We thought we were so smart. On January 27, Bob Sturm and I traded Mike Napoli, plus a fourth-round pick and $20 in free agent budget dollars, to the Wylie Fighting Jackasses for Marlins third base prospect Matt Dominguez, a second-round pick, and a third-round pick.
When we used that second-rounder on Rays reliever Joel Peralta and the third to move up a couple of spots in the first round to nab Yankees lefthander Manuel Banuelos, we were looking for buckets of Gatorade to pour on each other's heads. Such clever GM's-man-ship on the Sturminators' part, since Napoli - who had moved from Toronto to Texas two days before we opportunistically pawned him off on Wylie - was probably not going to play a whole lot of catcher now that he was a Ranger, and his role as a right-handed first baseman and DH wasn't even all that well defined, with Michael Young likely to get most of his at-bats in exactly that way.
Our trade, of course, was a monumental disaster.
Except when compared to what the Angels did.
Forget for a moment that the Rangers ran away from the Angels over the last couple weeks of the season, and think back to September 10, for instance, when a 6-0 Los Angeles shutout of the Yankees, accompanied by an 8-7 Rangers loss to Oakland at home, cut the Texas lead in the division to a mere 1.5 games.
The Angels had money to spend last winter. So much so that more than one national pundit suggested they were positioned to sign Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre and Rafael Soriano. Not landing Crawford was defensible, given the Angels' outfield situation, and more than one team feared a long-term commitment to Soriano.
Peter Gammons tweeted, earlier today: "Adrian Beltre begged the Angels to sign him, lives 30 minutes from park. Instead, they traded Napoli for [Vernon] Wells. Beltre/Napoli . . . division."
It's a subject we've visited more than once this year: Los Angeles had a need for Beltre in the lineup, a hole at third base, and a marquee player who wanted to be there.
According to reports, including one from ESPN's Buster Olney, the Angels offered Beltre a guaranteed $77 million over five years this winter. Texas offered a guaranteed $80 million. A difference of $600,000 per year - less than one-half of one percent of the Los Angeles payroll. It's just crazy that that club didn't match the Texas proposal, which probably would have made Beltre an Angel, if Gammons is to be believed.
Committing $16 million per year to Beltre if you were willing to commit $15.4 million per year shouldn't have been a difficult baseball decision. If there's any doubt about that, consider that two weeks later, Los Angeles compensated for not landing Beltre by acquiring Toronto's Vernon Wells, no longer Beltre's equal offensively or defensively (not to mention playing less of a need position for the Angels), and who would be owed $23 million in 2011 ($5 million of which the Blue Jays kicked in), another $21 million in 2012, another $21 million in 2013, and another $21 million in 2014.
The circumstances that made Beltre a Ranger rather than an Angel obviously had a big impact on this division race, and very well could for the next few years.
But tack on the fact that, to get Wells, Los Angeles shipped Napoli (and Frosty Rivera) to the Jays, days after which Toronto flipped Napoli to Texas for Frankie Francisco, and - well, someone with sabermetric chops can analyze what the Angels' production would have looked like with Beltre and Napoli rather than Wells and whatever portion of the Jeff Mathis/Bobby Wilson/Hank Conger at-bats would have gone to Napoli instead . . . and how the Rangers' offense would have been impacted without Beltre's .296/.331/.561 and Napoli's .320/.414/.631 in 2011.
Which is to say nothing of the massive impact both guys have had on this club's pitching and defense.
As demonstrative and emotional a player as Beltre is, Napoli comes across as a lot more quiet, at least on the field. But tonight, he looked as fired up as the rest of us to put it to the Angels once again, and almost single-handedly lock down home field for Texas.
Thank goodness the Angels decided to draw the line on Beltre at $77 million, because if they hadn't, there's obviously no Beltre in Texas - and no Wells in Los Angeles, which at least presumably would have meant Napoli remaining an Angel, and not becoming a Ranger.
If it had all gone down that way in January, what would the Rangers' 1.5-game lead back on September 10 have looked like?
I don't know how much better the Sturminators would have fared in the GTFBA this season had we not outsmarted ourselves by moving Napoli, but you put him and Beltre on the Angels in 2011, and I have a hard time believing the Angels would have been the team doing the chasing earlier this month.
As for the Rays coming in here with a better James Shields than they had last year, plus Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore, don't forget that they no longer have Matt Garza or Carlos Pena or Crawford or Soriano or Jason Bartlett or Joaquin Benoit or Grant Balfour. They're playing tremendous baseball at the moment. So are the Rangers.
And no, there's no Cliff Lee in Texas any more, but the rotation is better otherwise, the bullpen is dramatically better, and then there's Napoli and Beltre.
I'd have preferred to draw Boston, and either way would obviously have liked to see the Rays and Red Sox have to go at it in a Thursday play-in that would have compromised the winner's ALDS rotation plans, but right now no team in the league wants Texas, and there's not a left-handed pitcher in the game - not David Price or Matt Moore or anyone else - who wants to see Napoli or Beltre at the plate.
I don't know if the Angels would be making plans for Game One right now if they'd suited Napoli and Beltre up this year rather than Texas, but they'd have made themselves a better baseball team with those two guys, and the Rangers a less potent one.
What Napoli did tonight to help secure home field for Texas and a matchup with the Wild Card rather than a trip to Yankee Stadium will get lost amidst what has been perhaps the most epic night of baseball in my lifetime. The events in Tampa and Baltimore and Atlanta and Houston will be the subject of documentaries a generation from now, while the season Napoli had, doing 1.045-OPS damage while playing the most demanding defensive position very well, is just one piece of a very well-rounded ball club.
It's been a year for Napoli that probably made a much bigger bang in fantasy leagues around the world, a Bautista/Votto/Cabrera/Pujols type season from the position where production is the most scarce, a commodity that only the most foolish fantasy league owners would think about trading away.
And one whose departure a Major League franchise has to be seriously second-guessing, especially when he ended up with the team to beat in the division, an issue brought to the surface on a night when he helped his new team leverage its playoff position further and reminded his old team, with an exclamation point, that he might have been a real difference between packing it in for the season on Wednesday and making arrangements for 162+, just a couple days from now.