My initial reactions to yesterday’s deals:
The Atlanta-Texas trade is a classic short-term vs. long-term compromise. The NL East is ultimately winnable in the here and now, and Atlanta knew it. While adding Teixeira by no means makes them a complete club (they still lack starting pitching behind Smoltz and Hudson), Teix is a huge upgrade over Scott Thorman. However, the Braves must know that their window to win with Teixeira will only remain open for only the next season and a half. As a Scott Boras client who will be eligible for free-agency after 2009, I have a hard time seeing Atlanta ponying up the necessary money to keep him beyond that.
The Rangers, I think, did extremely well. Even in the mediocre AL West, they were nowhere near contention. Although this deal may not fill their biggest organizational hole (that would be a #1 Starter, a #2 Starter, a #3 Starter, and a #4 Starter), they have a building block in place with Saltalamacchia, especially if they can find a way to keep him behind the plate. While Elvis Andrus is far too young to project any meaningful on-field accomplishments, barring injury, he becomes at worst a guy the Rangers can dangle in front of a GM who overvalues “tools” in a future trade. If Matt Harrison can become a big-league starter, we may be talking about this deal as a slam-dunk in a few years’ time.
The Mets also made a deal, for better or worse, to acquire Minnesota second-baseman Luis Castillo. After Jose Valentin broke his shin recently, New York had been playing 24-year old Ruben Gotay in his place. Despite the fact that Gotay isn’t projected to be a star, he has filled in admirably, providing good speed, decent defense, a line-drive swing and a nice (albeit fluky) .350 AVG. At this point in his career, however, Gotay should probably be counted on to only hit .270 or so, and with his plate discipline not yet developed, he probably won’t have an OBP above .310. Moreover, big league teams are generally reluctant to play young guys down the stretch in a pennant race due to the perceived pressure such an environment would create. So in comes Castillo, who along with Juan Pierre is still remembered as 1/2 of the dynamic duo of table-setters for the winners of the 2003 World Series, Florida Marlins. The 31-year old is certainly past his prime, but can still put the ball in play with the rest of them and should provide a higher AVG and OBP than what I suspect Gotay could be able to conjure.
But I do disagree with the perception that the Mets upgraded defensively. Castillo is sure-handed but his range is very limited. With Castillo at second, Carlos Delgado at first and Shawn Green in right, the defense on the right side of the field at Shea may be worth keeping tabs on from here on out. I would also argue that we need to stop thinking of Castillo as a good basestealer. Although he did swipe 25 last year, he was also caught 11 times. Since 2005, he has a success rate of 67% when attempting to steal, and at that point he’s doing more harm than good.
What I do like most about this deal, however, is actually what may happen after the season. Castillo’s contract is up following the World Series and if (hopefully) the Mets decide not to resign him, he will most likely be a Class-B free agent, which should net the team a sandwich pick in the next amateur draft, which will give the team a better prospect than the two the Mets gave up to acquire Castillo (Drew Butera and Dustin Martin).
Rounding out the NL East, in a microcosm of how badly we overvalue preseason perceptions, the Philadelphia Phillies acquired Kyle Lohse from Cincinnati to help fill out the back-end of their rotation. Prior to April, the word most associated with the Phillies’ pitching was “surplus”. Having traded for Freddy Garcia in the off-season, the Phillies were thought to have six pitchers who were more than capable of holding down a rotation spot – Garcia, Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Jon Lieber, Adam Eaton, and Jamie Moyer.
Yet, after some injuries and disappointing performances, the Phils felt the need to acquire Lohse, a 28-year old righty with a career 4.83 ERA, to improve their staff. Thus far in 2007, they rank 25th in team ERA, much due to the fact that only the Tampa Bay Devil Rays give up more homeruns than Philly. So what do they do? They trade for another pitcher who is prone to giving up the long ball. In all fairness, while I don’t think that Lohse is the answer, neither is J.D. Durbin, so I do not foresee this trade having much of an impact in the NL East. I was impressed, however, at the team’s aggressiveness in bringing in Tadahito Iguchi despite the fact that Chase Utley is expected to return within a few weeks.