|The Angels made the in-season offensive upgrade they had been unwilling to make in recent years, snagging first baseman Mark Teixeira, a pending free agent, from the Braves in exchange for first baseman Casey Kotchman and Double-A righthander Stephen Marek.|
|The Big Leaguers|
|Teixeira, 28, is no stranger to deadline deals. The Rangers, the team that drafted him fifth overall in 2001, shipped him to the Braves last July 30 for a package of five young players headlined by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz. One of four players in the past 40 years to begin his career with six successive 20-home run seasons, Teixeira provided ample offense for the Braves, batting .295/.395/.548 with 37 home runs, 36 doubles and 134 RBIs in 589 at-bats for Atlanta. In addition to being a (deserved) two-time Gold Glove winner at first base, Teixeira is that rare offensive player who can hit for high average and plus power—and he does it from both sides of the plate. He’s a career .277/.367/.532 hitter from the left side, and .305/.388/.545 from the right. In 3,221 career at-bats, Teixeira has batted .286/.373/.536 with 190 home runs and 633 RBIs. And in case you’re wondering, the other four sluggers to belt 20 homers in their first six seasons are Eddie Murray, Albert Pujols, and Darryl Strawberry.
Taken eight picks after Teixeira in the loaded 2001 draft, Kotchman is in the midst of his second straight productive season for the Angels, after three successive injury-plagued and largely ineffective ones. The 25-year-old first baseman is batting .287/.327/.448 with a career-best 12 home runs, 24 doubles and 54 RBIs for the first-place Angels. Like Teixeira, Kotchman is a premium defender at first base. He’s also one of the better contact hitters in the game, with strikeouts in just 9.5 percent of his career at-bats, but for some reason, the lefthanded batter has fared better against his own side this season, and for his career. Kotchman, whose father Tom is a long-time Angels scout, manager and coach, has handled lefties at a .302/.366/.420 rate for his career, compared with a more modest .267/.330/.427 against righthanders. With three-plus years of service, Kotchman will be arbitration-eligible after the season, and after the next two, before he can opt for free agency following 2011. In 1,137 career at-bats, Kotchman has batted .274/.337/.426 with 31 home runs and 165 RBIs.
|The Angels converted Marek, 24, to the bullpen this season at Double-A Arkansas because he doesn’t repeat his release point or maintain his focus while starting. He’s gone 2-6, 3.66 with 57 strikeouts, 21 walks and two home runs in 47 innings, suggesting the change has done him well. Signed for $800,000 in 2005 as a draft-and-follow from San Jacinto (Texas) JC, Marek’s 88-94 mph fastball and plus, mid-70s curveball have played up in relief, where his under-developed is less of a hindrance.|
|After watching their pitchers surrender 10 or more runs in three straight games, and after learning that Tim Hudson has suffered a serious elbow injury, the Braves were ready to deal Teixeira and begin focusing on 2009. But while Kotchman represents a downgrade when compared with Teixeira, he’s markedly better than any other player the Braves could have installed at first base this season, and as such, the trade does not completely sabotage their efforts for 2008. Plus, now rather than having Teixeira for two more months—and a very slim chance at the playoffs—they’ll have Kotchman for at least the next three years and added payroll flexibility. Over the course of 162 games, though, the difference between the first basemen is much more stark, so the Braves will have to add offense elsewhere.
The Braves’ acquisition of Teixeira did not achieve its desired result: a playoff appearance. But now that the book is closed on Teixeira’s Atlanta career, the net result for the Braves breaks down thusly: Saltalamacchia, Andrus, Feliz, Matt Harrison and Beau Jones for Kotchman, Marek and Florida prep lefty Brett DeVall, whom the Braves took with the 40th overall pick this year. Atlanta obtained the pick from the Royals for the loss of Type B free agent Ron Mahay, the other player in the 2007 Braves-Rangers trade.
The Diamondbacks balked at including their first baseman Conor Jackson in a trade for Teixeira, but the Angels, for seemingly the first time ever, acquiesced to another team’s trade demands in order to take a run at a World Series title. Despite having the best record in the game, the Angels’ offense ranks just ninth in the American League in runs scored. And with the window closing on the Vladimir Guerrero-led Angels, general manager Tony Reagins moved boldly to acquire Teixeira, a true impact bat, who can alter the outcome of regular and post-season games.
As an added bonus, Teixeira figures to slot in somewhere between C.C. Sabathia and Manny Ramirez in this offseason’s free agent hierarchy, which, if the first baseman departs, could translate into two premium draft picks for the Angles, a team accustomed in recent years to losing its high picks for signing free agents like Gary Matthews Jr., Justin Speier and Torii Hunter.