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August 14, 2011

Where Are They Now?

Originally appearing on the Newberg Report subscription list on August 10:

The post-Ranger performances of players traded last summer:

TRADED FOR BENJIE MOLINA ON JULY 1

RHP Michael Main

Injuries continue to plague the 24th-overall pick from the 2007. After five dreadful starts in AA (13.83 ERA, 37 baserunners in 13.2 innings), Main missed the rest of 2010 with a hip injury. He began 2011 back in high-A, where he pitched well twice before hitting the DL yet again with rotator cuff tendinitis (an injury that also hampered his junior year of high school). In 26 innings since a mid-June return, Main has since produced an 8.31 ERA with equally poor peripherals. Lately, he's pitched out of the bullpen. Main will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft unless the Giants protect him on the 40-man roster. They won't.

Here's a Baseball America feature on Main ten months before the draft and a couple of years after BA named him the best 15-year-old player in the U.S.

What if he'd stayed? Given Texas's aggressive promotional policy, I suspect Main would have started 2011 in AA, but it's hard to say without knowing how he looked in March. And, ultimately, it doesn't matter. Injuries have limited Main to fewer than 300 innings in five years. Sad. And one reason I don't mind draftees holding out for every penny (although Main himself was a quick and easy sign).

RHP Chris Ray

Was Ray really a Ranger? His term in Arlington was utterly nondescript. Ray pitched adequately, if unmemorably (again), during the regular season but never made the roster for any of San Francisco's three postseason series. The Giants declined to offer arbitration, so he signed with Seattle in the offseason and has pitched well, if not frequently, after a terrible start. Ray has a 2.30 ERA with decent peripherals in his last 23 outings covering 27 innings. He just went on the DL with a strained lat.

What if he'd stayed?
Like the Giants, Texas wouldn't have offered arbitration and let Ray seek employment elsewhere.

TRADED FOR CLIFF LEE ON JULY 9

1B Justin Smoak

Smoak hit poorly immediately after the trade. Seattle shipped Smoak back to AAA Tacoma after just 16 games and didn't recall him until after the Pacific Coast League playoffs, after which he batted .341/.421/.580 in 14 games. This season, he's hitting .221/.318/.388, which sounds awful but is actually better than the league-average OPS once adjusting for his pitcher-friendly park. That said, it's well below average for a first baseman.

Smoak carried a steep and annually consistent platoon split into 2011, batting .279/.404/.434 against righties (at all levels) but just .235/.309/.407 against righties. This year is the reverse; he's hitting a competent .259/.344/.426 against lefties but only .202/.306/.368 versus righties.

What if he'd stayed? He'd be Texas's first baseman. Smoak's line translates to .240/.341/.420 in Arlington, similar to Mitch Moreland's .267/.330/.433. More than anyone else on this list, Smoak's fictional retention creates difficult situations for other Rangers. Would Moreland have received more than a cursory look last fall? Might Moreland have been traded instead, or given a chance for more outfield play this year? Would Texas have tried even harder to find a trade partner for Michael Young, knowing that Smoak was destined for nearly constant play at first?

RHP Blake Beavan

Beavan was hit hard last summer in AAA Tacoma (.331/.369/.509, 6.47 ERA), a constant worry for pitchers who don't miss many bats. Upon resuming in AAA in 2011, Beavan upped his strikeout rate to 15%, pretty high for him, while maintaining his pinpoint control. On July 3, Beavan made his Major League debut and earned a win with seven innings of one-run ball. He also pitched capably against the Rangers later that month and has yet to suffer a bad outing in five starts. His .257 BABIP is unsustainable, and he's highly unlikely to retain his present status of fewer hits than innings pitched. That said, he brings enough to the table to be a useful starter. Although not the flamethrower Texas drafted, he has adjusted admirably and advanced about as rapidly as could be expected. He's 22 and earning a Major League paycheck, so credit him and Texas's scouting department.

What if he'd stayed? Beavan was AAA-bound when traded and would have spent the remainder of 2010 in Oklahoma City. This year, Tommy Hunter couldn't crack the rotation once healthy, so Beavan would have spent the entire season (to date) in Round Rock, yearning for his Major League debut. Actually, he almost certainly would have been trade bait this summer, also. Assuming he hung around long enough, he'd be looking at a September MLB debut.

RHP Josh Lueke

Lueke spent a handful of games in AA before jumping to AAA Tacoma, where he continued to pitch superbly, albeit with a lower strikeout rate of his time in AA and below. Lueke made Seattle's Opening Day roster but was demoted back to Tacoma after getting knocked around in five of his eight appearances (18 baserunners, 12 runs in 6.12 innings). Lueke has pitched much better since returning in late July. Seattle was and is very high on Lueke (from a talent perspective).

What if he'd stayed? I see a similar path for Lueke as a Ranger. He probably would have finished 2010 in AAA and was a lock for 40-man roster placement. A strong spring could have won a bullpen spot over Pedro Strop or a then-shaky Mark Lowe. And, given his erratic early performance, he'd be splitting time between Texas and Round Rock. His staying also would have altered the publicity surrounding Lueke's 2009 no-contest plea for false imprisonment with violence. The trade worsened an already ugly situation.

