The Rangers found themselves 15.5 games back on July 31, 2007, sporting the third worst run differential in the American League at -55. The ballclub, while having some offensive firepower, had six hitters aged 30 or older that would go on to make at least 345 plate appearances, and the rotation was an absolute catastrophe. Kevin Millwood, Kameron Loe, Vicente Padilla, Brandon McCarthy (pre-reinvention) and Robinson Tejeda would all wind up with ERAs north of 4.86.
In one of the bolder moves in recent memory, General Manager Jon Daniels shipped slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira, who was signed through the following season, and lefty reliever Ron Mahay to the Atlanta Braves for a five-prospect package.
Atlanta would fail to make the playoffs that year, finishing with an 84 – 78 record and 5.0 games back. And the next season, Teixeira would be shipped off to the Angels for first baseman Casey Kotchman and right-hander Stephen Marek, who would fail to make it the big leagues.
As for Texas, three of the prospects — Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz — would develop into above-average big leaguers for the organization and help spur it back into yearly contention. Another one, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, would be shipped off to Boston where he’s developed into an underrated slugger. And the final prospect received, Beau Jones, would flame out in the minor leagues.
In hindsight, it’s an easy win for the Rangers — a landslide, really. But how’d it look six years ago?
The centerpiece of the deal was Saltalamacchia, a switch-hitting catcher with gobs of power potential. The former 2003 first rounder hit .314/.394/.519 with 55 extra-base hits as a 20-year-old in High-A in 2005. He followed that up with a bit of a disappointment, hitting .230/.353/.380 in Double-A. Salty would make his big league debut in 2007, hitting .284/.333/.411 in part time work with the Braves.
Andrus, 18-years-old and ranked as the 65th prospect by Baseball America, was an all-glove, light-hitting shortstop in High-A. He showed an above-average eye at the plate (10.0% BB-rate), very little power (.091 ISO), and good speed. Fast forward a few years and a $118 million deal, Andrus is essentially the same player – a below-average bat whose production is largely driven by his speed and defense.
Right-hander and occasional healthy starter Neftali Feliz was a largely unknown commodity, a wild card of sorts. He had thrown less than 60 professional innings, none of which came above rookie ball. Harrison, the 90th prospect prior to the season, was a left-hander with a strong feel for the strike zone, modest strikeout rates, and a decent fastball. Jones, a left-handed hurler, was always plagued by control problems, but averaged a punch out per inning.
Looking back, the Rangers were incredibly fortunate with the development of the players received. Saltalamacchia looked like decent bet to develop into a solid big leaguer, But Andrus and Feliz were both incredibly young in the lower levels of the minors and Harrison had the type of track record that would suggest he could go either way.
Each of the five had their flaws: Saltalamacchia only had the one great minor league year; Andrus didn’t really hit; Feliz had control issues, as did Jones; and Harrison just didn’t miss a ton of bats.
And with prospect attrition being high, the organization would have probably been satisfied receiving one above-average big leaguer and another solid contributor out of the group. Instead, 80% of the prospect package has developed into everyday-type players.
It’s a slam dunk now, but it really wasn’t one back then.
Photo of Mark Teixeira Courtesy of AP via MiLB.com