Pretending that they were on the doorstep of a championship when, in fact, they weren’t has cost the Texas Rangers dearly over the years. The cost of going out and buying that ‘one extra veteran piece’ seems to turn out to be ridiculously expensive far more often than not.
Most of you know that on a Saturday, July 29, 1989, having lost four of their last five games and trailing the juggernaut Oakland A’s by eight games, the Rangers traded three young players to the Chicago White Sox for DH Harold Baines. A fine player and a big upgrade over who had been getting most of the att-bats at DH that summer (Rick Leach).
By the end of the year, Texas had fallen from third place to fourth in the AL West, and had fallen from eight games back when the deal was made, to 16 games back.
Exactly 13 months later, the Rangers traded Baines to Oakland…for pitcher Scott Chiamparino (now one of Scott Boras’s chief henchman) and the spectacularly anonymous Joe Bitker.
The three kids Texas gave away all had big league careers with varying degrees of success: lefty starter Wilson Alvarez was a key to the successful White Sox clubs in the early-to-mid 90’s, Scotty Fletcher was a somewhat useful shortstop for many years and, of course, the skinny 20 year old Dominican kid in that deal — outfielder Sammy Sosa — went on to have a pretty good career.
Texas was trumped a year later when the Orioles thought they needed to add a big bat to their lineup, so they went out and got what was left of All-Star Glenn Davis at the cost of three relatively unknown kids named Curt Schilling, Pete Harnisch and Steve Finlay. Baltimore finished sixth in the AL East that year. Davis played in only 185 games for the Orioles over the three years in Baltimore and then retired from baseball.
That’s ancient history, of course, but more recently, a string of similarly short-sighted moves have made the Rangers far less talented than they could be.
In November of 2000, the Rangers didn’t trust a young, up-and-coming second baseman named Michael Young whom they had acquired the previous summer in a trade with Toronto for Esteban Loaiza, so they went out and traded for 38 year old veteran Randy Velarde. Why not? Velarde didn’t cost much. Just a couple of anonymous low level minor league pitchers. One, Ryan Cullen, never amounted to anything.
The other? His name was Aaron Harang, a big pitcher toiling in the lowest levels of the minors. Since then? He’s delivered double-digit wins and over 200 innings a year for Cincinnati on a habitual basis for five seasons now.
Velarde? He played in 78 games for Texas that year, was run over by Young who seized the position, and then — when he had no value — was traded to the Yankees in July for Randy Flores and Rosman Garcia.
I didn’t think so.
At about the same time, the Rangers traded once-heralded outfielder Ruben Mateo for once-heralded pitcher Rob Bell. It was a trade of disappointments, with the thinking that each might benefit from a change of scenery. As an incentive, the Rangers ‘threw in’ an anonymous low-level minor league third baseman named Edwin Encarnacion, who hit .289 / .346 / .438 with 16 homers and 78 RBIs for Cincy last year.
Arguably the two worst moves of Jon Daniels’ tenure as General Manager were made under the premise that the Rangers were close to competing for a title and therefore needed to trade young players for more trustworthy veterans who were ready to contribute to a big league pennant race right away.
Youngsters Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez begot veterans Adam Eaton and Aki Otuska. John Danks and Nick Masset begot “battle tested” Brandon McCarthy. Armando Galarraga was exposed to waivers (and subsequently traded for ‘whatever we could get’) to make room for Jason Jennings.
Danks possesses the American League’s third best ERA. Gonzalez leads the National League in home runs at first base. Masset has proven to be an excellent utility man out of the White Sox bullpen this year. Galarraga, at 7-2 with a 3.03 ERA for Detroit, has become the best starter in what most people thought would be the most loaded rotation in baseball.
I hear talk about Texas making a ‘minor’ move this July to acquire another bullpen arm, but as the Harang-for-Velarde deal suggests, there are no minor deals. In this particular context — adding a bullpen arm — there are a myriad of horrible mistakes that should remind us all that the risk just isn’t worth it.
For example: Eighteen years ago, the Red Sox felt they needed to add a bullpen arm for the pennant drive and — voila’ — 22 innings of Larry Andersen cost them 15 years of Jeff Bagwell. Eric Gagne for David Murphy, Engel Beltre and Kason Gabbard may very well make Red Sox fans forget about that nightmare someday.
If the Rangers need to inject something new into their bullpen — and clearly they do — then look within (his name, by the way, is Warner Antonio Madrigal, and he’s currently killing PCL hitters).
Trust the kid Michael Young rather than spend precious capital for the veteran Randy Velarde. Don’t forfeit a talent like Adrian Gonzalez for a thirty-something Aki Otsuka. Believe in Chris Young and John Danks instead of shipping them off for Adam Eaton and Brandon McCarthy.
I’d rather watch Eric Hurley continue to grow into his role in the middle of the rotation than deal him for someone more “battle tested” like Randy Wolf, or even Zack Greinke.
If someone comes to you looking for a left-handed bench bat, then by all means sell Frank Catalanotto. Don’t expect much — the Rangers gave up Joselo Diaz for lefty bat Matt Stairs four years ago. If someone comes to you offering a deal that recognizes Milton Bradley as one of the best hitters in the game (as opposed to an emotional and physical risk), then snap it up. If not, then pass. One way or another, the Rangers are virtually guaranteed to come out way ahead on Bradley.
Jon Daniels doesn’t have to do anything unless he’s absolutely overwhelmed. Standing pat and giving this ballclub a chance to continue to gel and grow together is completely defensible. Selling off Bradley or even Gerald Laird for a Teixeira or Gagne-like package is obviously defensible.
But pretending like the addition of one bullpen arm to this mix is going to radically change things is, in my opinion, like putting a band-aid on a broken leg. It looks like you are doing something, but it’s not going to make a real difference. The leg is going to heal — or not — with or without the band-aid.
And the price of that band-aid might turn out to be Aaron Harang, or Curt Schilling, or Pete Harnisch, or Steve Finlay, or Jeff Bagwell, or….