It was one of the worst Texas losses of the disappointing 1997 season, a Wednesday afternoon collapse in Colorado in which first-year Ranger closer John Wetteland, signed months earlier away from the Yankees club that had just bounced Texas from its first-ever playoff appearance, entered in the ninth with a 1.82 ERA, a .198 opponents’ batting average, and a 9-6 cushion, but couldn’t make it stand up and in fact failed to record an out. An E-6, single, and Andres Galarraga homer knotted the game up 12 pitches into that June 18 ninth, after which Wetteland surrendered a double, an intentional walk, a bunt on which nobody was retired, and a bases-loaded walk to Walt Weiss that ended the game.
Texas went on to lose four straight at home to Seattle and then two more at home at Anaheim’s hands, and in the process went from a game behind the Mariners to six games back. The Rangers lost another three of five after that, and on June 27 they were eight games out. It was a bad 10 days.
A month after that, having dropped another couple games in the standings, Rangers GM Doug Melvin made three trades in the space of 18 days. They weren’t the type that grabbed national headlines (like Oakland sending Mark McGwire to St. Louis around the same time, the White Sox making their “White Flag Trade” with the Giants, or those Mariners deciding that shipping rookie Derek Lowe and prospect Jason Varitek to Boston for Heathcliff Slocumb was well conceived), but they were instrumental in helping reshape a roster that would get back to the playoffs in 1998, and again in 1999.
· July 25: Dean Palmer to Kansas City for Tom Goodwin (locking down center field, and opening third base up for prospect Fernando Tatis)
· July 29: Ken Hill to Anaheim for Jim Leyritz and player to be named Rob Sasser (Leyritz would be sent, three months later, to Boston with deposed center fielder Damon Buford for Aaron Sele [five years younger than Hill] and two former Rangers, Bill Haselman and Mark Brandenburg)
· August 12: Ed Vosberg (nearly 36 years old, middle reliever) to Florida (his 11th change of organization) for former Ranger Rick Helling (age 27)
Texas doesn’t get back to the playoffs in 1998 without the trades for Helling, Sele, and Goodwin, two of which were made with contending teams (the Angels and Marlins) and the other of which allowed the club to get younger at a key position.
July 1998 “buyer’s” trades for Royce Clayton, Todd Zeile, Todd Stottlemyre, and Esteban Loaiza helped, too.
Then, after the 1998 and 1999 seasons resulted in playoff sweeps at the hands of New York, Melvin decided to shake things up, trading Juan Gonzalez to Detroit in a nine-player deal after he declined a Larry Walker-level extension with Texas. And in July 2000, with the Rangers mired in another disappointing season that would end up with the club 20.5 games behind the A’s, Melvin moved Loaiza to Toronto for two mid-level prospects, one of whom was named Mike Young.
Different circumstances call for different plans from the GM’s office, and maybe you sense where I’m going with this.
But first, let’s pick back up where we left off.
Oakland, which won the West in that 2000 season, fell in a decisive Game Five in the ALDS, which is exactly what would happen again to them in 2001, and in 2002, and in 2003, and I suppose it’s debatable whether that’s a worse plight than Texas 2010-2011 — no, of course it’s not — but the A’s remained competitive in 2004 (91 wins, one game out of the playoffs) and in 2005 (88 wins, seven games back), before returning to the post-season in 2006 and this time getting past the first round (sweeping Minnesota) before getting hammered in the ALCS (getting swept by Detroit).
The A’s then won an average of 76 games in the five years from 2007 through 2011, finishing an average of 19 games back in the West.
Two distinct Oakland A’s eras in one 12-year span: winners from 2000 through 2006, retoolers from 2007 through 2011.
And it shows almost as clearly in the club’s trade history as it does in the AL standings over those two periods.
In that 2000-2006 period of consistent contention, Oakland GM Billy Beane made buyer’s trade after buyer’s trade, dealing for players like Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Billy Koch, David Justice, Ray Durham, Keith Foulke, Erubiel Durazo, Jose Guillen, Mark Redman, Octavio Dotel, Jason Kendall, and Milton Bradley, getting older and more established in almost every move, and I only leave Nelson Cruz (.326/.390/.562 over High A/AA/AAA in 2004) and Justin Lehr (strong AAA relief peripherals) for part-time second baseman Keith Ginter (when the A’s already had the similarly aged and handed Marco Scutaro around to step in for the injured Mark Ellis) off the list because it was a weird-looking deal even back then.
