The Rangers, fresh off of acquiring Koji Uehara on Saturday, sent pitching prospects Robert Erlin and Joseph Wieland to San Diego to bring aboard arguably the best non-closing relief pitcher in the game. Since joining the Padres in 2008, Adams has thrown 217 innings with the following pertinent numbers: 137 (!) hits, 10.0 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 0.90 WHIP, 1.66 ERA and 2.48 SIERA. He ranks towards the top in each of those categories, and his 5.2 WAR in the span is the highest among setup men and middle relievers in the National League, and second to Matt Thornton across both leagues.
Simply put, Mike Adams is one of the very best relievers in baseball, regardless of whether or not he closes out the ninth inning, and was the top reliever on the market. Right behind him was Uehara, who has been equally filthy over the last two seasons. In acquiring both pitchers, the Rangers fixed a significant deficiency: the bullpen.
Through the weekend, the Rangers had the worst bullpen in the American League at -0.7 WAR. Something tells the formidable back-end trio of Neftali Feliz, Adams and Uehara will move them out of the cellar. Plus, both acquired relievers are under contract or control for the 2012 season, so this isn’t a situation where the Rangers send a bevy of prospects away for short rentals. Relievers don’t tally much in the way of wins above replacement to begin with, but Uehara and Adams are so effective that the difference between them and the players bumped from the roster is significant.
The pitching prospects heading to San Diego were both in Double-A, but project perfectly for the spacious PETCO Park. Both Erlin and Wieland rely on their savvy and command to beat up on the opposition, but their offerings won’t appear filthy to major league hitters. Marc Hulet ranked Erlin as the 4th best prospect in the Rangers system prior to the season, while Wieland fell out of the top ten. Baseball America also ranked Erlin 4th, and placed Wieland as the 22nd best prospect in the system. The stocks of both pitchers have risen since the pre-season lists were published and each makes sense for the Padres.
In February, Hulet wrote that Erlin was an undersized lefty, but one that could turn into a 3-WAR starter at the major league level. His minor league numbers have been mighty impressive so far. Last year, he posted a 9.8 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in 114 2/3 frames in A-Ball. Moving up to High-A to start the season, his strikeout and walk rates per nine innings actually improved to 10.2 and 0.8, respectively.
His performance merited a promotion to Double-A, where his peripherals have remained strong: an 8.2 K/9 and 0.9 BB/9 in 66 2/3 frames. When he catches too much up the plate, his offerings aren’t good enough to keep the opposition off-kilter, but his impeccable control should translate to the majors. Nothing wrong with a cost-controlled starter capable of a mid-3s ERA, a 6.5-7 K/9 and a sub-2.0 BB/9.
Wieland similarly relies on the combination of command and control rather than pure stuff, and his peripherals have been equally impressive. Last season he threw 148 innings in A- and High-A, with a 143/25 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 129 2/3 innings this year at High-A and Double-A, Wieland has an even more impressive 132/15 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Primarily relying on a low-90s fastball and a solid albeit underwhelming curveball, Wieland is also developing his slider and changeup. He isn’t going to turn into a flashy starter in the majors, but he misses bats, limits free passes, and is widely regarded as having baseball smarts in his gameplanning.
The package may seem less impressive than the two major leaguers sent to Baltimore for Uehara, but Erlin and Wieland fit right in line with the Padres plans perhaps more so than Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter fit the Orioles rebuilding process. Don’t be surprised if both Erlin and Wieland occupy the back of the Padres rotation by 2013, at which point Adams and Uehara reach free agency. The Rangers might not have a window, per se, but acquiring Adams completely addresses their most glaring weakness and enhances their odds of both winning the division and succeeding in the playoffs.