"The Cowboys got nothing more than a huge handful of Minnesota smoke. And who knows if there'll ever be any fire. Love that steal for Minnesota.
"[G]ive it a year, or two, maybe three, then allow us to gather once again for a replay of Thursday's events. Roll will be called as we are taking names and checking close to see who is doing the beaming and the gloating. We definitely will find out whose train was really robbed."
― Randy Galloway, Dallas Morning News, Oct. 13, 1989
So many easy punch lines.
After those three years he had so proudly calendared, as Dallas was in the midst of its first of three Super Bowl title seasons out of four, Galloway was probably neither beaming, nor gloating, nor owning up to the fact that he'd pounded his chest ridiculing the Cowboys for the Herschel Walker Trade and congratulating the Vikings for pulling off such a slam-dunk heist: "It's a textbook example of how the strong fleece the weak in a blockbuster trade," Galloway had declared. "All they had to do was find somebody dumb enough to fall for it."
Thank goodness the Cowboys were dumb enough.
Nineteen years later, Galloway wrote, in the September 24, 2008 edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "What the Rangers will attempt to sell you for '09 is a strong farm system. What can't be sold is the idea any pitchers on the farm will arrive ready to go before 2010, and even 2010 might be overly optimistic."
And two days after that: "No one is re-inventing the game here. Any good baseball man can attempt to build through a minor league system."
A familiar, hollow Galloway theme.
And this: "The next Arlington excuse for keeping Daniels will come next week when Baseball America names the Rangers' farm system as No. 1, or at least in the top three out of 30 clubs. That's nice, but a good farm system can be judged only by how many major leaguers eventually surface, and in this case, how many pitchers show up. Prospects are nice. But the final verdict on prospects comes much later."
Yes, Randy, it does. In some cases not as much later as others, though.
In 2006, Texas drafted Chris Davis and Derek Holland out of junior college, signing Davis that summer and Holland the following spring as a draft-and-follow. Two years later, Davis not only arrived in the big leagues but served notice that he's going to be a force for a long, long time. Holland finished his first full pro season in Class AA, and will probably show up right at the top of that number one farm system in baseball when the industry lists come out.
I wouldn't expect Galloway - or any other local columnist - to have known a year ago whether Derek Holland was a Rangers farmhand or a linebacker who came over from the Vikings in 1989. I wouldn't expect Galloway to know today who Martin Perez or Wilfredo Boscan are. Or Michael Main.
But he's telling local sports fans that building through the minor leagues is simple, if not meaningless, in part I guess because the payoff isn't immediate enough for tomorrow's column, or this afternoon's throwaway talk show segment between football rants.
Galloway chided the Cowboys for trading the 27-year-old Walker for that "huge handful of Minnesota smoke": five players (linebackers Jesse Solomon and David Howard, corner Issiac Holt, defensive end Alex Stewart, and tailback Darrin Nelson) and seven draft picks - a first-rounder plus six conditional picks not only tied to the status of the five players, but spread out over four drafts.
With those picks, some of which were packaged in trades for more draft picks, Dallas brought Emmitt Smith and Darren Woodson aboard. And Russell Maryland and Kevin Smith.
And three Lombardi Trophies.
Now, the Rangers haven't won a Commissioner's Trophy. Or a playoff series. Or, in the last nine seasons, a playoff-clinching game. But that's not the point.
The point is this:
Jon Daniels made a decision a month or two into the 2007 season to implement a plan. A long-range, methodical, disciplined, meticulous plan. At the heart of the plan was a commitment to building from within, a systematic approach centered on the revitalization of the Rangers farm system and dedication to challenging young players and giving them opportunities to succeed here.
For all the outcry that Galloway and others are encouraging, consider the following:
1. Despite the decision to trade Mark Teixeira, Eric Gagné, and Kenny Lofton (not to mention Eddie Guardado) for much younger players, most of whom had not even reached AA when acquired, the Rangers went from a 46-59 record (.438) at the July 31, 2007 trade deadline to a 29-28 mark (.509) the rest of that season, and were better overall in 2008 (79-83) than in 2007 (75-87) even though virtually every key member of the 2008 pitching staff and starting lineup either missed a month or more, or played through lingering injuries that probably should have sidelined them.
Forget 2008's extreme valleys (April and August) and peaks (May through July) and look at the bottom line. Texas got younger this year, and got better, and the club developed an identity of resilience that should get only stronger going forward. This is where the early 2007 plan was supposed to be all along.
