Rangers set to acquire Eaton, Otsuka
To send C. Young, Gonzalez and Sledge to San Diego
The Rangers want pitchers with a Major League track record, and managed to pick up two of them on Tuesday while potentially strengthening both their starting rotation and the back end of the bullpen.
Starter Adam Eaton and setup man Akinori Otsuka are headed to Texas along with Minor League catching prospect Billy Killian, while right-hander Chris Young, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and outfielder Terrmel Sledge will put on San Diego uniforms when Spring Training commences in February.
A Major League source confirmed the deal, pending the passing of physicals. That process could be temporarily delayed because Otsuka is in Japan. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is withholding comment on the deal until the physicals are completed.
From the Texas perspective, Eaton is the focal point of the six-player swap. The 28-year-old Eaton could project as the anchor of the rotation, although general manager Jon Daniels continues to work the free agent market and met with Kevin Millwood on Tuesday in Arlington.
The clubs had discussed an Eaton deal during the GM Meetings in November, but Padres general manager Kevin Towers shot down rumors of Eaton going to the Rangers during the Winter Meetings while indicating that San Diego would hold onto its established pitching.
However, talks of a contract extension for Eaton did not reach fruition and that re-opened the door for a deal. Eaton, who made $3.375 million in 2005, is in his final year of arbitration eligibility and could be a free agent next fall. When the Rangers were willing to dangle Young, who went 12-7 last year and will be under club control for five more seasons, the seeds for a deal were in place.
Eaton went 11-5 last year with a 4.27 earned run average for the National League West champions. The Rangers could now take their own shot at trying to sign Eaton to a contract extension. He has reportedly sought a three-year, $27 million deal.
In the meantime, the Rangers know they control Eaton for 2006 through the arbitration process and figure to pay in the $5 million range. Eaton pitched just 128 2/3 innings last year because of a middle finger strain.
The Rangers also pick up an established reliever in Otsuka, who has a 2.57 ERA in two Major League seasons. With Frank Francisco recovering from Tommy John surgery, seventh- and eighth-inning relief was an adventure for Texas all season. The Rangers led the American League in bullpen ERA in 2004, but fell to 12th last season.
Otsuka projects as a reliable setup man in front of closer Francisco Cordero. Otsuka will make $1.75 million in 2006 and become arbitration-eligible for three years after that.
The Rangers are parting with their reigning Rookie of the Year. Young, a hometown product from Highland Park, showed promise with a 4.26 ERA in his first full Major League season. But he suffered from arm fatigue down the stretch and the Rangers were concerned about a drop in velocity as the season ended.
Gonzalez, a slick-fielding first baseman who hit .338 at Triple-A Oklahoma last season, was stuck behind All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira and facing the prospect of another year in the Minors if he stayed in the Texas organization. He was a prep sensation in San Diego before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft.
Sledge, acquired by Texas earlier this month in the Alfonso Soriano deal with Washington, gave the Rangers a surplus in the outfield.
Killian, 19, bolsters the catching pipeline in the Texas system. He was San Diego's third-round draft pick in 2004.
If the Rangers were to land Millwood, who is represented by agent Scott Boras, they could conceivably unveil a rotation that has Millwood, Eaton and Vicente Padilla as the top three. Boras has said he thinks Millwood is deserving of a five-year contract, but the Rangers have been reluctant to consider five-year deals for free agent pitchers since signing Chan Ho Park to a five-year, $65 million deal prior to the 2002 season.
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.