Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Rangers and Red Sox reach agreement

With merely an hour to spare before the passing of the trade deadline, Jon Daniels made a move that few welcomed but fewer anticipated. He dealt Eric Gagne to the relief-heavy Boston Red Sox for starting pitcher Kason Gabbard, AAA outfielder David Murphy, and 17-year old rookie ball outfielder Engel Beltre.

Why Boston? To be entirely honest, I have no idea. The Red Sox have the fearsome 8th and ninth inning combo of Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon, arguably the most effective tandem in Major League Baseball. Gagne makes sense for any team in contention, being a dominant reliever. But the Red Sox don't need Gagne.
To me, this may have been as much a case of keeping the opponent from acquiring a player as it was actually adding him to one's own lineup. The Yankees are rapidly closing ground, and need bullpen help more than anything else. Unfortunately for their odds, Brian Cashman has decided to make every prospect with a name and two working arms untouchable-which obviously resulted in the Rangers turning elsewhere with their star closer, pulling the trigger on this deal.

Gabbard has put up some very respectable numbers with the Sox to this point. He's not a very projectable player, but should be a solid 4 or 5. He could, unfortunately, be a replica of the pitcher who took the hill tonight for the Rangers, John Rheinecker- a finesse pitcher who enjoys success in limited quantities, but ultimately gets shocked back to the reality.
I have heard favorable reports on the guy, with some going as far as to compare him to Kenny Rogers. The similarities are striking in some respects: Gritty left hander, good breaking and offspeed stuff, an ability to keep the ball down,very solid numbers... but at 25, Kenny Rogers still had a 95 mph fastball. Gabbard may throw a similar curve and change-up, but he has neither the heat of Rogers nor the craftiness Kenny came to acquire. I like him, but he's a #3 at best.

David Murphy, like Gabbard, was a low-ceiling, low-downside Boston first round pick out of college. He's fairly polished at this point, and has very little to prove in preceding locales of testing and development. Murphy plays all three outfield positions capably, although he is more of a natural at the corners. He hits for average and exhibits good discipline in the box, but is lacking in power. He will probably become a very usable fourth outfielder in the major leagues, but with a bit more development may become a Frank Cattalanatto type. And if you look at Frankie the Cat's full line of work, he's had what is altogether not a bad career.

Engel Beltre is the Jon Daniels' prize in this deal. The ridiculously young and skilled Dominican outfielder signed a $575,000 bonus in the previous year, emerging as one of the most highly touted foreign prospects in the world. It is exceptionally foolhardy to make projections for any player this young, but having more tools than a fully stocked Home Depot excites scouts to no end. Comparisons have varied from Ken Griffey the Younger to Barry Bonds... whatever. Don't get me wrong, It's great to stockpile guys like this. I thoroughly suggest you read this article by ardent Ranger fan 'Zywica' on Lonestarball.com. It is important to accumulate players of this caliber whenever possible, because quite simply they're not a dime a dozen. The Rangers have a firmly cemented and productive series of international baseball academies, and they have failed to bring in anyone this good since Ruben Mateo.

It hurts not to have Gagne. But in the long run I must echo my sentiments on the Atlanta deal: A win-win. I don't necessarily think that the Sox overpaid to get what will be for them a seventh inning pitcher, but I think that the Rangers got more than they would have from letting Eric walk in free agency.
And if Gagne genuinely did enjoy his time in Texas, if the heartfelt happiness he continually expressed actually was heartfelt, bring the man back this offseason. Let him close games for Kason Gabbard and David Murphy, and let him lead the welcoming committee for Engel Beltre's arrival in the big leagues.
I didn't mean to turn this into a tribute, but I truly salute Eric Gagne for being a consummate team player through his time here, for refusing to allow early frustrations to sabotage his season, for being a terrific example to every player on this ballclub. Eric, best of luck in Boston. Go get em.

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