Preferring not to dwell on the state of Elvis Andrus’s elbow or Shin-Soo Choo’s elbow, or Mitch Moreland’s oblique or Adrian Beltre’s quad, or the Rangers’ odd comments after last night’s game that the trip to the mound (with the trainer) to go get Alexi Ogando before he threw a pitch in the fourth had nothing to do with any physical issue, something happened last night, and all month, that’s made me think back seven years, to a time when Mark Teixeira was still a Ranger, Sammy Sosa hadn’t yet returned for his second tour here, the Five-Step Plan had not yet been set in motion, and Michael Choice was coming off his junior season as a catcher-second baseman for Mansfield Timberview High.
Jon Daniels had been on the job for a year and Ron Washington had been Rangers manager for a month and a half when, on December 23, 2006, a dozen days after Baseball America had named lefthander John Danks the Rangers’ number one prospect (after the 21-year-old had finished second the three previous years, respectively, to Adrian Gonzalez, Thomas Diamond, and Edinson Volquez), Daniels traded Danks and righthanders Nick Masset and Jake Rasner to the White Sox for righthander Brandon McCarthy and outfielder David Paisano.
The idea, the Rangers said, was that McCarthy, two years older than Danks and with 150 innings of big league experience (compared with Danks’s 70 frames at the AAA level), was ready to contribute (at least more so than Danks) and that Texas (coming off three straight third-place finishes and seven straight no better than that) was ready to win. Neither was particularly true.
McCarthy was DL’d with a blister and then DL’d with a stress fracture in his shoulder and gave Texas 101.2 innings of below-average production in 2007, while Danks — who was supposed to need a little more AAA seasoning — made the Chicago rotation out of camp and logged 139 healthy innings.
The Rangers, not ready to win, finished last in the West in what was otherwise a landmark year in franchise history, as the club tore things down by trading Teixeira (and Eric Gagne and Kenny Lofton) and killing it in both the draft and internationally, bringing young players like Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, draft-and-follow Derek Holland, Martin Perez, Mitch Moreland, Neftali Feliz, David Murphy, Tommy Hunter, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Engel Beltre, Julio Borbon, Leury Garcia, Neil Ramirez, and Matt West. It would have been very cool if Danks arrived at the front of that wave.
Danks was a lot better in 2008 than McCarthy, who spent most of the year on the disabled list (forearm).
Danks was a lot better in 2009 than McCarthy, who spent half the year on the disabled list (shoulder).
Danks was a lot better in 2010 than McCarthy, who spent all year in AAA and on the disabled list (shoulder surgery).
Granted, Texas made it to the World Series that year without either of them. McCarthy’s Rangers career ended unceremoniously that November when the Rangers outrighted him, Esteban German, and Doug Mathis off the 40-man roster. McCarthy had the procedural right to refuse the assignment and move on from what had been a disastrous run with Texas. He did that, and signed with Oakland a month later, after a strong showing in the Dominican Winter League.
Five months before the A’s signed McCarthy, they signed Choice, their first-round pick that summer out of UTA.
Choice was the 10th overall pick in that 2010 draft. Danks had been the ninth overall pick in 2003.
And that’s not the primary parallel I’m hoping to draw here between the two Texas preps.
The Rangers said they traded Danks-plus for McCarthy-plus because they thought that they were ready to contend and that Danks wasn’t as ready as McCarthy to help them do that. The White Sox were willing to wait a little longer on Danks — and it turned out they didn’t need to.
The A’s presumably traded Choice-plus for Craig Gentry-plus because they know their window is wide open right now and believed Choice wasn’t ready to contribute to the immediate cause, at least not at Gentry’s level.
The Rangers were willing to wait a little longer on Choice — and it turns out they may not need to.
Now, I’m not going to suggest Gentry, whose back injury has him yet to make his first appearance on the field for Oakland (he took BP on Sunday for the first time in nearly a month), is about to embark on a plagued run with the A’s as far as his health is concerned. He’s always been injury-prone — fluky stuff — but he’s an established (30-year-old) big leaguer, a proven winning piece. Trading for veteran role player Craig Gentry is not the same as trading for promising young starting pitcher prospect Brandon McCarthy.
Gentry can play for my team any day — and, as a matter of fact, at this point so can McCarthy.
But just as Danks surprised a lot of people by being ready right out of the gate, Choice — whose walkoff infield single late last night capped off a two-hit, one-walk effort that raised his camp slash line to .381/.409/.476 — has relentlessly proven this month that he’s ready to play in the big leagues, and help Texas win.
Now, Choice could be this year’s version of Borbon, or Minnesota’s Aaron Hicks, who was getting Rookie of the Year projections after his .370/.407/.644 run in camp with the Twins last year, before a .192/.259/.338 line in the big leagues led eventually to a return to AAA. It’s been an extraordinary camp for Choice, offensively and defensively and in the way the local product has impressed coaches with his work ethic and approach, but translating spring training production to the games that count isn’t automatic, once he’s facing nothing but big league pitchers who are no longer working on their third pitches, and the league starts to develop a book on the kid. Baseball is hard.
But what Choice has done so far in camp, earning a job that wasn’t necessarily set aside for him when the Rangers made the December trade to get him — just as Danks wasn’t supposed to win an April job when Chicago made its December trade to bring him in — has been a huge shot in the arm, an expression that I apologize for and that, given the way Rangers camp has gone from a health standpoint, makes me hopeful that this is the last report I write anytime soon that invokes the name of Brandon McCarthy.