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August 04, 2007

Thoughts on the Teixeira Trade

Texas traded 1B MARK TEIXEIRA and reliever RON MAHAY to Atlanta for catcher JARROD SALTALAMACCHIA, shortstop ELVIS ANDRUS, pitcher MATT HARRISON, pitcher BEAU JONES, and pitcher NEFTALI FELIZ.

When I met Jamey Newberg last February, our conversation quickly turned to Teixeira’s future with Texas. What I said at the time (and should have blogged) was: “Mark Teixeira is a Ranger for only one reason: because Texas drafted him and paid up.

He would never have played in Arlington of his own volition, he played with Texas solely because of contractual obligation, and he would depart the moment that obligation ended. Nothing could keep him in Arlington. Teixeira was nothing if not honest; he made a few untactful statements, but he certainly never led fans on. Even dating back to the draft, Teixeira’s commentary on contracts and his future in Texas never veered beyond cold and businesslike.

I don’t say that with bitterness. As with any professional in any field, he wanted to make the most money in an optimal work environment. Texas apparently offered him a bank-breaking contract, but he still would have walked. Again, I’m not bitter, but it’s disappointing to know a great player disdains your favored team. Since Texas has finished above .500 and seriously contended for a division title only once during his five seasons, I can’t say I blame him.

Anyway, the Rangers traded Teixeira amidst many largely true stories of teams skittish about trading prospects, and many largely asinine columns suggesting that Jon Daniels was asking for too much and should just be a polite boy and accept a “reasonable” offer as quickly as possible. Instead, he waited and was paid off. This was a fine trade, albeit loaded with high-risk players. The return:

(Round - Overall - Year)
Highest Level
Pre-Season Top 10 Prospect List for Atlanta
(National Rank in Parentheses)
Baseball America
Baseball Prospectus
John Sickels
Jarrod Saltalamacchia
1a - 36 - 2003
1 (36)
1 (51)
Matt Harrison
3 - 97 - 2003
2 (90)
2 (79)
Elvis Andrus
undrafted (Venezuela)
high A
3 (65)
Neftali Feliz
undrafted (Dom. Rep.)
short A
3 (98)
Beau Jones
1a - 41 - 2005
high A

Saltalamacchia could become an elite offensive catcher. In March of 2006, Atlanta GM John Schuerholz had no intention of moving him to first: “He's too good a catching prospect to do that now. We like him where he is. He's getting better and better behind the plate.” In 2007, with Brian McCann firmly entrenched and paid to catch, Atlanta relented and used him as a 1B/PH in addition to a backup/injury replacement for McCann. That, and his early use in Texas, shows how highly he’s regarded. He’s a catcher with a bat that demands placement in the lineup on non-catching days.

The question is, can he stay behind the plate? Reviews of his fielding and game-calling potential are mixed, but the consensus is that his offense will have to compensate for his defense. Playing at first would significantly depress his value as a hitter (the average AL 1B has a 96-point OPS advantage on the average catcher). It’s not a measure of overall quality, but for what it’s worth, Saltalamacchia erased 38% of potential basestealers in AA this season compared to a league average of 32%. In the Majors, he nabbed only five of 26 (19%). Of course, where he ends up depends not just on him but on upcoming prospects and potential free-agent signings.

Harrison is a big, 6-5 lefty reputed to have a plus sinking fastball, curve and change, but he’s not striking out as many batters as I’d expect. In 194 AA innings split over the last two years, he has a bland 17% K rate. On the other hand, he also has an excellent 6.5% walk rate and has kept the ball in the park. Depending on who you believe, his upside ranges between a #2 and #4 starter (I’m leaning #4 at this point). On the downside, he looks like he just walked in on his parents while they were in the act.

Regarding Andrus, I’ll just repeat what I wrote for the Newberg Report on Tuesday:

I mentioned yesterday that John Whittleman would be the third-youngest position player in the Cal League. Make that fourth:

  • Carlos Triunfel – 17 years, 6 months
  • Elvis Andrus – 18 years, 11 months
  • Ivan De Jesus – 20 years, 2 months
  • John Whittleman – 20 years, 5 months

Craig Gentry represents the league average of 23 years and 8 months.

Statistically this season, Andrus has resembled Marcus Lemon but with more success on the bases and a bit more power. Lemon is batting .261/.349/.337 with no homers, 11 steals and 11 caught for low-A Clinton, while Andrus was .244/.330/.335 with three homers, 25 bases stolen and seven caught for high-A Myrtle Beach. Andrus is two months younger than Lemon.

Myrtle Beach is a pitcher-friendly locale in a pitcher-friendly league. Hitting for average is especially difficult there this year, so Bakersfield will present a startlingly different environment. Andrus hit .184/.272/.246 at home, a line that no park factor can mitigate, but a solid .296/.379/.413 on the road. Andrus also has yet to discern righties. In two years of full-season play he’s batting .221/.295/.303 against them. He’s improved his success rate at stealing bases from 61% to 78% over the past year.

I’ve seen comparisons to Joaquin Arias, and they hold some truth. Both are shortstops, young at every level at which they’ve played, athletic but unpolished, and not yet possessed of an impressive statistical resume. The problem is, given Arias’s current predicament, any comparison to him contains a hint of skepticism or even derision. Here’s one big difference: both Andrus and Arias have just over 100 minor-league walks, but Andrus achieved his in one-half as many plate appearances.

Feliz is a 19-year-old with a fastball that can reach 96-98. In 55 innings split between rookie ball and the Appalachian League (which falls between rookie-level Arizona and short-season Spokane in terms of quality), Feliz has fanned 31% of opposing batters. He’s also walked almost 13%, not a quality number, to be sure, but not indicative of someone utterly bereft of control, either. This isn’t Jason Neighborgall. With few hits and no homers allowed to this point, opponents don’t have much hope unless they’re patient. His career splits:

Versus lefties -- .155/.300/.207
Versus righties -- .199/.272/.265

Feliz is raw, raw, raw. He’ll have several years to refine his control and develop his offspeed pitches. Conversion to relief is a strong possibility.

Beau Jones’s stock has fallen slightly since being chosen 41st overall in 2005 and ranking as Atlanta’s 10th-best prospect entering ’06. He spent that year in low-A Rome as a 19-year-old. He struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings, but the K/9 stat deceives. Jones allowed so many hits and walks (83 in 110 IP) that his strikeout rate was only 19%, not bad but too low to really impress. Sent back to Rome as a reliever this season, he’s fared much better, cutting his walk rate down to a sterling 6.5% and upping his K rate to about 23%. On the other hand, a two week stay in high-A Myrtle Beach proved disastrous (15.26 ERA, 14 walks and three strikeouts in 7.2 innings). Jones has a mean, if erratic, curve, and a fastball that normally runs in the low 90s.

As for Ron Mahay, Texas successfully converted a former minor-league free agent with only two months left on his contract into a useful trading chip. Good show.

Posted by Lucas at August 4, 2007 11:03 AM