The Newberg Report: Dec. 21, 2005

The Newberg Report: Dec. 21, 2005

It's December 21. There is less daylight today than any other day on the calendar. I'm not sure I can help.

The news of yesterday's trade between Texas and San Diego stunned me. There had been persistent rumors for weeks about the possibility of right-hander Adam Eaton coming to Texas, perhaps for Adrian Gonzalez and Gerald Laird. But more recently, the story was that the Padres were backing off the idea of trading Eaton altogether.

And then this, yesterday:

Eaton, Akinori Otsuka and Billy Killian to Texas.

OK. I can get behind that.

Chris Young, Gonzalez and Terrmel Sledge to San Diego.


It feels like I had a hundred conversations and a thousand e-mail exchanges weaved into my day of practicing law on Tuesday, but one stood out. A friend who knows a lot about baseball said: "It's not that I don't like the deal. Instead, I don't understand it."

I replied: "I sorta guess I'm the opposite -- it's not that I like it, I just understand it."

So that's where I am, right now. Things could change. I've actually never seen Otsuka pitch, and I've seen Eaton only a couple times. Once I see them pitch as Rangers, I may get a better vibe for that part of the deal (cf., Frankie Francisco). Or a worse one (cf., Rob Bell). I don't know whether Killian's first two seasons are more indicative of what he is than the projections he had entering the 2004 draft were. And on top of it all, this trade could set Jon Daniels up to do something else.

But for now, my frame of mind boils down to this: I'm not sure I like it. But I do understand it.

Most of you who wrote me or posted on the Newberg Report message board yesterday thought that Texas made a bad trade. The funny thing is that I heard from three or four Padres fans during the day -- and all but one thought their team was the one that made the bad deal. Reminds me of what happens in most mediations; the mediator tells everyone, and we reiterate to our clients that for a settlement to happen, everyone is going to walk away at least a little disappointed.

Right now, the person whose level of disappointment I'm most concerned about is Eaton.

Here's what the 28-year-old said two weeks ago to Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune about pitching in Arlington, when rumors were swirling during the Winter Meetings that he might be traded to Texas: "It's not conducive to my style of pitching; I'm a fly-ball pitcher. If I was to stay there, it'd have to be for crazy money. Granted, that is an offense that's going to put up some runs. You could take a Coors Field approach to the game."

Eaton will eclipse six years of big league service during the 2006 season, and thus will be eligible for free agency for the first time next winter. One school of thought says that getting him in here a year early, to get a feel for his teammates and life in the Metroplex, could give the Rangers a much better chance to sign him to a long-term deal than they would have if they were trying to attract him as a free agent. Another school of thought suggests that a year of having his numbers inflated by Ameriquest Field might chase him away for good. I'm eager to hear what he tells reporters now, and if it's any different from what he told Krasovic earlier this month. I hope he's not as down on the idea of pitching here as he was before.

The inescapable way to measure this trade is to compare Eaton to Young, particularly since it means that Texas hasn't added to its rotation in the deal, but instead just changed it. Eaton is 47-41 with a 4.35 ERA in his six big league seasons, with 7.0 strikeouts, 3.2 walks, and 1.1 home runs per nine innings. Young is 15-9 with a 4.34 ERA in his season and a half in the Majors, with 7.3 strikeouts, 2.5 walks, and 1.2 homers per nine. Across the board, Young has been a tick better statistically -- despite pitching in the American League and in a hitters' park, while Eaton has been in the National League and based in a pitchers' park (though, to be fair, he has been about the same pitcher at home as on the road the last two years).

Obviously, the Rangers must believe that Young is what he is -- a solid, middle-of-the-rotation starter whose stamina (both in any given start and over a full season) may always remain a question mark -- and that Eaton can be more than what's he been, and if nothing else, more than what Young can be.

I do believe this: Texas was selling high on Young, and buying low on Eaton.

Two months into his 2005 season, Eaton was among the best pitchers in baseball. Through his first 13 starts, he was 9-1 with a 3.18 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 23 walks in 79 1/3 innings of work. He then strained a flexor tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand in his 14th start, sat out for seven weeks and returned to pitch 10 more times, going 2-3 with a 5.74 ERA in that span (37 strikeouts and 19 walks in 47 frames). He apparently had difficulty regaining the grip on his plus curve, which emasculated his mid-90s fastball.