2. The Rangers had the league MVP over the first half (Josh Hamilton). They had what was probably the league MVP over the second half before he got hurt (Ian Kinsler). They have a young corner infielder with elite power (Chris Davis) and another on the way (Justin Smoak). They have two of the top 10 upper-level pitching prospects in baseball. They have four catchers with significant value, one or two of whom are likely going to be moved at some point for pitching.
Other than Gerald Laird, all the above players are under club control for at least the next four years.
3. As the 2007 season got underway, the Rangers farm system was the 28th strongest out of 30, according to Baseball America. Following that season, the system had vaulted to number four. A year later, the buzz is that Texas will be given BA's number one or number two tag this off-season.
"That's nice," Galloway says, but consider this: Coming into 2008, the top two farm systems in baseball according to BA belonged to Tampa Bay and Colorado. In 2007, Tampa Bay and Boston. In 2006, Arizona and the Dodgers. In 2005, the Angels and Dodgers. In 2004, Milwaukee and the Dodgers.
Notice anything about those teams?
While BA has yet to reveal its Organization of the Year, the publication has already issued 2008 Top 20 Prospects lists for each of the minor leagues, from AAA down to the rookie-level circuits. Oakland and Atlanta tied Texas for the most players (14 each) on the various league lists (and several obvious winners were left off because they lacked innings or at-bats because of promotions). Looking solely at the top 10 players in each ranking, Texas had 11 players show up; San Francisco was next with eight. Focusing only on each league's top five, Texas had five, while Oakland and Florida had four each.
4. While not as important as the improvement in Arlington and the depth of prospects on the farm, Rangers minor league clubs won a lot in 2008. Despite aggressive roster turnover throughout the system, four of six affiliates reached the playoffs (five of seven if you count the organization's primary Dominican Summer League entry), and collectively the seven clubs went 431-331 (.566).
Winning helps build winners.
5. Scouting director Ron Hopkins and his team of crosscheckers and area scouts are cooking, and have been since before the 2007 plan was launched: Taylor Teagarden, German Duran, Doug Mathis, Renny Osuna, Johnny Whittleman, John Mayberry Jr., and Steve Murphy in 2005. Chris Davis, Derek Holland, Kasey Kiker, Danny Ray Herrera, Marcus Lemon, Chad Tracy, Jake Brigham, and Brennan Garr in 2006. Michael Main, Julio Borbon, Neil Ramirez, Blake Beavan, Tommy Hunter, Matt West, Jared Hyatt, Evan Reed, Kyle Ocampo, Andrew Laughter, Mitch Moreland, Tim Smith, Josh Lueke, and Ryan Falcon in 2007. Justin Smoak, Robbie Ross, Tim Murphy, Joe Wieland, Corey Young, Clark Murphy, Mike Bianucci, Joey Butler, Jared Bolden, and Matt Thompson in 2008.
6. The Rangers hired A.J. Preller and Don Welke away from the Dodgers after the 2004 season (and brought Welke back in 2007 after he left to work with longtime associate Pat Gillick in Philadelphia in 2006). Their impact on the long-term plan cannot be overstated. Not only are they overseeing the franchise's significant resurgence in Latin America, most of which is on the pitching front, but their familiarity with kids like Neftali Feliz and Engel Beltre from their amateur days meant that when it came time to close the July 2007 trade deadline deals with Atlanta and Boston, the Rangers were going on far more than 66.1 pro innings or 125 relatively underwhelming at-bats when they insisted on those two teenagers. Preller and Welke knew the players, knew their upside, knew their character, probably knew their families.
7. A plan put in place in 2008 by the organization as a whole, steered by Nolan Ryan and executed by Rick Adair and the Rangers' minor league pitching coaches, saw a significant number of starting pitchers challenged with heavier workloads and multiple in-season promotions. By and large, the pitchers responded well. In some cases, extremely well.
8. And then there are those July 2007 trades.
If Dallas hadn't traded Herschel Walker, there's probably no Emmitt Smith and no Darren Woodson and no stretch of Super Bowl dominance.
If Texas hadn't traded Mark Teixeira, he finishes the 2007 and 2008 seasons here, and even with the production he would have given this club, it wouldn't have been enough to close the 16-game deficit in the Wild Card chase or the 21-game gap in the division this year, or the 19-game deficit in both races in 2007. Texas would have gotten two 2009 draft picks for him, one likely in the late first round and another in the supplemental first. Instead, we have Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, and Beau Jones. Four will play in the big leagues, possibly five, and two or three could star. And if Texas hadn't traded Teixeira, we wouldn't yet know whether Chris Davis could play at the big league level.
