Pudge Returns to Rangers In Deal With Astros

The Rangers re-acquired 37-year-old catcher Ivan Rodriguez,
who made his debut with Texas 18 years ago and played 12 seasons
in Arlington. Texas sends 22-year-old righthanded
reliever Matt Nevarez and as many as two players to be named to the Astros. If the Rangers make the playoffs, they owe Houston two players to be
named. If not, they will send one. It is believed that Triple-A second baseman Jose Vallejo is one of those players, but the 22-year-old must clear
waivers before he can be traded.

UPDATE: Vallejo cleared waivers and was traded to the Astros. He switches Pacific Coast League teams, going from Oklahoma City to Round Rock (Aug. 20).

UPDATE: The Rangers finished at 87-75 but missed the playoffs, meaning that they will not send a second player to be named to the Astros (Oct. 4).

Seeking to maintain their wild card advantage, the Rangers traded for a player with whom they’re quite familiar—Rodriguez made 10 All-Star teams as a member of the Rangers. He was batting .251/.280/.382 with eight home
runs and 34 RBIs in 93 games for the Astros, though his numbers are
much better against lefthanders (.303/.313/.500). Rodriguez
waived his no-trade clause and agreed to serve primarily as a backup for
25-year-old Taylor Teagarden.

At the time of the trade, Teagarden was
hitting just .194/.264/.364 with five home runs in 39 games,
making it seem possible that Rodriguez could start sooner rather than
later. After all, Rodriguez is one of the best defensive catchers
in the game’s history, and he had thrown out 32 percent of basestealers this season.

But the move would not have come about had regular catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia not experienced numbness in his throwing shoulder and bounced several balls back to the mound in a recent game. He was diagnosed with a mild
form of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. And though Rodriguez is not the offensive player he was in his prime, he is at least a known commodity. In that way, this deal is similar to the one that the Yankees pulled off last year after Jorge Posada went down with an injury.

With the move, Texas designated Kevin Richardson for assignment. An eight-year pro who signed with Texas as a nondrafted free agent from Gonzaga, Richardson served as an emergency addition to the 40-man roster. He went 2-for-4 in his one big league game.

The Young
A Rangers 10th-round pick in 2005 out of San Fernando (Calif.) High, Nevarez ranked among the top 200 prospects entering that draft. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound righty was 1-4, 2.83 with 50 strikeouts in 35 innings pitched for low Class A Hickory. He also collected nine saves in 34 appearances as a late-innings relieve for the Crawdads.

With 90-95 mph velocity and a hard slider, Nevarez’s game is geared toward power. His physicality helps his stuff play up in the bullpen, and he could move quickly in that role if he tightens his control. Nevarez had walked 15 batters—or 3.9 per nine innings—this season in the Rangers system.

Signed out of the Dominican in 2004, Vallejo has climbed steadily up the ladder, reaching Triple-A for the first time in ’09. A 22-year-old switch-hitter (he learned to bat lefthanded after turning pro), he earned his way on to the Rangers’ 40-man roster last offseason by batting .292/.345/.415 with 11 homers and 42 stolen bases in ’08, showing a bit of speed and power. The power was a new addition, and it hasn’t transferred to Triple-A, where he’s homered just twice. In fact, Vallejo struggled overall with Oklahoma City, batting a mere .233/.282/.307 with just seven doubles and three steals in 309 at-bats.

Vallejo, who stands 6-feet and weighs 175 pounds, is limited defensively to second base. And despite his gaudy minor league stolen base total—141 with just 24 caught stealing—he’s lost a step this year. Given time to develop at the Triple-A level, Vallejo may emerge as a fringe regular at second base.

As Houston fell 10 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central, the Rodriguez deal indicated that the Astros might be looking toward next season. Without Rodriguez, Chris Coste and Humberto Quintero will split time behind the dish. For giving up Rodriguez, Houston received at least two mid-level prospects and helped pave the way for catcher Jason Castro, the team’s 2008 first-round pick.

Rodriguez returns to Texas to help the young, overachieving team get to the next level. He’s done it before with the Marlins and Tigers. He’ll start as Teagarden’s backup, but should have a chance to play every day. At the very least, Rodriguez can serve as a mentor to a young rotation of which only Kevin Millwood has any meaningful playoff experience.

Trade Central 2009