By Aaron Fitt
December 20, 2005
The Rangers and Padres swapped double-digit winners while addressing other needs on their big league rosters. Texas dealt righthander Chris Young, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and outfielder Terrmel Sledge for righthanders Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka and minor league catcher Billy Killian.
Young and Eaton posted nearly identical ERAs in 2005, but Young did it in the hitter’s haven of Ameriquest Field while Eaton did it in pitcher-friendly PETCO Park. Young, 26, also carries a cheaper price tag–he earned just $400,000 in 2005, his first full big league season. The 28-year-old Eaton made $3.375 million last year and will become a free agent after the 2006 season. The Padres were unwilling to approach the three-year, $27 million contract Eaton reportedly sought, so they tried for weeks to move him. He went 11-5, 4.27 with a 100-44 strikeout-walk ratio in 130 innings last year and has a 47-41, 4.34 career record in 796 innings over six major league seasons. He benefited significantly from pitching at spacious PETCO last year, posting a 3.46 ERA at home and a 5.09 mark on the road. His workload was limited due to a middle finger strain.
The loss of Young leaves Texas without its only three pitchers who topped 100 innings in 2005 (Kenny Rogers signed with the Tigers and Chan Ho Park was traded to the Padres late in the season). Young went 12-7, 4.26 with a 137-45 K-BB ratio in 165 innings. The 6-foot-10 Young starred on the basketball court at Princeton, and the Rangers gave him a raise to ensure he resisted overtures from the Sacramento Kings. His 12 wins tied a Rangers rookie record, but he slumped after the all-star break, perhaps due to fatigue, and pitched just 16 innings in September. He was originally drafted by the Pirates in the third round of the 2000 draft before being traded to the Expos in 2002 and the Rangers in a 2004 deal for catcher Einar Diaz.
In Otsuka, 33, the Rangers acquired a much-needed boost for their bullpen. Otsuka went 2-8, 3.59 last season, striking out 60 batters while walking 34 in 64 innings. He handled lefthanded hitters, who managed just a .207 average against him in 121 at-bats, while righties hit .263 in 114 at-bats. Otsuka was a revelation in 2004, his first big league season after coming over from Japan, going 7-2, 1.75 in 77 innings of work.
Gonzalez, 23, will compete for a starting spot with the Padres after being blocked in Texas by Mark Teixeira. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 draft by the Marlins, Gonzalez went to Texas in the 2003 trade for closer Ugueth Urbina. The San Diego area resident hit a combined .318-30-153 in 785 Triple-A at-bats over the past two seasons, but he has struggled in the big leagues, batting just .227 in 150 at-bats last year. The lefthanded-hitting Gonzalez had little opportunity in Texas behind superstar first baseman Mark Teixeira, but he could become a doubles-hitting machine in San Diego. He was playing winter ball in Mexico and hitting .317-7-36 for Mazatlan this offseason.
Sledge, 28, was acquired from the Nationals in the Alfonso Soriano deal earlier this month. He hit .269-15-62 in his promising 2004 rookie year, but he played in just 20 games last year before severely injuring his hamstring in May. He has average power, speed and arm strength, and he figures to be a fourth outfielder in San Diego. His arrival means Dave Roberts’ days with the Padres are likely numbered.
Killian, 19, was a third-round pick in 2004 out of a Michigan high school. He batted .263-0-14 in 152 at-bats between the Rookie-level Arizona League and the short-season Northwest League in 2005. The son of former Padres part-time scout Bill Killian, he’s a lefthanded-hitting catcher who makes hard contact, though he has yet to homer as pro. His best defensive tool is a strong, accurate arm, and he unleashes throws with a lightning-quick exchange and release. The Rangers are stacked with catching prospects, and Killian will have to compete for a job at low Class A Clinton or short-season Spokane with Venezuelan catcher Manuel Pina.