Trades & timing.

When the Padres had young catchers Benito Santiago and Sandy Alomar Jr., they traded the latter in a deal (with Carlos Baerga and Chris James) to get Joe Carter.

And when the Reds had young shortstops Barry Larkin and Kurt Stillwell, they traded the latter as the key player in a deal for Danny Jackson.

On the other hand, Boston had third basemen Jeff Bagwell and Scott Cooper and, instead of moving Bagwell to first base (where Carlos Quintana held things down), shipped him to Houston for reliever Larry Andersen.

Minnesota, with Joe Mauer ready, traded fellow catcher A.J. Pierzynski well, sending him to San Francisco for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser.

The Dodgers, blessed with blue-chip third base prospects Paul Konerko and Adrian Beltre, did reasonably well by moving Konerko (with Dennys Reyes) to the Reds for closer Jeff Shaw.

Toronto, however, would probably like to have rethought its decision to take its four middle infield prospects at the start of the decade and trade Michael Young (and Darwin Cubillan, for Esteban Loaiza) first, while waiting too long to move Brent Abernathy (for Steve Trachsel and Mark Guthrie), Cesar Izturis (with Paul Quantrill for Luke Prokopec and Chad Ricketts), and Felipe Lopez (in a four-team deal) for Jason Arnold.

The Rangers and Expos both did just fine when Montreal, with third baseman Tim Wallach ready, traded Larry Parrish and Dave Hostetler to Texas for Al Oliver.

Even in hindsight, Texas sending Rich Aurilia (with Desi Wilson) to San Francisco for John Burkett doesn't seem unreasonable, unless you consider that (1) Aurilia ended up having an exponentially better career than the Rangers' more heralded shortstop prospect, Benji Gil; and (2) the Rangers, um, non-tendered Burkett when the players' strike ended and he never suited up here (until two years later, when it took Rick Helling and Ryan Dempster to get him again).

Got Troy Aikman and Steve Walsh? Flip Walsh to New Orleans for three draft picks, which would ultimately turn into Erik Williams, Dixon Edwards, Jimmy Smith, and a few others. Cool.

A young Steve Nash shut out of Phoenix minutes by Jason Kidd and Kevin Johnson? Send him to Dallas for three roster-fillers and a first-round draft pick that would become Shawn Marion. That worked out well.

More so than when Toronto solved its first base "problem" by selling Cecil Fielder to the Hanshin Tigers because of Fred McGriff's arrival.

The great thing about depth, especially in young players with bright futures, is not just the obvious accumulation of talent, but also the opportunities it creates to get better in other areas through trades.

But you have to trade well, which means to time things right and evaluate properly.

The timing may have been right, for instance, for Texas to trade Travis Hafner six years ago. The problem was in the evaluation.

The challenge facing Jon Daniels over the last 12 months or so has been a lot more complicated than deciding which of Gerald Laird, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and Max Ramirez was the catcher he wanted to build with. Payroll impact came into play. Service time and nearness to free agency factored in. Age, too, of course. And versatility.

And maybe most of all, trade value.

Which, unlike the other factors listed above, can be a moving target -- in either direction -- and must be timed.

Time will tell whether Guillermo Moscoso can make the leap that some think he's on the verge of, taking his ability to miss bats and command the strike zone to the big leagues in one role or another. And whether Carlos Melo can be the new Neftali Feliz in two years, or if he's just another Melvin Brazoban.

Who knows how close the timing was to giving Texas a chance to sell high enough on Laird at a time when Cincinnati was at least reportedly open to the idea of selling low on Homer Bailey, an exchange that would have been inconceivable at any other time since Bailey was drafted number seven overall in 2004? If you believe the reports coming out of Las Vegas, that trade would have been made, maybe with sweeteners, had the Reds been willing.

Who knows whether Texas had opportunities to trade Laird for a better return before now? Maybe two winters ago, when he was coming off a .296/.332/.473 season as the outgoing Rod Barajas's backup, but Texas was going into 2007 with a 40-man roster that included Laird, Miguel Ojeda, Chris Stewart, and Guillermo Quiroz, with non-roster invites Salomon Manriquez and Kevin Richardson. Saltalamacchia was still with Atlanta, Ramirez still with Cleveland, and Teagarden was 38 games into his minor league career. Laird was basically untouchable then.

