Aiming to improve a rotation that was ruined by injuries in 2014, the Rangers picked up Yovani Gallardo from the Brewers for three prospects.
After spending most of the offseason quietly working on the margins, the Texas Rangers finally made a major move to their roster. On Monday, the team finalized a deal for Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo, sending three minor leaguers to Milwaukee. Gallardo will come to Arlington as the No. 2 starter for the Rangers, but whether Texas will get ideal results from him is less certain.
A second-round draft pick by the Brewers in 2004, Gallardo, who will be 29 in February, has logged eight seasons in the majors and shown amazing durability in the process. The 2014 season was his sixth straight with 30 or more starts and he's avoided major injuries through his career excluding a torn ACL in his right knee suffered in 2008. Gallardo has also been remarkably consistent with his results through his career. His only season with an ERA+ below 100 was 2013, and he bounced back from that poor showing nicely in 2014, posting a 3.51 ERA and 108 ERA+ in 192 1/3 innings.
Beyond that ERA, though, lie some concerning numbers, particularly when it comes to Gallardo's strikeout rate. The Mexican right-hander has seen his strikeouts-per-nine figure tumble dramatically in the last two seasons, going from 9.0 in 2012 to 7.2 in '13 to a career-worst 6.8 figure last year. Since 2011, Gallardo has been giving up more contact on his pitches and allowed fewer swinging strikes. Couple the drop in strikeouts with a troubling home run rate (0.9 career, 1.0 last season) and you get a pitcher who lives dangerously with every batter, and one who could soon learn to hate the hitter-friendly confines of Globe Life Park.
Nonetheless, a healthy Gallardo represents a substantial upgrade for Texas to a rotation that was ruined by injuries in 2014. Martin Perez was lost to a torn ulnar collateral ligament last May and likely won't return until midseason. Matt Harrison had his year ruined by back injuries, including a serious and potentially career-ending spinal fusion procedure. Derek Holland made only five starts after microfracture surgery on his left knee in the off-season, and Yu Darvish, the staff ace, lost time to elbow inflammation and neck soreness. Gallardo may not be the ace he once was, but he's a near-lock to provide 190-plus above-average innings, which is more than can be said for the likes of Nick Tepesch and Robbie Ross that Texas turned to last year.
To acquire Gallardo, the Rangers parted ways with three prospects, headlined by middle infielder Luis Sardinas. Just 21 years old, the switch-hitting Sardinas -- the Rangers' No. 7 prospect prior to 2014 according to Baseball America -- has posted good on-base numbers in the minors, although with little power to go with it. He made his major league debut last year, though that was more out of necessity after the maelstrom of injuries that tore through Texas' infield. In 125 plate appearances, Sardinas posted a .261/.303/.313 line with a 21-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Those aren't gaudy numbers, but for a 21-year-old with limited exposure above Double A, it's an encouraging sign that he managed to keep his head above water.
The other two prospects, Corey Knebel and Marcos Diplan, also represent interesting lottery tickets. Knebel, acquired from Detroit in exchange for Joakim Soria last year, is a 2013 first-round pick who has posted gaudy strikeout numbers in the minors (104 whiffs in 76 1/3 innings) as a reliever, but was shut down in August with an ulnar collateral ligament injury. Knebel avoided Tommy John surgery, however, and a recent MRI came back clean. If he can stay healthy, he could contribute to Milwaukee's bullpen this season. Diplan, however, is a long way from making an impact; just 18 years old, he was a top prospect signed out of the Dominican Republic for $1.3 million in 2013. He struck out 57 in 64 1/3 innings for the Rangers' Dominican Summer League team, albeit with 36 walks.
Nonetheless, it's unlikely the Rangers will miss the trio that much. Sardinas was blocked at second base and shortstop by Elvis Andrus, Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor, Knebel is a reliever with a potentially damaged arm, and Diplan is years away from seeing major league action, if he ever gets there. Sacrificing that group for a much-needed rotation upgrade is a move that general manager Jon Daniels had to make after seeing his team's playoff hopes go up in smoke last year.
As for Milwaukee, the Brewers will move forward in 2015 with top prospect Jimmy Nelson taking Gallardo's rotation spot. A second-round pick in 2010 and the Brewers' No. 1 prospect heading into the 2014 season, the 26-year-old righty was roughed up to a 4.93 ERA in 12 starts and 69 1/3 innings for the big league squad last year, but his minor league numbers have been excellent, including a brilliant 1.46 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 111 innings in Triple A last season. Armed with a power fastball and wipeout slider, Nelson should make for a top-quality fifth starter.
What's more, Nelson will cost a fraction of what Gallardo will. The veteran was set to make $13 million this season, the final year of a five-year, $30.1 million extension he signed back in 2010. Milwaukee will send about $4 million to Texas to offset Gallardo's salary, giving them some financial room to upgrade other areas, with the bullpen reportedly in line to add a reliever or two. As for Gallardo, he'll hit free agency after this year, and if he can boost his peripherals while avoiding the home run ball in Texas, he'll be in line for a lucrative multi-year deal.