Rangers opt to keep younger catchers

Rangers opt to keep younger catchers

LAS VEGAS -- In the end, the Rangers were determined to trade Gerald Laird and keep both Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

They had interest from other teams in all four of their catchers, including Max Ramirez. But the Rangers decided going into the offseason that they were going to trade Laird and that's what they ultimately did at the beginning of the Winter Meetings.

The Rangers were hoping to get a pitcher who would have an immediate impact at the Major League level, but instead they had to settle for two prospects when they sent Laird to the Tigers for right-handers Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo. The trade was officially announced on Monday.

"You always like to have a high-impact guy, a guy who could be here yesterday," Daniels said. "But, at the end of the day, we had to make a decision and decided on some guys who are worth the wait. The level of interest in Gerald wasn't there that he would bring a Major League-ready starter."

Laird's departure leaves Saltalamacchia and Teagarden in direct competition to be the Rangers' starter catcher. Ramirez is also in the picture, and Daniels didn't rule out moving another catcher in a good baseball trade. But right now the likely scenario is Teagarden and Saltalamacchia sharing the position going into the 2009 season.

"We have the makings of two -- well, three -- pretty good young guys," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We've got to get them all into camp, see where they are and let it all play out."

Saltalamacchia, who hit .253 with three home runs and 26 RBIs in 61 games and 198 at-bats in 2008, is still learning the art and fine points of catching but has a chance to be an impact offensive catcher.

Teagarden is considered an outstanding defensive catcher with an advanced ability to work with pitchers and call a game. He hit .319 in just 16 games for the Rangers this past season but still has to show he can hit at the big league level and stay healthy.

Other teams were interested in Saltalamacchia, Teagarden and Ramirez. The Red Sox, in particular, were more interested in Saltalamacchia and Teagarden and showed little interest in Laird. The Tigers, on the other hand, were aggressive in their pursuit of Laird and that ultimately was what brought the deal together.

"We like those guys, but in our conversations with [Rangers GM] Jon [Daniels], it was his preference to keep the young guys," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "They like Teagarden and Saltalamacchia. We focused on Laird. We thought where we are, we needed to have a guy who could handle a pitching staff and had some Major League experience. That was our preference."

Moscoso, who will also be in camp with the Rangers, is a 25-year-old right-hander who is on the 40-man roster and can be used both as a starter and reliever. The Rangers will look at him in both roles but prefer to groom him as a starter. Moscoso pitched at both Class A Lakeland and Double-A Erie this past season, going 5-4 with a 2.70 ERA in 21 games, including 12 starts.

Daniels called him a "strike-thrower who misses a lot of bats," and that's reflected by 424 strikeouts against just 79 walks in 389 2/3 career Minor League innings. Moscoso has also held opponents to a .218 batting average in six years in the Tigers system.

"[Moscoso is] the more developed of the two," Dombrowski said. "He has an above-average arm with a solid breaking ball. We were looking at him competing for a spot in the bullpen in Spring Training, but he's started in the past. He's a solid prospect."

Moscoso, who was set back by shoulder surgery in 2005, was only ranked as the 10th best prospect in the Tigers organization by Baseball America, but Daniels said, "I don't want to sell him short. He has a chance to make an immediate impact in a short amount of time. He's deceptive; he has the ability to miss bats; he's performed wherever he has been and he has good makeup. He has a chance to come quickly."

Melo, 17, is a 6-foot-3 right-hander with a power arm who pitched in the Dominican Summer League and is years away from pitching at the Major League level. But Daniels compared getting him to acquiring outfielder Engel Beltre in the Eric Gagne trade with the Red Sox and Neftali Feliz in the Mark Teixeira trade with the Braves.

"Sometimes the best players in a deal are the younger guys, the diamonds in the rough," Daniels said.

"[Melo] has a quality arm," Dombrowski said. "He has a great arm and our guys in the Dominican liked him a great deal. He has a plus arm, a plus fastball and is still developing. We didn't want to trade him. We didn't want to trade either one of these guys."

The Tigers had a couple of young pitchers who pitched at the Major League level in 2008 and were available, including Zach Miner and Chris Lambert. But the Rangers were more intent in acquiring Moscoso, believing he has far more upside potential. There was also talk about a three-way trade with another team that had the Tigers acquiring more pitching.

But, in the end, the Rangers were satisfied with the pitchers they did receive.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.