Everyday Eddie is going home.
Multiple local media sources, including Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, are reporting that the Texas Rangers have traded veteran left-hander Eddie Guardado to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for minor league right-hander Mark Hamburger.
A surprising, if not entirely blindsiding development. The 37-year-old southpaw had compiled a fine 3.65 ERA (118 ERA+) and 1.12 WHIP in 49.3 innings during the course of his 2008 comeback campaign with the Rangers, accruing just 28 strikeouts but yielding just 17 free passes and three home runs while holding left-handed batters to just .167/.233/.288.
Sabermetrically speaking, no other hurler on the Texas pitching staff has been more valuable this season than Guardado; his VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) clocked in at a steady 11.4, while his WXRL (Expected Wins Added Over Replacement-Level Pitcher) registered at 3.052, the latter of which accounted for the 17th-best total among all relievers in baseball this season.
So what exactly did the Rangers acquire for their most productive reliever? Exactly what you would have expected them to acquire, given the circumstances surrounding this August waiver-period swap: an intriguing, albeit raw and incredibly distant young pitcher.
Hamburger, a 6' 4," 195-pound native of Saint Paul, Minnesota, was inked by the Twins last June 19th as an undrafted free agent following a successful open tryout at the Metrodome and immediately reported to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Twins, where he compiled a 1.20 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over an abbreviated 15-inning professional debut.
The 21-year-old hurler began 2008 with the Elizabethton Twins of the short-season Appalachian League, and to this point has not disappointed. In 36.2 innings this season, Hamburger has posted a 4.17 ERA and 1.31 WHIP while fanning 40, surrendering just two long balls, holding opposing batters to a .250 batting average and nailing down 13 saves in 14 opportunities.
Reputedly armed with a fastball-slider combo, the reigning Appalachian League Closer of the Year was reportedly clocked at 96 mph during one of his recent outings by a Rangers scout. One anonymous Twins official that spoke to Minneapolis Star-Tribune beat writer La Velle E. Neal III on Monday proclaimed that Hamburger "has a good chance" to someday reach the majors; general manager Jon Daniels is equally bullish:
"He's a guy who has been under the radar screen," Daniels said. "He's not on all the prospect lists, but we had a couple of scouts go in and see him and they liked him. He's a big, strong kid with a fastball-slider combo. He's a guy in low-A ball, so all the normal risks apply. We'll add him to the system, bring him on and give him a chance to develop."
Hamburger will reportedly begin his career in the Rangers organization at Low-A Clinton, representing a step up from his previous minor league designation. Whether this latest addition to an already overwhelming collection of electric young arms will ultimately carve out his own path to the big leagues is, of course, as big an unknown at this point as Hamburger is himself, but you have to feel at least somewhat optimistic about the initial scouting report and minor league results.
Assuming Guardado's place on the active roster and as the club's preeminent left-handed reliever of choice is hard-throwing Triple-A Oklahoma southpaw Bill White, whose fantastic strikeout rate over the span of 52 innings in the Pacific Coast League this year (10.56 K/9) has been marred by a unpalatable walk rate (5.19 BB/9); nonetheless, the 29-year-old has been nigh-unhittable for nearly three months now, and it shouldn't break anyone's heart that he's getting a second chance.
And as for the Rangers' new closer? Try the ever-firey Frank Francisco, who since June 15th has allowed just 16 hits and six walks, struck out 33, coaxed a stingy opponents' batting line of .167/.216/.396, thrown a solid two-thirds of his pitches for strikes, and produced a 3.04 ERA in 26.2 innings:
"I'm excited," Francisco said before the Rangers' game with the Royals on Monday night. "Everybody used to tell me that I could be a closer. I believe I can be a closer. I've got the stuff, now it's my time to show I can be it."
Jon Daniels may not have created waves in the player market before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline like he did last year and in 2006, but this move has provided ample opportunity for analysis, dissection and speculation at a time when the fast-faltering Rangers badly needed to resurrect local and national interest in their product.
And, with any luck, a future cornerstone of the Texas Rangers bullpen.