Gone were legitimate prospects like Angel Berroa, A.J. Hinch, Mario Encarnacion, Eric Hinske, Tyler Yates, Jon Adkins, Neal Cotts, Jason Arnold, Aaron Harang, Bill Murphy, Michael Neu, Mark Teahen, Mike Wood, Andre Ethier, and Cruz, and a quick look over that list suggests the A’s, for the most part, traded pretty well.
Even their payroll-driven sell-off of Mark Mulder after the 2004 season (to St. Louis for prospects Dan Haren, Daric Barton, and Kiko Calero) worked out well, even if the Tim Hudson trade two days earlier (to Atlanta for reliever Juan Cruz and prospects Dan Meyer and Charles Thomas) didn’t.
The 2007-2011 seasons brought a wave of seller’s deals for the A’s, and Beane — who has far from a spotless trade history (witness his two brutal trades involving Matt Holliday in 2008 and 2009) — was effective for the most part in that role as well.
Gone via trade were Haren, Kendall, Bradley, Nick Swisher, Rich Harden, Joe Blanton, and Orlando Cabrera, and in those trades Beane collected players like Carlos Gonzalez, Josh Donaldson, Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Chris Carter, and Jerry Blevins. A later trade that sent Gio Gonzalez away ultimately netted Oakland’s current catching tandem of Derek Norris and John Jaso, shortstop Jed Lowrie, and lefthander Tommy Milone.
Mix in under-the-radar, buy-low free agent signings like Coco Crisp (2009-10 winter), Brandon McCarthy and Grant Balfour (2010-11 winter), and Brandon Moss and Bartolo Colon and Jonny Gomes (2011-12 winter), an effort that continues (August 2012 purchase Jesse Chavez, 2013 waiver claim Dan Otero, even 2014 free agent signee Scott Kazmir, last week’s trade for change-of-scenery candidate Kyle Blanks), and . . . .
If I didn’t hate the Oakland A’s so much, I’d love them. One league scout told MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince this week that “[h]ands down, [the A’s have] the most intelligently put-together roster in all of baseball.” There’s not one position player on the club that Oakland drafted and developed itself, and the only two pitchers who fit that description, starter Sonny Gray and closer Sean Doolittle, include one (Doolittle) that was a first baseman-outfielder until a conversion to the mound in his fourth pro season.
Norris told Castrovince: “I guess in a way you could say we all have something in common in that we were all traded over here kind of in the same way. We were all in a position where we were a piece that wasn’t quite a fit for that [previous] ballclub at that particular time, but we were a piece that could fit into a mold over here.”
Fit is a big deal, and nobody is doing a better job at finding it right now than Oakland.
Which is not a knock on the Rangers. I will put Jon Daniels’s player acquisition track record up against anyone’s. The 2010 and 2011 World Series rosters were multi-year efforts in the making, boosted by:
· key trades enabled by strong drafts and player development (Josh Hamilton, Cliff Lee, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, Bengie Molina, David Murphy)
· free agent pickups – both on the impact end (Adrian Beltre) and those of the more under-the-radar variety (Colby Lewis, Vladimir Guerrero, Darren Oliver, Endy Chavez)
· the development of players who weren’t premium draft picks (Ian Kinsler, C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland, Mitch Moreland, Craig Gentry)
· well-timed (and well-scouted) small-print pickups (Alexi Ogando, Darren O’Day, Matt Treanor, Andres Blanco, Jeff Francoeur)
· Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli, two acquisitions of spectacular proportions that deserve their own category
Yu Darvish and Leonys Martin came later, while another couple massive waves of minor league talent arrived before those two World Series (Martin Perez, Jurickson Profar, Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross, Nick Tepesch, Rougned Odor, Luis Sardinas, Leury Garcia, Mike Olt, Christian Villanueva, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, Jorge Alfaro, Luke Jackson, Drew Robinson) and since then (Nick Martinez, Michael Choice, Joey Gallo, C.J. Edwards, Chi-Chi Gonzalez, Ronald Guzman, Nomar Mazara, Nick Williams, Lewis Brinson, Travis Demeritte, Ryan Rua, Alec Asher, Keone Kela, Kyle Hendricks, Cole Wiper, Andrew Faulkner, Pat Cantwell, Jairo Beras), restocking the system and keeping the pipeline flowing.
But back to the reason today’s entry focuses on the two Oakland A’s phases that preceded the current one.
