There's been a lot of squawking from some Rangers fans that the Atlanta offer isn't good enough, that Jarrod Saltalamacchia isn't all that and that the Rangers need something better than him as the headliner of a package.
Now, given the choice between Saltalamacchia (I hate the name "Salty", and refuse to refer to him as that) and James Loney, I'd probably lean towards Loney, but it isn't really a slam-dunk.
Loney is a year older than Saltalamacchia (almost exactly a year, in fact...he was born on 5/7/84, Saltalamacchia on 5/2/85), and of course, is going to play nothing but first base (albeit very well), while Saltalamacchia can probably be a regular major league catcher, at least for a few more years.
PECOTA's projections for Loney from 2008-2011 all run in the .280s, while Saltalamacchia is in the .270s in 2008 and 2009 and in the .280s in 2009 and 2010.
Saltalamacchia struggled mightily in AA last year, but it is worth pointing out that he was 20 when last season started and was dealing with a wrist injury...and even with his poor average and middling power, he was drawing a ton of walks, with a .353 OBP to go with his .230 average.
Loney put up some huge surface numbers in Las Vegas last year, hitting .380/.426/.546, but Las Vegas is a great hitter's park, and OBP and slugging were hugely average-driven...his walk rate and power was very unimpressive.
This year has been weird for them, as Loney has been pretty poor in the minors, hitting .279/.345/.382 for Las Vegas, but terrific in the majors, hitting .362/.414/.551 for the Dodgers. Saltalamacchia has been the reverse, hitting .309/.404/.617 in AA but just .285/.336/.416 in the majors.
As a point of comparison, when Mark Teixeira was 22 (the same age Saltalamacchia is now), he was hitting .320/.411/.593 in half a season in high-A and .316/.415/.591 in a half a season in AA.
BA had Saltalamacchia ranked #36 coming into this season, Loney #44. As a point of reference, John Danks was #56 and Eric Hurley #68. BA felt that Saltalamacchia was a guy with big power potential who might have to move from behind the plate, while Loney is a guy who will hit for average and play great first base defense, but has questions about his power. Mark Grace is the comparison you hear a lot with Loney.
BP ranked Loney #54, and at the mid-season mark said that his stock was unchanged, while Saltalamacchia was at #51, and the mid-season review showed him as having moved his stock up.
My gut says that Loney's the safer bet to be a good major leaguer, while Saltalamacchia is the better bet to be a great major leaguer, particularly if he can stay behind the plate. And after having gone through all this, I'm starting to think I've been swayed to preferring Saltalamacchia to Loney, all things being equal.
All things, of course, aren't equal, and the other prospects will play a role as well in what offer to take. But if you are expecting to get Loney and Clayton Kershaw (or Loney, Kershaw and something else), I think you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
The other thing to remember about the Atlanta deal, if Elvis Andrus comes over, is that teams love young, toolsy middle infielders. Remember, a couple of years ago, everyone wanted Joaquin Arias from the Rangers, and if Texas grabs Andrus, he'll be a valuable trade chip down the road.
And speaking of trade chips, the other thing to keep in mind with Saltalamacchia is that a lot of other teams love him. Pittsburgh has supposedly been after him, and even if you don't think Saltalamacchia is all that, if you could flip him to the Pirates to get a package that included Ian Snell, or to get Tom Gorzelanny, that may end up being a better deal than anything else you would end up with in a Teixeira trade.
Anyway, this is just food for thought...but I do think that those who are already killing any Atlanta trade, saying that Saltalamacchia isn't all that and the Rangers need to get something else, are not giving Saltalamacchia enough credit.