When Daniels made the three July 2007 trades that have a chance to redefine this organization, netting Saltalamacchia and Ramirez and Feliz and Elvis Andrus and David Murphy and Matt Harrison and Engel Beltre and Beau Jones and Kason Gabbard, Laird -- hitting in the .230's -- was not much of a candidate to be shipped off along with Mark Teixeira, Eric Gagné, Kenny Lofton, and Ron Mahay.

After the 2007 season Laird was probably available, but as a .224/.278/.349 hitter heading into his first arbitration year, his market couldn't have been very strong.

During the 2008 season, Texas apparently shopped Laird -- there were reports of an offer to Florida for righthander Chris Volstad, with the Rangers padding the deal with a prospect -- and as many as eight teams were identified in July as having some degree of interest (even though Laird was sidelined with a hamstring strain from June 21 until July 26), but Daniels didn't get the deal he wanted, and gambled that Laird's value would hold up into the winter.

Again, we don't know whether Texas was offered something more attractive than Moscoso plus Melo in the last six months -- even if not at the level of a Volstad -- and we can probably assume that there have been offers for Saltalamacchia and Teagarden that were better than what Texas accepted for Laird. But Laird was a short-timer here, and you can't say that about the other three with nearly the same degree of certainty.

Laird has two more years as an arbitration-eligible before he can take free agency in the winter of 2010, at age 31. Teagarden is four years younger, Ramirez five, Saltalamacchia six. Laird's at-bats dropped from 407 in 2007 to 344 (partly due to injury) in 2008; had he remained in Texas, they probably would have dropped again, dragging his trade value down in the process. If Laird was in a backup role, his history suggests he would have been vocal about his frustration, and that's not something this young team needs. If he were to get starter-level playing time, Scott Boras was going to take Laird to the market two years from now, where he'd probably cash in.

That should be around the time that the Rangers are where they want to be, with Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton and Chris Davis and Saltalamacchia (and maybe Ramirez) right in their prime, Michael Young still producing, Elvis Andrus and Julio Borbon and Justin Smoak and Engel Beltre arriving, and Derek Holland and Feliz and Michael Main and maybe Martin Perez and any number of their fellow pitching prospects learning how to pitch in the big leagues. It makes sense to have a long-term catcher in place to help in that process, not a situation where the starter at that crucial position is about to leave for a richer deal.

Now, if Boston had said Clay Buchholz was available? Sure, I'd be open to moving Saltalamacchia in that case (even if that opportunity were to present itself now, with Laird gone -- Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal each suggest that Daniels will still listen to offers). Saltalamacchia is going to hit, and maybe really soon. But I don't regret trading Edinson Volquez, either -- there's nothing wrong with a win-win deal, and the Rangers would be fine at catcher with Teagarden and Ramirez (or a veteran backup) going forward, and Manny Pina on the way.

But Boston wouldn't trade Buchholz to Texas, evidently, just as the Reds wouldn't trade Bailey for Laird.

Again, trade value is a moving target, and as Daniels and his crew internally set price tags on each of the club's four catchers (possibly one that said "not for sale" on Teagarden), the job became sorting through trade partners to find the right deal, or deals, and be fine with things if no team stepped up acceptably, as in July.

Yes, Jay Bruce arguably made Josh Hamilton expendable a year ago. But if the offers for him looked more like John Rheinecker than Edinson Volquez, the Reds would have found a way to go forward with Hamilton, at least to start the season.

Was the trade of Laird just as much about clearing payroll space as it was about adding two more arms to the system? Maybe. We'll have a better answer in a month or two. Especially if there's also a trade of Hank Blalock or Marlon Byrd or Frank Catalanotto, or maybe even Kevin Millwood or Vicente Padilla. Getting cheaper at catcher may just be step one in an effort to make room for a big splash somewhere else on the roster.

