Very few of us probably consider the Texas Rangers a model franchise. Chances are, as Royals’ fans, we would be more likely to lump Texas in with the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels than to put them in with teams such as the Rays or Twins: teams that we often look to for a blueprint as to how to make the Royals competitive.
What struck me during the recently completed three game set against the Rangers was how the heart of their very formidable lineup was actually assembled. Would it surprise you to know that Michael Young is the only key player (I’m ignoring Jeff Franceour and Cristian Guzman because I want to) in that batting lineup that is making more money than David DeJesus? Or that only Vlad Guerrero is really the only high profile free agent acquisition?
Let’s start in the infield where the Rangers struck gold with a 17th round pick in the 2003 draft named Ian Kinsler. He’s been hurt some this year and hence subjected Royals’ fans to seeing Andres Blanco go 6 for 12, but he is an undeniable talent when healthy. He made his debut with the Rangers just three years after being drafted and has locked down the everyday second base job ever since.
Across the diamond is veteran Michael Young. He was acquire way back in July of 200 in exchange for Esteban Loaiza. At the time, Young was hitting .275/.340/.426 in AA, which was the worst line of his then three and one-half year minor league career. Loaiza was a 6th year pitcher with a then career ERA of 4.72 and WHIP of 1.445. If you could trade Brian Bannister for a AA middle infielder would you do it? That is basically what Texas did back in 2000 and while Young may not quite justify his now $16 million salary, this was still a great trade.
Young played second base his first year up in 2001, but eventually moved to shortstop until just two years ago. I bring that up to point out that despite having Young at short, the Rangers had no problem acquiring Elvis Andrus in July of 2007.
That, of course, was the year that Texas traded Mark Teixeira – their franchise player and former first round draft pick – to Atlanta for Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. (Ron Mahay also went with Teixeira to Atlanta as part of that deal). Essentially, trading Teixeira was the Rangers’ equivalent deal to the Royals trading Carlos Beltran.
What is different about that is that Rangers went and got the best talent they could, regardless of what they might have needed on the big league level. Instead of saying we have to have a catcher and a third baseman (sorry, Allard Baird), the Rangers got talent and sorted the rest out later. Keep in mind, besides Young in the majors, Texas also had Joaquin Arias playing shortstop in the minors. At the time, Arias was a highly thought of prospect as well.
Andrus was rated by Baseball America as the #65 prospect in baseball and ended up at #18 by the next season. He was hitting .244/.330/.335 in High A that July and the Rangers would have to wait until 2009 before reaping the real benefits of this trade. He alone might have made this deal worthwhile, but the Rangers also got a closer in Feliz and another potential starter in Harrison.
Of course, the first base picture is pretty cloudy for the Rangers right now as they traded Justin Smoak as part of the Cliff Lee deal. It is an interesting thought to ponder, but if the Royals has somehow been in contention this season, would you have entertained trading Eric Hosmer as the centerpiece of an acquisiton of Lee?
The outfield presents some even more interesting trades: first and foremost being Josh Hamilton.
We all know the Hamilton story, former number one overall who was eventually drummed out of baseball, resurrected his personal life and eventually was taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Cubs in 2006. Hamilton was immediately sold by the Cubs to the Reds for whom he posted a .292/.368/.554 line over 90 games during the 2007 season.
On December 21, 2007, the Rangers traded Edison Volquez (their #3 rated prospect and #56 overall in baseball) along with AA reliever Danny Herrera to the Reds in exchange for Hamilton. That was a risky move, given Hamilton’s personal problems and injury issues. It was especially dicey given that Volquez had struck out 166 hitters in 144 minor league innings spread across three levels the previous summer. For lack of a better comparison, the Rangers basically gave up their Mike Montgomery and, say, Louis Coleman for Hamilton.
Another trade acquisition in the outfield is Nelson Cruz. Back in 2006, he came to the Rangers along with Carlos Lee in exchange for Julian Cordero, Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix and Francisco Cordero. Cordero (Francisco, not Julian) was in the midst of an off-season, but had saved 86 games the two season prior to 2006. Mench and Nix were, well, Mench and Nix.
For his part, Cruz had posted very good minor league numbers prior to this trade and then huge AAA numbers afterwards. He struggled in the majors and was, at one point, taken off the Rangers 40 man roster – a missed opportunity that haunts me to this day (I really, really did think the Royals should have made a move back then). While Lee gave the Rangers a nice half season before leaving via free agency, Texas really didn’t realize the bounty of this trade until Cruz hit 33 home runs last year and has followed up with a .943 OPS so far in 2010.
Now, Joakim Soria is better than Cordero was or is, not to mention younger and farther from free agency than Francisco was at the time, but this is a ‘closer’ trade. We would all want more than Nelson Cruz and half a season of Lee in return for Soria, but the Rangers’ willingness to entertain offers is valid learning point for the Royals’ organization.
The final piece of the puzzle is either Julio Borbon (1st round draft pick) or David Murphy. I bring up Murphy because he was acquired by the Rangers in what I would call their ‘Octavio Dotel deal’.
You might remember that prior to the 2007 season, the Rangers signed Eric Gagne. After being THE dominant closer in the majors, Gagne had managed to toss a grand total of just 15 innings in 2005 and 2006 combined. Much as the Royals did with Dotel for half a season, the Rangers babied Gagne through a very effective 33 innings of work (29K, 23 hits, 2.16 ERA) and then traded him at the deadline to Boston for Murphy, Engel Beltre and Kason Gabbard.
At the time, Murphy had a five year minor league line of .273/.343/.407 and was in his second year of AAA ball. He has since compiled a decent major league line of .278/.338/.456. Essentially, Murphy is better than Mitch Maier, but not quite as good as David DeJesus (although you could make the case that he is pretty close to David).
Gabbard at one time looked like a guy who might be a decent major league starter and Beltre is still in AA, sporting all sorts of potential and not a whole lot of actual production. Of course, Gagne imploded for the Red Sox, so the Rangers won that deal solely on a Gagne for Murphy level.
On Tuesday, Nick posted a column on Kyle Davies that sparked some excellent debate and I don’t quite know how to equate Dotel for Davies versus Gagne for Murphy. They are certainly very similar deals.
Through this entire dissertation, I am not intending to point out how the Royals might have botched deals, but simply how the Rangers built one of the better batting orders in the league. They did it via the draft, via the trade of their franchise player (who they acquired via the draft), and by trading their own prospects and by acquiring prospects from other teams.
Sure, along the way the Rangers have spent tons of money on free agents, but in the end, they have a powerful lineup that any team in baseball could afford. Am I advocating trading Mike Montgomery, Eric Hosmer and Joakim Soria? Not really.
Instead, I am just pointing out that while we look longingly at the Rays and the Twins, it might not hurt to survey the Texas Rangers as well.
And yes, I would trade Mike Montgomery for a shot at the next Josh Hamilton.