The Texas Rangers spent most of 2007 trying to build up the starting pitching depth in the organization. Friday, they put that depth to use.
The Rangers reached into their stock of young starters and used one, Edinson Volquez, to address one of their more pressing needs, the outfield. The Rangers, sources confirmed, have agreed to send Volquez and minor league pitcher Daniel Herrera to Cincinnati for power-hitting Josh Hamilton.
In a way, it's a trade of one successful rebuilding project for another. While Volquez worked his way back from Class A last year to have a successful September for the Rangers, Hamilton overcame a long history of injuries and addiction issues to have an impressive rookie season for the Reds.
Hamilton, who will turn 27 in May, hit .292 with a .922 on-base-plus-slugging average in 90 games. He also hit 19 home runs and drove in 47 runs.
It was the latest chapter in a comeback for the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft that included going three seasons without playing due to recreational drug problems. Failed drug tests also led to a year-long suspension by Major League Baseball in 2004. Hamilton has said in the past that drug problems arose after several seasons in the minors ended prematurely because of injuries that left him with lots of time on his hands.
After getting clean in 2006, he started on the road back by playing 15 games at short-season Class A ball. His talent was judged mature enough that Cincinnati traded up during the December Rule 5 draft to get him when the Tampa Bay declined to put him on its roster. Hamilton then won an outfield job. He missed two weeks in May with gastroenteritis (an inflammation of the intestines), another month with a sprained wrist and the final three weeks of the season with a sore hamstring.
But in the time that he was healthy over the final four months of the season, he appeared to refine his game even more. He batted .313 with a .389 on-base percentage and a .964 OPS. Among the 144 NL players with at least 200 plate appearances in that span, Hamilton ranked 15th in the league in OPS.
Hamilton gives the Rangers options in the outfield. An above-average fielder, defender, he could be used in center field. But the club could also opt to move him to a corner to try to lessen his the wear and tear on his body. Marlon Byrd and David Murphy could split time in center. Milton Bradley or Frank Catalanotto could split the left field and DH duties, depending upon Bradley's health.
The trade also opens the door for another young pitcher – Luis Mendoza, Armando Galarraga, Josh Rupe, A.J. Murray or even Eric Hurley – to win a spot in the starting rotation. Mendoza, Murray and Galarraga all had brief but impressive auditions as starters. Rupe went to camp last year with a good chance to win the fifth starter's job. Hurley is the club's top pitching prospect. The Rangers have also expressed at least mild interest in veteran free agents Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Jason Jennings, all of whom are recovering from injury.