Eaton is one of those guys who's generally described as a potential 18-game winner and potential No. 2 starter, but he hasn't done that yet. Eaton had Tommy John surgery in 2001, but, other than the strained finger last year, has been relatively healthy since the elbow operation. He told the Union-Tribune yesterday that "the finger is a non-issue" now, and that he's "healthy as can be."

While Eaton isn't a severe fly-ball pitcher like Young is (despite his statement to Krasovic), he's not a consistent groundball pitcher, either. He's had two very good groundball-to-flyball seasons, two mediocre ones and two ugly ones. Like Young, Eaton throws too many pitches, but there's this: Despite having to hit, he consistently pitched deeper in games. Young logged at least six innings 10 times in his 31 starts in 2005. Eaton went at least six in 15 of his 22 starts. Eaton stands to be less taxing on the Rangers' mid-relief crew, which of course impacts not only the nights he pitches, but the two or three nights thereafter, as well.

Young is under contract for about a half-million dollars in both 2006 and 2007, then he'll be under team control for another three years. As for Eaton, he made $3.325 million last year and will make more than that in 2006, maybe closer to $5 million, by virtue of his final year of standard arbitration. After that, it will take considerably more to lock Eaton up, assuming he's even willing to stay. I suspect that if things are going well, Texas will approach Eaton during the season with a long-term extension proposal. (San Diego had reportedly offered Eaton a three-year, $17 million extension this winter, while he sought a three-year, $25-27 million deal.)

What if Eaton wants to test free agency a year from now? Then Texas undoubtedly offers him arbitration, and will get a first- or second-round pick in 2007 plus another pick between rounds one and two (if he ranks as a Type A player) or just the first- or second-rounder (if he's a Type B player). Same situation with Vicente Padilla. And maybe, the idea is that if Eaton and/or Padilla departs, maybe Edison Volquez or John Danks or Thomas Diamond will be just about ready to step in, anyway.

But that's not what Texas wants here. Daniels didn't bring Eaton here for just one year, though that risk is certainly present. But it's risk with a silver lining: I do like the idea of having Eaton and Padilla both pitching in "contract years," both a year away from their first free agent deals.

And though nobody wants to think along these lines right now, if the 2006 season goes badly, Eaton (and possibly Padilla) would probably fetch a good bit in July. It might come down to whether Texas would want the 2007 draft picks or whatever is being offered near the trade deadline.

One other thing I do like is the timing of the deal, from this standpoint: Texas had right-hander Kevin Millwood in for a visit yesterday (that, according to Kathleen O'Brien of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, included dinner at Tom Hicks' house). Adding Eaton when the Rangers did takes away whatever "You need Millwood" leverage agent Scott Boras imagined he had. A rotation fronted by Millwood on a multi-year deal, Eaton and Padilla in their contract years and Kameron Loe and Juan Dominguez (with Josh Rupe, C.J. Wilson, R.A. Dickey, Volquez, Danks and Diamond behind them) would be pretty interesting.

Again, as far as Eaton and Young are concerned, I'm not sure I like the exchange, mainly from the standpoint of dollars and control over the player, but I do understand it. Young is unquestionably one of the greatest scouting and development successes this organization has had, and he's a spectacular person. But if Texas got the better pitcher in return -- and that's certainly no lock -- then its chances in 2006 just got better, and the challenge becomes whether the team can get a deal done with Eaton over the next 12 months to remain a Ranger over the next several years.

For now, regardless of who has the more effective 2006 season between the two right-handers, it's likely that Eaton will put less pressure on his relievers than Young would have, and less bullpen usage can only help, no matter how much stronger the pen is on paper.

And that's where Otsuka comes in. Texas brings in a proven setup man over whom it has control for the next four seasons (though, granted, he will be 37 in that fourth year).