It’s too soon to pigeonhole the Rangers as sellers, no matter what kind of baseball mood you’re probably in right now. But we know enough about Daniels and his crew to know they are going to be fully prepared to operate on either side of the mid-summer market, whether the club wins 8 of its next 10, or the opposite.
Is Adrian Beltre conceivably this year’s Dean Palmer? (No. But you get the point.)
What if Holland comes back after the Break from his bad knee and fires a handful of gems in a row, much like Matt Garza did last June and July — would Daniels dare trade the 26-year-old if he could get a return like the one Garza netted the Cubs? Or that Harden (26 at the time, as Holland is now) brought Oakland from the Cubs in 2008 (a four-prospect package headed by Donaldson), even if it’s not at the level of what Beane got from Arizona for Haren (also 26), namely, Carlos Gonzalez, Anderson, Carter, Greg Smith, and more?
What if Joakim Soria can bring back a young, mid-rotation starter like Helling?
What if Cotts finds his groove and can net the type of package Texas gave San Diego (Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland) for Adams, or Baltimore (change-of-scenery types Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter) for Uehara?
Would Daniels be willing to trade a promising young pitcher like Martinez or Tepesch, even in a seller’s mode?
Or Alex Rios, who could be extra-valuable this winter when the free agent market stands to be thin in outfielders? Texas could decline his 2015 option and feel comfortable tendering a qualifying offer this winter without freezing his market, thereby setting itself up to recoup a supplemental first-round pick. Or the Rangers — even if they don’t see Rios in their plans for next season — could nonetheless exercise his 2015 option and possibly trade him in the off-season for something meaningful . . . either of which would suggest they wouldn’t accept a Leury Garcia-level return for Rios now (like they gave up last summer — when Chicago could shop him to Texas only, as it was a post-July 31 deal) since they would likely be looking at the more valuable first-rounder a year from now by holding him until the winter.
Those supplemental first-rounders are worth a lot, Gallo and Jackson and Olt and Demeritte and Ramirez and Scheppers and Hunter would like to remind you.
You’re not going to get a Gallo-level prospect for anyone the Rangers would be willing to trade right now, but you might get one of those supplemental firsts if you hold onto Rios.
I almost deleted the last sentence but will instead just ask the question: Would Daniels trade Andrus or a healthy Profar?
You absolutely can’t rule those possibilities out, especially with Odor (a “poor man’s Robbie Cano,” one league executive tells CBS Sports columnist Jon Heyman, and a player whom Michael Young said last week is one of his five favorite players to watch in the game right now, in part because “he comes to kick your ass”) entering the picture.
Especially if someone comes at you with an admitted overpay, as Texas did with Garza 10 months ago.
It never hurts to add to the next wave (Gentry for Choice) if the deal fits, especially if the window within which you think the veteran can help dictates (if, say, injuries have mercilessly bloodied your team into a non-contending pulp by mid-season) that you move on from him.
Theoretically, there’s some extra money to spend this summer since Texas is greatly limited internationally this year based on their tactical overspend in that market last July and since there’s reportedly millions in found money by way of the insurance the club had taken out on Harrison.
But that doesn’t mean you have to be a spender. There’s other ways to get richer.
Believe me, it was fun when the emails I’d get about Profar were about fitting him into the Andrus-Kinsler puzzle, because the big club was then arguably ranked as highly as a contender as Profar was as a prospect. The messages asking if it might make sense to rush Gallo to the big leagues (it doesn’t) to revitalize a flagging offense are less fun to field.
But I do like thinking about how Gallo and Alfaro and Williams, and Gonzalez and Jackson and Asher, and Andrus and Profar and Odor and Sardinas, are going to fit into this thing, not to mention the players that some of them will eventually be traded for.
And maybe this whole mind exercise is moot, because maybe the Rangers are about to take this two-out-of-three run and turn it into eight-out-of-11 after these four in Detroit and four in Minnesota, and we can start talking about Texas extending its league-best streak of four straight 90-win seasons, and maybe the next 2,500-word report will be about the left-handed ace being dangled by the owners of the AL’s second-worst record, down in Tampa, a club that happens to be thin at middle infield at the big league level and every level beneath it, and not about the historical instructiveness of a baseball game in June of 1997.
Because you can’t predict ball, whether you’re the momentarily unstoppable Oakland A’s or the Texas Rangers, who haven’t yet put their biggest bat on what’s now a 13-man disabled list, and it would be a lot less fun if you could.