Koji Uehara a better fit for Rangers than Heath Bell

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The Rangers needed a reliever, not a closer, and they got one of the game’s best setup men from the Orioles when they traded Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter for Koji Uehara and $2 million on Saturday.

Uehara has a 2.27 ERA and a remarkable 117/13 K/BB ratio in 91 innings since the Orioles shifted him to the pen last year.  His trick elbow is a concern, but he’s pretty much the perfect eighth-inning guy when healthy.

And if he can stay healthy, he’ll probably pitch better than Heath Bell would have for the Rangers.  Uehara won’t be intimidated by Arlington after pitching at Camden Yards the last three years.  His ERA+ the last two years is 181.  Bell’s is 175 over the same timeframe.  Bell has the superior actual ERA at 2.08, but after accounting for league and ballpark, Uehara has been a bit more effective.

The Rangers did give up quite a bit in return here, but it was probably worth it to get an eighth-inning guy, particularly one who has a vesting option for next year at $4 million.  And the Orioles did well to get two intriguing pieces for a reliever no one wanted to sign to a multiyear deal last winter.

The 25-year-old Davis seems to have taken a step forward this season after two disappointing years.  His .250/.299/.403 line in 72 at-bats for the Rangers isn’t particularly impressive, but it also isn’t bad for someone getting sporadic playing time.  He was a true terror in Triple-A, hitting .368/.405/.824 with 23 homers in just 193 at-bats.  Davis has always had big problems with strikeouts, but he has improved a bit there this season.

The Rangers soured on Hunter because of his conditioning problems, but he’s a 25-year-old with a career record of 23-13 and a 4.36 ERA in the major leagues.  He can slot into the Baltimore rotation immediately and serve as a decent fourth starter going forward.

I don’t usually rate trades as win-wins, but I think it is the case here.  The Rangers get an excellent reliever for less than Bell would have cost, and the Orioles got to gamble on some upside.  Plus, this frees up Derrek Lee to be used in a deal for Baltimore.  Don’t be surprised if he’s shipped to Pittsburgh within the next few hours, allowing the Orioles to put Mark Reynolds at first and Davis at third.

Kevin Kiermaier on Rays’ recent moves: “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset.”

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On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”

Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.

The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.

When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.