Yovani Gallardo makes sense for the Rangers

As has been reported here, here, here and here, the Milwaukee Brewers have traded RHP Yovani Gallardo -- and $4 million -- to the Rangers for infielder Luis Sardinas, RHP Corey Knebel and minor league pitcher Marcos Diplan. After a couple days of rumors swirling that this would inevitably occur, finally Texas has its missing rotation piece in place.

Gallardo, 28, will be a free agent after the 2015 season, spending the entirety of his eight-year career to this point with the Brewers. In nearly 1,300 innings pitched since 2007, Yovani has generated +18.8 fWAR (+2.4/season), sporting a lifetime 3.69 ERA (3.55 xFIP) pitching half his starts at Miller Park, which historically has been more offense-heavy than pitcher-dominant. Gallardo has the nominal value of a #1 starter in some circles -- likely because he's always been the best arm on the Brewers' staff, sans brief stints from C.C. Sabathia and Zack Greinke -- but in reality he is exactly what the Rangers paid for in terms of prospects: a righty that wedges in neatly between the front and back of its rotation. 

Over the alternatives (let's say Nick Tepesch and Nick Martinez) Gallardo should be an upgrade of +1.5-2.0 wins -- a small but not totally insignificant improvement -- with the potential of outperforming that projection in a contract year. (Dan Zsymborski's 2015 ZiPS projection for Yovani in Milwaukee was a 3.94 ERA (3.92 FIP) in 180.1 IP and +2.4 zWAR; given the similarity of Miller Park and TBiA, I expect the difference between the two to be negligible when Gallardo's projection updates.)

He was at his peak in 2010, posting +4.5 fWAR with a 25% strikeout rate in 185 innings, but over the last four seasons has traded in some of those K's for control and an improved ground ball rate, which figures to play well in Arlington:

  • 2011 -- 23.9% K rate, 46.6% GB rate, +3.2 fWAR
  • 2012 -- 23.7%/47.7% +2.5 
  • 2013 -- 18.6%/49.2%, +1.8
  • 2014 -- 17.9%/50.8%, +1.7 

The fact that this is only a one-year deal, as opposed to two or three, is comforting given the relative decline of Gallardo's late-20's. It also gives the Rangers some flexibility on a few fronts:

1) If they are out of contention by July, they could flip him to a contender for prospects;

2) As he hits free agency at age-29, he is exactly the type of pitcher a team gives a qualifying offer to;

3) They could just extend him during of after 2015;

Yovani Gallardo is neither an ace nor a number two; he's not as sexy on the mound as his name; but the Rangers made a good trade here. They gave up three prospects -- one with no role, one reliever and one lottery ticket -- none of whom was indispensable to Texas's longer-term plans. 

It was a good trade for the Rangers.

Five years from now we'll know if Sardinas turned into anything more than a utility player; we'll know if Corey Knebel became a shutdown high-leverage relief pitcher or just another guy; we'll know where Marcos Diplan, the real prize of the trade -- who the Rangers signed for $1.3 million out of the Dominican Republic two years ago -- ends up.

Right now, though, this is a sensible move for Texas. The $4 million Milwaukee is kicking in cannot go understated, as it gives the Rangers roughly $7 million (or something in the $5-10 million range) to go get another catcher and some reasonable facsimile of a platoon outfielder/DH. 

The best-case scenario for Gallardo is an ERA in the mid-3's in 200 or so innings and between +3-4 Wins; realistically he gives the Rangers a moderately priced upgrade over the nameless, faceless creatures currently in-house. Should he pitch well, Texas can either trade him for prospects to recoup their original losses to the Brewers, or they could always pocket him and issue Yovani a QO next winter. 

In short, this move won't impact the Rangers dramatically in the standings, but it sets them up well depending on which end the pendulum swings in 2015.