Teixeira rumors swirling…

It’s officially everywhere now, a rumor that surfaced with the Braves rolling into San Francisco early in the week. By now you’ve heard the numerous reports that Mark Teixeira, the sweet swinging, switch-hitting Georgia Tech alum who currently patrols first base for the Texas Rangers. With the market for a starting pitcher bearing little fruit, the Braves have seemingly shifted their attention drastically.

Some Braves fans may be familiar with Teixeira, while others may just have browsed a few stats and have trouble justifying a deal that would almost certainly (to put it lightly) involve top prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia and more than likely include shortstop Elvis Andrus.

"Tex" has cemented himself as one of the best hitters in baseball in addition to being a gold glove defender each of the past two seasons. Not bad for a third baseman by trade. He has won a pair of silver sluggers and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting in 2005 – when hit .301 with 194 hits, 41 doubles and 43 homers and set a single season record for RBI by a switch hitter with 144. At 27 years old, Teixeira is just getting started.

"Salty" has generated an instant interest from the fan base of Atlanta. The organization proudly boasts the best catching prospect in all of baseball, just two seasons removed from debuting Brian McCann at that very position. Saltalamacchia is a big powerful switch-hitting backstop with a cannon for an arm, excellent range behind the plate in blocking balls. With McCann having signed a six year contract this spring though, Salty’s fate behind the plate was all but written.

Splitting time behind the plate and learning to play first, Saltalamacchia has performed well at the plate. Through his first 46 games, Salty is hitting .284 with four homers and 12 RBI in 141 at-bats. The Braves know they have one of the best bargaining chips they’ve ever had to improve the club, but also realize that parting with Saltalamacchia will not be easy. This is one of the reasons they would like to expand the deal to include a reliever to help the struggling bullpen.

The aspect of the deal that interests the Braves – and I assure you that it is not acquiring a Scott Boras client – is that Teixeira will be around in 2008, as he is eligible for salary arbitration. With the departure of Andruw Jones a distinct possibility, Teixeira’s bat would fill a huge void for Atlanta going forward. Salty has performed adequately, but is probably not ready for a full-time assignment at an unfamiliar position. Personally, it is hard to imagine that Salty’s ceiling could be any higher than Teixeira.

One of the wilder, yet extremely intriguing, versions of the trade has the Braves aiming for the inclusion of Cy Young winner Eric Gagne. Make no mistake, Gagne would be a rental for the rest of the season but would instantly stabilize the late inning leads that have started to slip away. Bob Wickman’s road struggles (1-2, 8.20 ERA with five blown saves) continued against the Giants on Tuesday, and those struggles are more acute with Rafael Soriano also experiencing a rough stretch.

Other prospects and spare parts bandied about in the trade rumors include Jo-Jo Reyes, Kyle Davies,  and Matt Harrison – all three starters with tremendous upside. Davies has struggled this season to maintain his success in consecutive starts but has an arm that still garners interest from clubs in both leagues. A change of scenery could be what Davies needs to get a career that began with much promise back on track.

John Schuerholz has dipped into his farm system to bring in players like Fred McGriff in 1993, J.D Drew in 2004 and more recently Tim Hudson in 2005. All three deals paid dividends for the Braves, with Adam Wainwright the only cog in any of those deals who could go on to have an extremely successful career.

Dealing Saltalamacchia won’t be easy for the Braves, but being able to use him in a deal that could bring a power bat like Teixeira and a valuable arm (be it Gagne, C.J. Wilson or Joaquin Benoit as rumored) could go a long way to helping the Braves overtake the Mets in the NL East.

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