If Texas hadn't traded Eric Gagné, he finishes the 2007 season here, and (especially if he limped down the stretch as he did in Boston), we probably let him go for nothing. Even if we offered him arbitration, however, as the Red Sox did, the compensation for the Type B reliever would have been one supplemental first-round pick this past June. Boston used its compensatory pick (45th overall) to take Rice righthander Bryan Price, and signed him for $849,000. Instead, we have David Murphy (whom Boston paid $1.525 million to sign), Engel Beltre (whom Boston paid $600,000 to sign), and Kason Gabbard.
If Texas hadn't traded Kenny Lofton, he finishes the 2007 season here, and we let him go for nothing. Instead, we have Max Ramirez.
Randy, you do realize that flipping Teixeira, Gagné, and Lofton for nine young players last summer rather than recouping three draft picks for losing them actually accelerated the process by years.
You do realize that. Right?
And that would have been true even if only one or two of the players acquired took steps forward in 2008. In actuality, eight of the nine (Gabbard being the lone exception) did so.
Yes, the 2006 John Danks trade looks awful right now. There's no getting around that.
And Jimmy Johnson forfeited the first pick in the entire 1990 draft by taking Steve Walsh in the 1989 supplemental draft. With Troy Aikman already in place.
Repeating your words of warning to the fans a week ago: "What the Rangers will attempt to sell you for '09 is a strong farm system. What can't be sold is the idea any pitchers on the farm will arrive ready to go before 2010, and even 2010 might be overly optimistic."
Don't tell ESPN's Keith Law it can't be sold, Randy. In a piece he wrote this week about Holland, the lefthander who signed out of junior college in 2007 but will probably be in Rangers Ballpark before the next time you are, Law said this about the pitcher, and the company he keeps: "Holland is so polished and has been so dominant that he might appear in the majors by mid-2009, but that just puts him in the vanguard of the strongest and deepest crop of pitching prospects of any organization in the game, something that is to the credit not just of general manager Jon Daniels but his amateur and international scouting staffs as well."
And the system's pitching instructors.
This long-term plan doesn't work without continuity. Continuity in guidance, and in execution.
Galloway, now 10 years into a Star-Telegram stint that followed 32 years with the Morning News, said when he changed papers that the Morning News was uncomfortable with, even scared of, his penchant for infuriating its customer base. The folks at the Morning News "don't like angry readers," said the self-proclaimed iconoclast in an October 1998 D Magazine article about his departure for what was at the time the largest contract ever paid to a newspaper writer in this market. "And boy, I could make them angry."
Isn't that basically what this, like so many other Galloway themes, boils down to? He wants to make you angry.
The great Blackie Sherrod, who penned the Morning News counterpoint alongside Galloway's column on the Herschel Walker Trade, offered this: "So, the humble suggestion here is that the Jaybirds had to trade Mr. Walker - the sooner the better or watch his value decrease and, in the case of injury, vanish altogether. Whether they made a profit will not be immediately apparent. Like one detective said to the other on a stakeout: Might as well loosen our belts and get comfortable. We're gonna be here awhile."
Jon Daniels was smart to trade Mark Teixeira when he did. He was smart to trade Eric Gagné and Kenny Lofton when he did. Time will tell whether that trio of deals will collectively be his Herschel Walker Trade. Still, however popular or unpopular those moves were at the time, they were made out of a commitment to a long-range plan, a plan that is working not only because those tough decisions were made, but also because the Rangers have a general manager and a baseball operations crew and a team of pro scouts (not to mention amateur scouts) and minor league coaches and instructors in place who are talented at spotting young talent, and developing it.
As Sherrod said, we're gonna be here awhile.
That is, it may very well take a while for this plan to play out all the way. There's still plenty of work to be done. But if it continues to work the way it has the last 18 months, the idea is not just that the Rangers will contend again, but that when that time comes, we're gonna be here awhile.
That's not good enough for Galloway (whose Herschel-to-the-Vikings column featured the after-jump headline "Cowboys wear smiles now, but they blew Walker deal"), who will surely write another version or two of the same column before December's Winter Meetings, suggesting as he did last week that "Nolan Ryan blundered . . . by keeping the GM and the manager for next season."
He'll roll the same stuff out again, hoping to make you angry, declaring as he did in 1989 that the weak are getting fleeced by the strong, only he had it backwards 19 years ago, and I wouldn't rule out the possibility that he's got it backwards again. We'll call roll in a year, or two, maybe three, and check to see who is doing the beaming and gloating.
The right people are in place in Arlington, making the decisions that, for the last year and a half, have had this franchise on track to being good again. Contrary to what Randy Galloway would have your friends and co-workers believe.
Steal a Galloway line and suggest to them one thing:
Hear him out if you must.
But don't be dumb enough to fall for it.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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