In 2004, Otsuka arrived in major leagues from Japan, where he'd been a top closer, and was ridiculous. He went 7-2, 1.75 for San Diego that season, scattering 56 hits (.199 opponents' average) and 26 walks in 77.1 innings while punching out 87 with a funky two-part delivery that dirtied his fastball-slider combination. Setting up Trevor Hoffman (without whose return to San Diego this winter Otsuka surely wouldn't have been available), he led the National League in holds and was two behind Yankee right-hander Tom Gordon for the major league lead. He finished extremely strong, posting an ERA of 0.98 over the final two months (with 32 strikeouts and nine walks in 27.2 frames) and allowing no runs over his final 14.2 innings, spanning 13 appearances.

After pitching better on the road (1.36 ERA, .189 opponents' average) than at home (2.15, .209) in 2004, Otsuka had miserable problems on the road in 2005. Posting a 1.23 ERA at home (.157 opponents' average, 39 strikeouts and 15 walks in 36.2 innings), he went 0-8, 6.92 away from PETCO Park (.324, 21 strikeouts and 19 walks in 26 frames) -- though that includes three outings in Arizona in which he permitted nine runs and got a total of one out. All told, his ERA after the All-Star Break (4.62) was considerably worse than it was beforehand (2.89), giving rise to some thought that the league was figuring him out.

But from that standpoint, a move to the American League could rejuvenate Otsuka. The AL has seen him for only 14 innings (four runs [2.57 ERA] on 10 hits [.189 opponents' average] and seven walks, with 17 punchouts).

Giving Otsuka the eighth inning, which means Joaquin Benoit shouldn't be overutilized and Frankie Francisco doesn't need to be rushed back, could significantly change the nature of the final three innings in 2006.

Otsuka will make $1.75 million in 2006 and head into his three arbitration seasons a year from now. I doubt the Rangers have thoughts of flipping him, but if they wanted to, they could probably do pretty well. Considering his salary level and control status, overlaid against the crazy contracts given to middle relievers this winter, you might imagine that Otsuka has greater trade value than any of the other five players in this deal -- even more than Gonzalez, evidently.

I suppose it's possible that Texas was getting lowballed on offers for the 23-year-old since teams knew the Rangers had no place in the lineup for him, but whatever the reason was, he apparently wasn't drawing the trade interest that you (and I) might have expected.

I've seen a couple stories suggesting that this trade really boils down to Young for Otsuka -- given their pre-arbitration status and inexpensive effectiveness -- and that Gonzalez was really the price for Eaton. I think that's overstating Gonzalez's place in the deal (though Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News suggests that the Rangers' interest in Otsuka was what forced them to agree to include Young), but clearly the Padres weren't going to make this trade without getting the first baseman. While Young leaves his hometown in this deal, Gonzalez returns to his. Once he replaces Ryan Klesko, Gonzalez might man first base in San Diego for a long, long time. (Or, says Bill Center of the Union-Tribune, he could be shopped to Boston as part of a package [maybe with Dave Roberts?] for lefthander David Wells and catcher Kelly Shoppach.)

Gonzalez had a career year in 2005, hitting .338/.399/.561 with 18 home runs and 65 RBI in just 328 at-bats for Oklahoma, and as a result it's likely that his trade value was as high as it will ever be. He has one option remaining, which the Rangers surely would have exercised had they not traded him, and from that standpoint it might have been tougher to trade him a year from now -- especially if he were to fare no better as a big league hitter in whatever 2006 opportunities he got than he did his first two seasons in Texas. In 192 big league at-bats, Gonzalez has hit .229/.272/.401; while I don't believe that's indicative of what he's going to be, another season with similarly punchless Ranger numbers might have convinced other teams that he's a lot closer to Carlos Pena than to Travis Hafner offensively, and he might not have been able to help key a trade in 2006 like he did yesterday.

I've been on record as supporting the idea of trading Gonzalez this winter. He can't do any more in AAA than he's done, and he probably wasn't going to get a significant opportunity in Texas in 2006 to show that he was big league-ready. Now was the time to trade him, and that has nothing to do with what I think he'll become. It has to do with timing. Without a real likelihood of being showcased in 2006, Gonzalez's value could only have gone down.

Just like with Young, I think we probably traded Gonzalez at the peak of his value -- at least as a Ranger. The key is whether, on top of timing it right, Daniels traded Gonzalez in the right deal, as opposed to what John Hart did with Hafner three years ago, when he was at a similar level of development.

