Point-Counterpoint: The Rangers should hang on to Koji Uehara

Koji Uehara

Credit: AP Photo / Paul J. Bereswill

Koji Uehara was an elite reliever for the Orioles. Why have the Rangers so quickly soured on him?

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by SAM HALE

WFAA Sports Blogger

Posted on February 17, 2012 at 4:18 PM

Updated Saturday, Feb 18 at 2:58 AM

If you're a subscriber to the idea that come Opening Day Koji Uehara shouldn't be wearing a Rangers uniform, you might want to take some blood pressure medicine before proceeding.

The Rangers are still actively shopping the relief pitcher, and actually agreed to deal Uehara to Toronto. Due to his no-trade clause however, Uehara nixed the swap. The rumor mill has tagged Oakland and Baltimore, his original team, as possible landing spots for the 36 year old. Other teams maintain plenty of interest in Uehara, which makes you wonder: Why are the Rangers looking to dump him? After all, they did give up a once valued prospect (first baseman Chris Davis) and a solid back of the rotation arm (Tommy Hunter) to pry him from the Orioles.
 
It appears the Rangers and their fans are overreacting to what is a very small sample size.
 
His struggles in the postseason are well documented: for the ALDS and ALCS Uehara's ERA was 33.75 in one-and-one-third inning of work. He allowed three home runs and five earned runs. Those numbers don't look good at face value, but keep some context in mind. He appeared in only three games. It was also his first-ever postseason experience, as Baltimore never neared playoff contention during his time there.
 
Now let's look at the 2011 regular season numbers, split between Texas and Baltimore.
 
Uehara appeared in 65 games and notched a 2.35 ERA. He struck out 85 hitters and walked only nine. He allowed 38 hits, and his WHIP was 0.723. The cost of Koji to Texas for his stint in 2011? One-million dollars, as Baltimore paid the other $2 million of his salary. He was a very cost-effective option, and since his value will be around that area this season, he's not going to cost a fortune. 
 
So why are the Rangers looking to deal a pitcher who has excelled in the past in his role, yet faltered in his first experiences in an extreme hitter's paradise, and faded in the postseason?
 
It very well could be that the 'win now' attitude -- which is refreshing to see, but also appears to be blinding the team in regard to this issue. 
 
Let's look back to 2010, when the Rangers made the playoffs for the first time in over ten years. Did we expect the team to play in the World Series? No, we were just happy to be there. 2011 comes, and the team makes it to the World Series again in much more convincing fashion. The team's second attempt in the post season was better than its first, so what's to say Uehara is not subject to the same logic?
 
You haven't heard any trade rumors around David Murphy, who had four hits and no RBIs for a .222 batting average in all seven World Series games. In the ALCS against Detroit, Adrian Beltre only produced six hits while whiffing ten times. Derek Holland only pitched seven-and-a-third innings with an 8.59 ERA in two starts during the same postseason series, yet neither him or Beltre came even close to being parted with. Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz, and Michael Young all had less than three hits with a batting average under .200 against Tampa Bay, yet did those lackluster performances make these players fair game for trades? 
 
Outside of the normal trade rumblings for Young, no. Why? All these players contributed in the regular season, and regardless of these numbers aren't going anywhere. A concerted effort to move them wouldn't make sense because they serve a purpose.
 
So why isn't Uehara getting the same treatment?
 
Here are a couple of other numbers that should justify keeping Koji: a .221 batting average, 97 strikeouts, 17 walks, a .258 on base percentage, and 21 runs. That is Uehara's career split against left-handed batters in 351 plate appearances. His numbers against right handed hitters are even better, though in a slightly smaller sample size. With the Rangers looking for relief pitching and emphasizing lefty help, trading someone with the potential to be an impact player in the middle of the bullpen is a bit crazy. 
 
Am I saying Uehara will be the next coming of Mariano Rivera? Of course not, but he's got a good chance to be a usable bullpen piece. Give the guy some breathing room and hope that in his second stint with the team he would settle in and be the force that Texas expected him to be last summer.
 
The Uehara trade could be even more of a 2012 trade than a 2011 one, but the only way to find out is to roll the dice. By the numbers, the odds are good that Texas will walk away from the table one very solid relief pitcher richer.
 

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