Rangers get best of Hamilton trade

December, 22, 2007
There's some risk involved, but there's a very good chance by acquiring Josh Hamilton, the Rangers just picked up a middle-of-the-order bat who's about to enter his prime years in exchange for a hard-throwing young pitcher (Edinson Volquez) with more risks around his future. For the Reds, they cash in some of their outfield surplus to add some pitching depth, but it's surprising to see a club aiming to contend in 2008 take a young arm in return, rather than using that surplus to acquire a starter who can push them toward 85-90 wins now.

The Rangers' system is full of pitching prospects, and they have a good number of infield and catching prospects, but they're light in the outfield, with 2007 draftee Julio Borbon probably the best of that group. Hamilton immediately becomes the best center fielder the Rangers have had in a decade -- all apologies to Laynce Nix, Tom Goodwin and Damon Buford -- and has a good chance to be the best hitter in the Rangers' 2008 lineup. Hamilton was a five-tool player coming out of high school, and he's a four-tool player now, with his speed diminished by injuries. He has good bat speed and centers the ball well, shows at least 30-homer power, plus a cannon arm and above-average range in center. In limited time, he showed a patient approach at the plate and a willingness to work deep counts, although that will be tested with a full season of playing time in 2008.

The risks with Hamilton are obvious. One is his history of substance abuse, which kept him out of pro ball for almost four full seasons; we know he's been clean for at least 18 months, and you can be sure the Rangers are going to have a support system in place. (If I'm Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, I track down Johnny Narron, who has known Hamilton since the kid was in high school and who was Hamilton's personal coach in Cincinnati, and hire him to fill the same role in Texas.)

The bigger concern is Hamilton's history of injuries. He's had at least two operations on each knee, although his knees didn't pose any trouble in 2007. He missed time with an intestinal ailment and then a hamstring pull this season, playing in just 90 games. It's fair to say he's injury-prone, and he's going to face fatigue issues if he stays healthy for a full season at some point. However, these are risks worth taking if you're Texas because of the sheer magnitude of Hamilton's talent.

In exchange, the Reds get Volquez, a 24-year-old right-hander with five years in pro ball who still is more a thrower than a pitcher. He has a strong two-pitch combo in his fastball and changeup; his fastball is 91-96 mph and is "heavy," so he breaks a number of bats and it's hard for hitters to drive the ball, but he doesn't generate groundballs. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, always plus and occasionally rating a 65 or 70 on the 20-80 scale, making him more effective against left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters.

But Volquez has some significant red flags. His control has never been good, with 150 walks over the last two years in about 330 innings, and his fastball command is fringe-average; despite the heaviness of his heater, he's still been homer-prone in Texas, and heads now to another hitter-friendly park. Volquez still doesn't have an average breaking ball and it seems likely that at this point, he never will, in which case, he's much more likely to end up in the bullpen. If he's going to be a starter long-term, it's hard to envision him as more than a fourth starter because of the lack of a third pitch, although he could be an excellent short reliever with that two-pitch repertoire because he won't have the large platoon split so many short relievers have. The Reds also received Danny Ray Herrera, a slight 5-foot-6 lefty with a low-80s fastball and a curveball right out of the 1940s. He's a quality organizational player, but pitchers with grade-35 fastballs do not pitch in the majors, especially not in a hitter's park like Great American.

Even if Hamilton settles in as a 120-game, 500-plate appearance hitter, it will be hard for Volquez to perform well enough to provide more value to the Reds than Hamilton will to the Rangers. Add to that the normal risks associated with pitchers and the fact that Hamilton can contribute right away while Volquez has yet to show he's ready to pitch regularly in the majors and the exchange clearly favors Texas.


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