Dial back to July 2007. Texas was struggling in the West, which had prompted a front office decision to implement a wholesale, methodical long-term effort to get stronger and deeper on the farm. Coming off the high of the huge June draft that produced Main, Borbon, Blake Beavan, Tommy Hunter, and Neil Ramirez in the first round, and whiteboarding the different trade scenarios that would reshape this organization dramatically at the end of that month, the Rangers were squarely focused on the big picture.

Meanwhile, Detroit was 20 games over .500 and atop the AL Central, so it was probably lost on Tigers fans, understandably, that on July 11, the club signed Melo, a flamethrowing 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, for $165,000, and that four days after that, Moscoso fired a perfect game for Short-Season A Oneonta in the New York-Penn League (for manager Andy Barkett, the former Rangers farmhand).

Melo wouldn't throw a professional pitch that summer. Moscoso would go 8-2, 2.18 between Oneonta, Low A West Michigan, and High A Lakeland but, logging only 90.2 innings (79 strikeouts, 16 walks) as Detroit continued to ease him back after 2005 shoulder surgery, that performance wasn't enough to land Moscoso a spot as one of the top 30 prospects in what Baseball America ranked as the number 29 farm system out of 30 coming into 2008. Neither righthander had pushed his way onto the Tigers radar, at least as far as national experts were concerned.

Different story a year later. Melo debuted in the Dominican Summer League, posting a 5.14 ERA over 49 innings but registering 61 strikeouts (11.2 per nine innings) while walking 20 batters (3.7 per nine). But that's less meaningful than the 93-96 that Melo was reportedly triggering on the gun, at age 17 with a projectable 6'3", 180-pound frame.

Feliz had only 66.1 pro innings to his credit when Texas insisted he be part of the Teixeira trade. Beltre had only 125 pro at-bats when the Gagné trade went down. The Rangers know the Latin American landscape better than most, and when you see a name like Melo tacked onto a trade like this one, the club gets the benefit of any doubt that may be out there.

As for Moscoso, his 2008 workload was once again light -- 86.2 innings between High A Lakeland and AA Erie -- but his results started attracting attention. The 6'1", 160-pound righthander scattered 60 hits (.194 opponents' average, eight home runs) and 21 walks (2.2 per nine innings) while setting 122 down on strikes (12.7 per nine), locating a lively, deceptive low-90s fastball and mixing in a solid curve and developing change. The Tigers added him to the 40-man roster in November to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, and BA just ranked him as Detroit's number 10 prospect, suggesting a possible Jair Jurrjens upside.

A few splits jump out. While at Lakeland, after missing the season's first six weeks with shoulder soreness, Moscoso posted a 3.72 ERA in relief -- yet an impossible 29 strikeouts and one walk in 19.1 innings -- and a 1.65 mark in six starts. He appears to be flyball-prone, which is obviously a red flag in this ballpark. But get this: with runners on base in 2008, Moscoso struck out 41 batters in a span of 112 at-bats -- and walked two.

In his career, Moscoso not only has more strikeouts than innings pitched, but has five times as many strikeouts as walks. He's a strikethrower who the club thinks could come quickly. The plan is evidently to use him in a minor league rotation to begin the season, but a transition back to the bullpen at some point is certainly conceivable.

Incidentally, according to multiple reports, there was a deal in the works last week between Texas and Detroit that would have involved a third team, which would likely have sent a pitching prospect to the Rangers. No word on who that team was or the parameters of the near-deal, but it would stand to reason that it might have been an effort on the part of the Tigers to find a way to satisfy Texas without having to part with Melo.

ESPN.com reports that Detroit tried to trade for Angels catcher Mike Napoli first but found Los Angeles's price to be too high (I'm guessing it probably involved righthander Rick Porcello or lefthander Casey Crosby), before getting serious with Texas about Laird.

I'll have to get to the Baseball America ranking of the Rangers' top 10 prospects, and all the good stuff that comes with that feature, another time. Hank Blalock and Michael Young and Kevin Millwood and Ben Sheets and Brad Penny and Kerry Wood and Chad Cordero and Edwin Jackson and Freddy Garcia and Cory Sullivan and Milton Bradley, too.

I'm out of gas and would be selling low. Timing counts.

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title_authors

Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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