That moment was the first like it for Texas in 2010. And the last like it for Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
It happened on Opening Day, as Texas came back from getting no-hit into the seventh inning to walk off with a 5-4 win on Saltalamacchia's bases-loaded single off Toronto closer Jason Frasor.
He would pinch-hit for Taylor Teagarden in game two of the season, brought in to face Frasor with one out and one on in the bottom of the ninth, Texas down by three. Frasor got him this time, punching him out looking.
It would be Saltalamacchia's final appearance as a Ranger.
There have been very few baseball operations disappointments here since the five-step plan was implemented in the spring of 2007. Saltalamacchia ranks near the top of a short list.
But that's part of what makes yesterday's deadline trade of Saltalamacchia to Boston for three prospects (righthander Roman Mendez, first baseman Chris McGuiness, and a third to be named) plus $350,000 so fascinating for me.
On April 19, 1990, three days before that year's NFL Draft, Jimmy Johnson traded second-round and third-round picks to San Francisco for defensive end Daniel Stubbs, running back Terrence Flagler, and picks in the third and 11th rounds. Johnson used the third-rounder he got in the deal to move up four spots in the first round to take Emmitt Smith, but it's the other part of the trade with the Niners I want to focus on.
Coming off a one-win season, the Cowboys had a pair of rookie quarterbacks in Troy Aikman and Steve Walsh, a promising second-year receiver in Michael Irvin, and a deep inventory of draft picks. Johnson knew that the draft ammunition was key to the big picture, and so when he essentially parted with a second-rounder to get Stubbs (who had become the University of Miami's all-time sacks leader under Johnson's watch) and Flagler (who had amassed only 145 yards rushing in three NFL seasons), he was making a pretty bold investment in those two.
Johnson released Flagler on September 2, 1990, one week before what would have been his first game as a Cowboy.
That may have been because the drafting of Smith made Flagler expendable, but Johnson still wanted a veteran tailback around, and on the day after Johnson released Flagler, he traded a 1991 second-rounder and fifth-rounder to Houston for Alonzo Highsmith, who had also starred for him in college at Miami.
Johnson released Highsmith one month into the 1991 season.
And he released Stubbs one month after that.
I remember thinking how easy it would have been for Johnson to hang onto Stubbs and Flagler and Highsmith for a couple more years (on what were then still thin, developing rosters), and how most general managers probably would have, if for no other reason than to ward off the talk show segments pointing out how much they'd given up to get those players and how little they'd gotten out of them before dumping them back onto the street.
But Johnson didn't give a damn about how it would look. All he cared about was whether they could help him win. I loved that about him.
Despite media reviews of the July 2007 Mark Teixeira trade suggesting that Saltalamacchia was the key to the deal (and a blogger or two making the same claim), the Rangers were quick to point out that this was not "Saltalamacchia plus four prospects" for Teixeira and Ron Mahay. We now know that Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Beau Jones were all specifically targeted, and if Atlanta hadn't agreed to part with the minor leaguers in that deal, Texas might have moved Teixeira to Arizona or the Angels instead.
But Jon Daniels still had lots riding on Saltalamacchia, who was Atlanta's reigning number one prospect according to Baseball America (ahead of Andrus , Harrison , Jones , and Feliz ) and was viewed as the Rangers' long-term answer at catcher, eventually replacing incumbent Gerald Laird. Switch-hitter. Raw power, enough bat to be a candidate at first base. Athletic behind the plate, with a strong arm and quick feet. A hard worker. In the big leagues on his 22nd birthday, and in the eight weeks leading up to the trade, a .284/.333/.411 major league hitter. Six and a half years of control, at least. So much to like.
But what happened after that is well documented. The .745 OPS he put up in those two months with Atlanta became .721 in the final two months with Texas. Then .716 in 2008. And .661 in 2009.
And then five at-bats in 2010.
Saltalamacchia's time here was marked by a rash of injury issues, mostly tied to forearm soreness and numbness that led to thoracic outlet surgery late in 2009, and a lingering problem thereafter throwing the ball back to the pitcher, a struggle that may or may not have started out as a physical issue but that unquestionably became a mental one. At one point the Rangers reportedly set him up for daily work with the organization's performance enhancement staff.
And going back to that first series of the season, when he failed to disclose an upper back injury he'd sustained in the opener - leading Ron Washington (after the game two loss, in which Saltalamacchia never took the bat off his shoulder during his four-pitch, pinch-hit strikeout in the ninth) to tell reporters that the 24-year-old "put us in a bad situation" and "needs to mature," you have to assume that the young catcher lost some standing with the organization. Catchers need to be leaders, and setting an example is part of that.
