the O's rotation, especially considering how awful the O's young pitchers look. Also, both players are 25 and have several years of team control left between them.

It's not clear whether or not Mark Reynolds will stay at third or move across the diamond to first. Honestly, I'd like to see them put Davis at first and let Josh Bell (no superior defender either) man third, while letting Reynolds serve as the designated hitter. But with Vladimir Guerrero on the roster, there's basically no chance of that. Bell will likely be sent back to Triple-A Norfolk, which is a shame. Considering Lee's little trade value, Guerrero probably has even less since he's exclusively a DH at this point. At least Lee can play a decent first base.

The Baseball America writers (link above) also commented on Davis's defense: "He has improved defensively at third base and can play either infield corner but is better suited defensively to first, despite good arm strength. Scouting reports on him at third base regularly include the word 'adequate.'" An adequate defender would be leaps and bounds above what Reynolds has done at third base this season. But again, with Guerrero on the roster, either Davis or Reynolds will play third.

It's been clear for weeks/months that the O's are terrible and need to start freeing up positions and playing time for some of their younger players (even though there don't appear to be many talented ones). Lee was one of the players that needed to be moved, and that has been taken care of. Vlad needs to be the next.

As far as Uehara's departure goes, he'll clearly be missed by O's fans. For a team that both struggles to sign free agents and doesn't do a good job scouting and signing international talent, the O's did a fantastic job in both when they signed Uehara, the O's first Japanese player, in 2009 to a two-year, $10 million deal. Uehara was originally a starter, but he had trouble staying healthy and pitching late into games. He was still pretty effective as a starter, but he'd get tired by the fifth inning and have to be replaced.

The O's eventually moved Uehara to the bullpen, where he quickly thrived and became one of the team's best options. He was re-signed in the 2011 offseason and was having another fantastic season this year before being shipped to Texas.

As long as he can deal with the Texas heat, Uehara should be just as effective for the Rangers as he was in Baltimore. There's not a whole lot to get excited about as an O's fan, but watching Uehara work quickly and pound the strike zone was certainly a refreshing sight.

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