Commentary

Bullpen moves were worth the price

Trades have converted what was a weakness into a strength for win-now Rangers

Updated: July 31, 2011, 8:19 PM ET
By Jim Reeves | ESPNDallas.com

If being a "good ol' boy" was all it took to win championships, Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter would be wearing so many rings today, they wouldn't be able to lift their arms to wave goodbye to all their admiring fans.

And if posting nifty minor league numbers was the almighty answer, I could name you several thousand "wannabes" who would be exchanging high-fives in the cool and hallowed halls of Cooperstown as we speak.

Yes, a winning personality and a sparkling minor league career are nifty things for the resume and perhaps Davis, Hunter, Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland will all indeed someday stand on the pinnacle of baseball excellence, causing the Rangers to look back and rue the day they let them go.

But not today, sports fans. Not today.

If you haven't quite realized it yet, "today" is what it's all about for your Texas Rangers. It's about today's seventh, eighth and ninth innings. It's about that one key matchup late in the game that decides the issue. It's about winning right now. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Not five years from now.

The Rangers marched through their five-year plan long ago. It's been all about "today" for more than a year now, so adjust your thinking, kiss Chris and Tommy goodbye, wish Robbie and Joe well and get with the program. The Rangers are trying to set themselves up to get back to another World Series.

[+] EnlargeAdams
Icon SMIAcquired by the Rangers from San Diego, Mike Adams was 3-1 with a 1.13 ERA with the Padres this season.

To that end, they are a much better team today than they were yesterday, before they sent Davis and Hunter to Baltimore for Koji Uehara, the best relief pitcher you never heard of, and before they dispatched prospects Erlin and Wieland to San Diego for premier setup man Mike Adams.

In two months, we may look back and remember this as the Rangers' own version of "24." In a span of less than 24 hours, they may have just stamped their return ticket to the Fall Classic. In less than one day, they may have very well won the West again. These deals have the potential to have the same impact that the Cliff Lee deal did at the deadline last summer.

At the very least, what these two seemingly modest trades have done is re-emphasize the Rangers' single-minded mission to get back to the World Series again -- and this time, win it.

And while many Texas fans hate to see Davis and Hunter go -- and so do I, because I like both guys immensely -- baseball experts will be the first to tell you that the Uehara trade was one the Rangers had to make because it was the first step in helping them shore up their most glaring weakness while moving two players who no longer had a place on the team.

It was a very good baseball deal.

"This is a huge acquisition for the Rangers to improve what they get in the seventh and eighth innings before getting to Neftali Feliz," ESPN analyst and former general manager Jim Bowden said. "The Rangers' bullpen has gone from a weakness to a strength, and the best part is that neither Uehara nor Adams is a rental player."

For those who wanted Padres' closer Heath Bell, Adams is arguably better, and the Rangers will control both new relievers through 2012. If the plan is to convert Feliz to the starting rotation next spring -- his laid-back demeanor won't be as much of a problem for manager Ron Washington there as it is as a closer -- then that should set up an interesting battle between Uehara and Adams for the closer role.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has shown a knack for getting what the Rangers need -- Lee last year, for instance -- while giving up pieces with value that they can afford to let go, making it a win-win situation for both teams in the deal. That's a good reputation to have in baseball's executive circles, because other GMs will know that Daniels isn't out to fleece them every time they talk and they'll be more willing to negotiate.

For Baltimore, which won't be going anywhere in the AL East for some time to come, Uehara was a piece they couldn't afford after 2012 anyway. In Hunter, they get a back-end-of-the-rotation starter who didn't have a spot in Texas because of the development of Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Derek Holland. And perhaps a change of scenery is what Davis needs to shake his reputation as a "AAAA" player, a hitter who destroys minor league pitching but can't figure it out at the major league level. Orioles manager Buck Showalter certainly knows he's getting two great guys in the clubhouse.

For the Rangers, though, landng Uehara was critical. His numbers (before his shutout inning in his debut for Texas on Sunday in Toronto) this season are absolutely sick: a 1.72 ERA in 47 innings pitched, with 62 strikeouts and only eight walks, one of those intentional. Right-handers have hit all of .171 against him, which sounds great until you consider that left-handers are hitting just .136. In his last 15 innings pitched for the O's, he allowed just five hits, two walks, struck out 23 and opponents have hit exactly .100 against him. And remember, he pitches in the AL East.

If Daniels had done nothing but add Uehara, he would have had a good day. Less than 24 hours later, though, he may have made the Rangers' bullpen the best in baseball by adding Adams to the fold. With Feliz, Adams and Uehara, the Rangers have three lockdown relievers at the end of the game.

Perhaps having Adams and Uehara pushing Feliz will even light that fire Washington says his closer has lacked at times this season. It certainly will give the manager some options he didn't previously have.

"These are two guys who get outs in big spots against good teams and against good hitters," Daniels said in a conference call after the deadline passed Sunday afternoon. "What we're trying to do is build as deep and functional a bullpen as we can."

Adams' numbers are just as impressive as Uehara's: a 3-1 record, 1.13 ERA, 49 strikeouts in 48 innings pitched and a .155 batting average against. Adams throws harder than Uehara, getting his fastball up in the 93-mph range. Both have deceptive motions that confuse hitters.

Yes, the Rangers gave up two good pitching prospects in Erlin and Wieland to get Adams. Both will probably pitch in the big leagues sooner rather than later, but neither is likely to be a top-of-the-rotation (No. 1 or No. 2) type starter. It would have been nice if the Rangers could have kept one or both of them. But this is why Daniels and his people have been accumulating minor league talent, both to re-supply the big league club or to use as chips to land something needed in a trade.

The Rangers, in fact, may have just shortened the game to six innings: Uehara for the seventh, Adams for the eighth (or vice versa) and Feliz to close it out. And Washington still has durable Darren Oliver and flame-throwing Mark Lowe in his gun, too.

Daniels' decision to add Adams even after making the Uehara trade speaks to the franchise's determination to win again in 2011.

"Competition," Daniels said succinctly when asked why he pushed on for the second reliever. "I think we're in a dogfight for the division with the Angels and if we're fortunate enough to get to the postseason, that's a dogfight every night. We needs guys at the back end of the bullpen who can get outs."

The Rangers' bullpen, ranked 11th in the AL before the deadline deals, is now one of the best in the game. What was a weakness has become a strength.

Once again, the Rangers are no longer waiting for tomorrow. They're living for today, living, in fact, as though there is no tomorrow.

That's what championship teams do.

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.

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