The Orioles and Rangers have been involved in deals that send overvalued parts from one team to the other (see Kevin Millwood). This very clearly is the Rangers attempting to bolster their bullpen as they try to preserve a slim two-game lead in the AL West.
Koji Uehara is one of the best relievers in the game, closer or not. Over two years—91.0 innings pitched—in the bullpen he has assembled an ERA of 2.27, striking out 11.6 hitters per nine innings while walking just 1.3 per nine. This K/BB ratio is second best in the majors among pitchers with at least 90 innings pitched over the last two years.
The strikeouts are remarkable for a guy whose fastball averages 88.8 mph and regularly faced some of the best offenses in the majors. The Rangers have received a remarkable boost to their bullpen and have given up pieces they could afford to spare. They are a better team after completing this deal.
Chris Davis was playing regularly over the last week, standing in for the injured Adrian Beltre. This also served to showcase him for potential buyers, though he didn’t do anything remarkable in that time. With Beltre due back in a couple weeks, Mitch Moreland firmly entrenched at first base and Michael Young and Mike Napoli perfectly capable of holding down the fort, Chris Davis became expendable.
Davis, 25, is probably not the best option for the Orioles if they’re looking for a long-term solution at first base. Davis, offensively, is kind of like new teammate Mark Reynolds minus the walks. The Orioles are not contending in 2011 but the recent trade of Derrek Lee shows they have confidence in Davis.
The Orioles also added Tommy Hunter. Hunter is a low strikeout guy (around five strikeouts per nine innings) who walks about half as many guys as he strikes out. Things will become more difficult for him in the AL East. Hunter has no special grounder-generating abilities (his high rate this year should normalize as the innings total rises).
One positive about Hunter is that he has started throwing his fastball less and his cutter more often. His curveball has also been a good pitch for him; he throws it 17 percent of the time.
It’s hard not to wonder why the Orioles didn’t seek prospects. Instead, they got two serviceable players, both entering their prime but with significant Achilles heels. Uehara was a relief pitcher of rare talent, and they probably should have sought a young player with more promise in return.
The Rangers gave up two pieces that probably were not part of their long-term plans and received an impact bullpen arm that wont be eligible for free agency until after the 2014 season.
Orioles: With no exciting corner-infield prospects knocking on the door, they will probably move forward with Chris Davis as their full-time first baseman in 2012. Tommy Hunter will surely get a chance to start games immediately. I am not convinced that either will still have his job next summer.
Rangers: With some reason to worry about Neftali Feliz (27/20 K/BB), they now have a dominant arm in their bullpen for the postseason and the next three years. They dealt from areas of depth (they had seven starting pitchers on their team, two of whom were in the bullpen and their infield was somewhat crowded) to address a weakness.