An interesting comment yesterday from Boston GM Theo Epstein, regarding his new acquisition: "We feel like
he's a classic guy with a high ceiling who needs a change of scenery. He'd kind of been butting heads with the organization over there a little bit."
(And some interesting observations today from Bob Hersom of OKCRedhawks.com, who quotes Oklahoma City manager Bobby Jones as saying of Saltalamacchia: "He's different. I don't know how many friends he had in the clubhouse, but he was never disruptive and never a jerk. I mean, he's just in his own little world." Jones added, however, that Saltalamacchia worked his tail off in AAA.)
Most reports have suggested that Saltalamacchia had gotten past the yips while with Oklahoma City this spring, but after hitting early on (.377/.424/.623 in his first 14 games), he went cold, hitting .258/.290/.455 in May and .179/.291/.343 in June. Matt Treanor solidified the position in Texas once he replaced Saltalamacchia in April. Once Saltalamacchia was deemed healthy in April, and Taylor Teagarden was not hitting, Texas made the eye-opening move to option both to the farm, bringing Max Ramirez (a player they'd agreed to move over the winter to Boston for Mike Lowell and who never made much of a case in spring training for a roster spot) up from AAA to back Treanor up. Bengie Molina was acquired in July. When Treanor got hurt shortly after that, the recall went to Teagarden, not Saltalamacchia.
The thought four months ago that four players would see more time behind the plate for Texas this year than Saltalamacchia, when he's really only been shut down due to injury for a couple weeks, was probably as unlikely as his Opening Day battery mate, Scott Feldman, pitching himself out of the rotation. But at this point, to say the writing was on the wall as far as Saltalamacchia's place in the organization was concerned would be an understatement. Injuries, high expectations, centerpiece media treatment in a blockbuster trade. Whatever the reason, this was a player needing a fresh start.
A year and a half ago, when Jason Varitek was a free agent, rumors (mostly out of Boston) were rampant that the Red Sox wanted Saltalamacchia or Teagarden, and media speculation centered on one of Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Justin Masterson, or Michael Bowden coming back. While the rumors were never substantiated by club sources, Epstein did tell reporters yesterday that Saltalamacchia "came with a really heavy price tag in the past." (Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted yesterday that the Rangers' ask 18 months ago was in fact Buchholz, and several Boston beat reports suggest the same today.)
The Sox (whose catchers Varitek and Victor Martinez are both free agents this winter) took advantage of an opportunity to acquire him at a time when he'd seemingly fallen out of favor with Texas. Saltalamacchia (who will have only one option remaining after this season) will report to AAA Pawtucket this week, but is a good bet to join the Red Sox when rosters expand in September, if not sooner. Boston is banking on him figuring things out in his new environment.
Epstein's comment: "He's someone we hope we're buying low on right now, as he's battling a few different issues."
Epstein hopes so, having traded Engel Beltre (along with David Murphy and Kason Gabbard) to Texas for Eric Gagné, later on the same day that the Rangers had picked Saltalamacchia up in the Teixeira deal. The Beltre acquisition three years ago had A.J. Preller stamped all over it, and so does yesterday's addition of Mendez.
Signed by Boston for a relatively modest $125,000 in July 2007 (weeks before the Saltalamacchia and Beltre trades), the Dominican righthander turned 20 just last week and is still filling his 6'4" frame out, suggesting that the mid-90s velocity he sits at now could project for more. He's touching 98 now - and reportedly registered triple digits at least once for Short-Season A Lowell this summer (the first pitcher in at least four years to do so) - and has a slider that some describe as an out pitch with plus potential. The changeup apparently needs work. If it doesn't come along, Mendez could project as a late-inning reliever. For now, he starts.
Pitching in the Dominican Summer League in 2008, Mendez fanned 46 and walked only 16 in 51 innings of work, scattering 43 hits and posting a 2.65 ERA. Pitching stateside in 2009, he dominated the Gulf Coast League, walking only eight in 49.2 innings, holding the league to a .184 batting average and finishing with an ERA of 1.99. Only one player took Mendez deep all season (in his next-to-last inning of work), and in 10 starts and two relief appearances he allowed more than one run just two times. Baseball America named him the number 12 prospect in the league, and after the season tabbed him as Boston's number 23 prospect.
Boston challenged Mendez with a season-opening assignment to Low A Greenville in the South Atlantic League this spring, and the experiment didn't go particularly well. Facing hitters two and three years older, he made six starts, the final one of which came against Hickory on May 7. An Ed Koncel grand slam was among four hits he gave up to the Rangers affiliate in two-plus innings, during which time he also issued a walk, threw a wild pitch, and drilled Cristian Santana and Matt West. Sitting with an 11.40 ERA and a .392 opponents' average (but 18 strikeouts in 15 innings), he was sent back to extended spring training and reassigned to Lowell once that club's season got underway in June.
