The rumors of a trade involving the Boston Red Sox had been circulating the Augusta GreenJackets clubhouse for weeks.
Early Friday afternoon, the speculation became reality.
In a move they hope will fix their third-base problem in the wake of losing John Valentin to a season-ending knee injury May 30, the Red Sox acquired veteran Ed Sprague from the San Diego Padres in exchange for two GreenJackets -- right-handed pitcher Dennis Tankersley and shortstop Cesar Saba.
The 21-year-old Tankersley, a 38th-round pick by Boston in the 1998 draft, had been one of Augusta's top starting pitchers the past month.
That fact apparently factored heavily into the Padres' decision to trade for him. A Padres scout has been following the Jackets the past three weeks, as have several scouts with other clubs.
With the Jackets, Tankersley posted a 5-3 record and 4.06 ERA in 15 starts, going 5-0 with a 3.03 ERA over his past 10 starts, with 54 strikeouts in his past 53 1/3 innings.
"I had no idea this was going to happen," said Tankersley, who will report to the Padres' Class A affiliate in Fort Wayne, Ind. "I'm excited because it's something new, but I'm going to miss all the guys on the team. But I guess it's a good opportunity. It's good to know your hard work pays off and that someone else thinks highly of you."
The news of the trade, especially the loss of Tankersley, hit the Jackets clubhouse hard Friday. The good-natured Tankersley was one of the club's most popular players.
"Everybody's reaction was that no one wants him to leave," Jackets closer B.J. Leach said. "Everyone's kind of sad. He's a big part of our team; not just as a pitcher, but he's also one of those guys you like to have around because he's funny and cracks jokes and is always hyper. He's an all-around great guy, and I'm happy for him. He's a prospect, and I hope he gets a chance to move up with the Padres organization."
GreenJackets pitching coach Bob Kipper agrees the Padres are getting a solid big-league prospect in Tankersley -- whose fastball averages 91-92 mph to complement an outstanding slider and change-up.
"No question, Tank's got three average major-league pitches right now, and at times he's shown plus pitches with his stuff," Kipper said. "His fastball has been up to 93, 94 mph at times, and he also has shown me a very good slider at times, and I think he has a real nice change-up."
Saba, an 18-year-old switch-hitter rated by Baseball America in the preseason as the eighth-best prospect in the Red Sox organization, batted .266 with two home runs and 30 RBI in 192 at-bats with the Jackets this season.
Scouts say Saba has a chance to be an above-average offensive middle infielder, and also has shown good hands, good range and a plus arm at short. He also has shown some pop in his bat from both sides of the plate, but needs to cut down on his strikeouts.
The native of the Dominican Republic was sent to extended spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., two weeks ago after suffering a toe injury.
"It was going to be another week or two before Saba was going to play again for us, so it doesn't have the immediate impact on our club," Boulanger said. "But Saba was the main guy (the Padres) wanted. They're getting a very good young prospect."
While Boulanger regrets losing Tankersley and Saba, he says he hopes the trade opens doors for both players with the Padres, an organization with a traditionally weak farm system.
"It should give them an opportunity to get to the big leagues quicker," Boulanger said. "You know how it is when you see guys who are traded like that. They seem to get preferential treatment from the club they are traded to because they wanted him and obviously gave up something to get him. We wish them both the best."
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.