Killian? Pretty interesting addition to what's becoming a deep cache of catchers on the Ranger farm (a very good thing not only from a depth standpoint but also for future trades). He hasn't done anything as a pro yet (.218 with no power in 179 minor league at-bats), but the 19-year-old was widely praised going into the 2004 draft as an athletic, left-handed-hitting catcher with plus makeup. San Diego used its third-round pick on Killian in that draft, nine spots before Texas popped right-hander Michael Schlact.

It would make sense that Rangers special assistant Charley Kerfeld played a role in identifying Killian as a target, coming off a year in San Diego's scouting department.

Sledge? Probably never even set foot in Arlington. Acquired two weeks ago from Washington in the Alfonso Soriano deal, the outfielder was basically depth here in the event of a trade of Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix, or Gary Matthews Jr. After a big rookie season in 2004 (.269/.336/.462, 15 homers and 62 RBIs in 398 at-bats), the 28-year-old missed most of the 2005 season with a hamstring injury that led to surgery.

The Killian/Sledge aspect of the trade is one that could end up helping neither team, or both.

The deal won't be official until physicals are administered, and that could take a few days because Otsuka is currently in Japan.

Texas tendered contracts yesterday to all of its arbitration-eligibles -- Padilla, Benoit, Mench, Matthews, Mark Teixeira, Brad Wilkerson, and Rod Barajas -- and (since the Padres trade isn't yet official) San Diego tendered a contract to Eaton to prevent him from becoming a free agent. The Rangers also non-tendered right-hander Nick Regilio, even though he's pre-arbitration, but the club may still sign him to a non-roster deal.

The removal of Regilio, and the trade of three roster players for two, reduces the Rangers' 40-man roster to 37 players.

Among the other players non-tendered around baseball yesterday were Boston right-handers Wade Miller and Chad Bradford, Pittsburgh right-hander Josh Fogg, San Diego right-hander Dewon Brazelton and catcher Miguel Olivo, Baltimore outfielder Eric Byrnes, Milwaukee right-handers Danny Kolb and Jeff Bennett, Seattle right-hander Ryan Franklin, Tampa Bay right-handers Lance Carter and Joe Borowski and lefthander Trever Miller, Atlanta right-hander Jim Brower, Cincinnati right-hander Ramon Ortiz, White Sox right-hander Felix Diaz and infielder Willie Harris, and Washington second baseman Junior Spivey. Some of them probably agreed beforehand to re-sign with their 2005 clubs, but others will be on the hunt for jobs starting today.

Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with right-hander Sidney Ponson, which I know is good news to lots of Ranger fans.

The Yankees appear set to sign Octavio Dotel. (Fine. I'd rather have Otsuka.)

Right-hander Rudy Seanez signed with Boston.

There's speculation that the Red Sox could step up on Millwood now that they have lost Johnny Damon to the Yankees.

Soriano has indicated to Washington, at least through the press, that he won't move from second base to a new position, and that he plans to return to the American League when he becomes a free agent a year from now. Nice.

I've got to get this in, since nine of you took the time to let me know: catcher-turned-pitcher Chris Jaile, a minor league free agent, has signed with Seattle.

Here's what I think: the Padres trade makes Texas better in 2006 than it was before the trade. I'm not sure that Eaton will have more sustained success over the season than Young would have had, but I'm sure Otsuka will have a far bigger impact than Gonzalez would have had.

Let me assure you of this: I'm not trying to convince you to approve of the trade if you don't already. I do understand the deal, even if I'm not sure I like it. Liking it would require one of two things: a feeling that this trade makes us a favorite to win a playoff spot in 2006, which I don't think it does without more moves, or confidence that Texas will be able to lock Eaton up so that he's under Ranger control for multiple years. I do think Texas traded Gonzalez at the right time, and if the organization believes Young is as good now as he'll ever be, then it was the right time to trade him, too.

The one thing you can always count on, on Dec. 21, is that you start to get more and more daylight from here on out. I'm placing my trust in Jon Daniels.

Jamey Newberg is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.