In eight Spinners starts, Mendez went 2-3, 4.36, holding the New York-Penn League to a .240 average while fanning 35 and walking 19 in 33 innings. He'll make a lateral move, joining Short-Season A Spokane for that club's final month-plus of play.
Is Mendez the next Neftali Feliz? Don't count on it. There's a spectrum of explosive arms in this system that includes Tanner Scheppers and Wilmer Font and Pedro Strop on one end, and Carlos Melo on the other, and it's too early to plot where Mendez belongs. But that's an outstanding arm to add to a system always looking for more.
Keep in mind that of the 10 players Texas traded this month to add Cliff Lee, Mark Lowe, Molina, Jorge Cantu, and Cristian Guzman, eight were pitchers. You can never have enough good ones.
The addition of McGuiness is a little different from the prototype prospect targeted by Texas the last few years. Whenever the club has zeroed in on something other than pitchers, they've typically been up-the-middle players. McGuiness, Boston's 13th-round pick in 2009, is not that. But given Justin Smoak's departure and Chris Davis's struggles, adding a first baseman with upside to the system makes some sense.
McGuiness stands 6'1", 210. Hits and throws left-handed. Short to the ball. Hits for average but flashes some power as well. Knows the strike zone; walks a ton, strikes out sparingly. Solid if unspectacular defensively. Not much of a runner. Pitched some in college.
If all of that reminds you of Mitch Moreland, it's no accident. Nothing wrong with adding another Moreland to the ranks, if that's what McGuiness is.
The 22-year-old from James Island, South Carolina (half an hour from Smoak's Goose Creek hometown) hit .367/.525/.667 for The Citadel as a junior in 2009, leading the nation with 65 walks (against only 22 strikeouts in 207 at-bats) and finishing 12th in on-base percentage. After signing with Boston for $100,000, he hit .255/.374/.434 for Lowell last summer, drawing 36 walks while fanning 40 times in 196 at-bats.
This season, playing first base for Greenville, McGuiness hit .298/.416/.504 with 53 walks and 59 strikeouts in 282 at-bats, swatting 20 doubles and 12 home runs. He was third in the South Atlantic League in reaching base, and fourth in slugging. His season included a ridiculous .337/.477/.566 run in 25 July games, prompting Texas to decide he's ready for a new level. He's being promoted to High A Bakersfield.
Incidentally, McGuiness went 9 for 28 off Hickory pitching this summer, hitting three home runs (off Neil Ramirez, Joe Wieland, and Tyler Tufts) in seven games.
We don't yet know the identity of the player to be named later, or the nature of the designation. One possibility is that it's a player that Boston drafted last year but didn't sign until August, which means he wouldn't yet be eligible to be identified (per the Incaviglia Rule, which makes drafted players untradeable until 12 months after signing). I believe six 2009 Red Sox draftees signed last August: third baseman David Renfroe (round 3), righthander Madison Younginer (7), righthander Kendal Volz (9), first baseman Miles Head (26), righthander Eric Curtis (28), and lefthander Tim Webb (31). I don't see any way one of the first three are included, and the latter three don't seem to stand out.
Another possibility is that the player to be named hasn't been selected yet (meaning the Rangers have a specified pool of players to choose from within a certain amount of time), or that there's another reason procedurally that the two teams haven't announced the name.
The $350,000 that Boston put into the deal shouldn't be overlooked. Daniels told reporters yesterday that it will be earmarked to try and get another two or three of the club's 2010 draft picks signed before the August 16 deadline. Key among the club's unsigned picks are two hard-throwing righthanders - supplemental first-rounder Luke Jackson, who has a commitment to the University of Miami in the bag, and fifth-rounder Justin Grimm, who has one year of eligibility left at the University of Georgia - not to mention University of Oklahoma third baseman Garrett Buechele, the club's 18th-round pick.
If the cash component of the Saltalamacchia trade does enable Texas to lock up another two key draft picks, Daniels has pointed out that the trade will have effectively added five prospects we like to the system, capping off a month in which the club traded 10 young players away to get Lee, Molina, Cantu, Guzman, and Lowe.
Saltalamacchia may figure it all out and come into his own in Boston, and if that happens, so be it. I think we all had a good sense that, for whatever reason, it wasn't going to happen here, and it's encouraging to me that, much like Jimmy Johnson, Jon Daniels not only had that sense as well, but didn't let the past investment influence the current evaluation.
[Photo courtesy of Matthew Emmons, US Presswire]
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(c) Jamey Newberg