2B Matt Lawson

Just as he had in Frisco, Lawson batted well for Seattle's AA affiliate late last summer. He projected as a utility man in the Majors, but his skill set was problematic. In the days of 12-man pitching staffs, there's no room for a backup second baseman (unless you're an optionless Joaquin Arias), and Lawson didn't have the bat for a corner. The M's sent him to the Arizona Fall League to gain experience at short, whereupon he quickly showed why Texas never played him there for a single inning (.842 fielding percentage). Traded to Cleveland for pitcher Aaron Laffey, Lawson abruptly retired in June. In an interview with Frisco announcer Aaron Goldsmith (worth a listen), Lawson acknowledged that the opportunity "window was closed" on a Major League career and decided to embark on a coaching career immediately rather than hang on in the minors.

What if he'd stayed? In the interview, Lawson expressed disappointment at not being added to Seattle's 40-man roster or invited to big-league camp. Most likely, his situation would have been the same in Texas, although he had a small chance of breaking camp with AAA Round Rock.

TRADED FOR JORGE CANTU ON JULY 29

RHP Omar Poveda

Traded in the midst of Tommy John rehab, Poveda didn't pitch in 2010. Resuming in AA, Poveda has a 4.48 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 122.2 innings, similar to his 2009 performance in Frisco but with more strikeouts. Still, his K rate above A ball isn't inspiring. Florida added Poveda to its 40-man roster last winter.

What if he'd stayed? Double A all the way. I doubt he would have made Texas's 40-man roster.

RHP Evan Reed

Reed underwent elbow surgery not long after being traded. He returned in July and made eight appearances for Florida's rookie squad. This month, Reed has appeared twice for high-A Jupiter, where he's walked four in 2.1 innings. Like Poveda, Reed is on the 40-man roster. Reed and Poveda praised Nolan Ryan after joining the Marlins.

What if he'd stayed? Given the injury, Reed's assignments and usage probably would not have differed much in Texas. Texas had room on its 40-man roster for Reed, with three open slots even after adding Engel Beltre, Fabio Castillo, Miguel de los Santos, and Wilmer Font. Still, my feeling is he wouldn't have been added.

TRADED FOR CRISTIAN GUZMAN ON JULY 30

RHP Ryan Tatusko

Tatusko increased his strikeout rate dramatically in six starts for AA Harrisburg last summer (1.72 ERA, 36 SO in 36 IP) and was reportedly dealing up to 97 MPH. However, Washington declined to place him on its 40-man roster, and no team took the bait in the Rule 5 draft. Per Baseball America, Tatusko had an outside shot at making Washington's bullpen this spring, but he rather surprisingly returned to AA. Still, he did at least have a rotation spot, whereas his seasons in Texas always began in the bullpen. His erratic performance resulted in a permanent transition to the bullpen, but he soon earned a promotion to AAA. Tatusko still keeps the ball in the park as well as anyone, but he's consistently walked more than 10% of his opponents in AA and AAA.

What if he'd stayed?
Strangely, Tatusko might have reached AAA more quickly with the Rangers because of the rapid decimation of Round Rock's rotation in April. Regardless of his uniform color, his future is in the bullpen, where he can utilize his velocity in short bursts. He wouldn't have made Texas's 40-man roster last winter.

LHP Tanner Roark

Like Tatusko, Roark pitched better for Washington's AA squad than for Frisco (2.50 ERA, 33 SO in 36 IP), though he was homer-prone, and he didn't make the Nationals' 40-man roster. Roark returned to AA in mid-May 2011 after missing time with a hand injury. In 16 starts, he's posted an unsightly 5.73 ERA despite respectable peripherals.

What if he'd stayed? A return engagement to AA feels right. He might have usurped a rotation spot from Carlos Pimentel or Wilfredo Boscan, but his hold on it would be tenuous.

TRADED FOR THREE PROSPECTS ON JULY 31

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Saltalamacchia hit well in a handful of games for AAA Pawtucket and drank a little coffee with the Sox in September. This year, after a terrible April, Saltalamacchia is belatedly fulfilling his potential, batting .254/.322/.462 in front of a demanding Red Sox Nation.

I have reader emails from April praising Texas's hoodwinking of the Sox and emails from June (concurrent with a terrible stretch by Mendez) wondering why the Rangers sold Saltalamacchia for pennies on the dollar. As of today, I'd guess the Sox will win this one, but we'll have to await the development of Mendez, whose highly promising arm is four levels below the Majors.

What if he'd stayed? He was gone. The need for a "change of scenery" is overplayed (or, at least, I hear it too often), but it fit Salty's situation perfectly. Via MILB.com, note the carefully chosen yet frank words of AAA manager Bobby Jones last August: "He's different. I don't know how many friends he had in the clubhouse, but he was never disruptive and never a jerk. I mean, he's just in his own little world."

TRADED FOR JEFF FRANCOEUR ON AUGUST 31

IF Joaquin Arias

Arias amassed all of 33 plate appearances in 22 games as a Met. The Royals claimed the optionless Arias off waivers last November and then ran him successfully through waivers themselves. Arias has played sporadically with the AAA Omaha StormChasers, mostly at third as Mike Moustakas's replacement, with a paltry line of .207/.242/.293. Arias doesn't turn 27 until next month but seems much older. Certainly, writing about him has aged me. Because he spent so long in AAA Oklahoma City, I probably saw him more than any other minor league player in the previous four years. I don't want to suggest he didn't hustle, but his style of play appeared reserved and passive. Purely from an entertainment perspective, there wasn't much pleasure to be had in watching him perform.

What if he'd stayed? I would be severely depressed. But Texas designated Arias for assignment before the Francoeur trade. Had he been outrighted to AAA, he would have declared free agency last winter.



Palace Brothers, "You Will Miss Me When I Burn," from Days In The Wake, 1994.

Posted by Lucas at August 14, 2011 01:43 AM