On October 4, 2005, the 2010 Texas Rangers took steps to becoming the first team in franchise history to win a playoff series.
Tack onto that another playoff series win, advancing to the World Series for the first time in franchise history and instilling a long-lost hope for baseball in North Texas.
This is the day that general manager John Hart stepped down from his position, leaving 28-year old Jon Daniels in charge of a team that had not reached the playoffs since 1999.
Daniels was given a team with arguably the most talented young infield in the game in Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeira, Michael Young and Hank Blalock.
However, only one of these promising players was on the Rangers World Series roster in 2010.
Let’s take a look at how Jon Daniels’ trade success (and failure) led to a team that came out of nowhere to capture the imaginations of fans across the country.
The Alfonso Soriano Trade
Days after being handed the team, Daniels made his first big trade as GM. It was also one of his worst. Daniels shipped off Soriano to the Washington Nationals for outfielder Brad Wilkerson, outfielder Termell Sledge and pitcher Armando Galarraga.
Wilkerson’s time in Texas was incredibly unfulfilling, leaving Texas after two years with a batting average for the Rangers of .228 while playing in only 214 games out of a possible 324.
Sledge is most remembered in Texas as being involved in another bad Daniels trade, one we’ll discuss later.
Armando Galarraga, unlike Sledge, did find success in the majors, throwing a near perfect game in the summer of 2010—for the Detroit Tigers. Galarraga finished his career in Texas with a 6.23 ERA and was traded to Detroit in 2008 for Michael Hernandez.
All Soriano did for the Nationals was hit 46 home runs while also stealing 41 bases, finishing third in the MVP balloting.
He then went onto a good career as a Chicago Cub being of the select few that can combine plus power and plus speed.
The Adrian Gonzalez Trade
Texas Rangers fans have played the “what if” scenarios over and over again in their heads over this one. A month after the Soriano trade, Daniels got the itch again and dealt the incredibly talented first base prospect Adrian Gonzalez to San Diego along with starting pitcher Chris Young and the aforementioned Termell Sledge. Texas received in return (get ready to cringe) starting pitcher Adam Eaton, relief pitcher Akinori Otsuka and Billy Killian.
Adam Eaton had a career ERA of 4.34 with the Padres, never winning more than 11 games in a season before being sent to Texas. As a Ranger he made 13 starts with a 5.12 ERA, leaving after the season.
The one success from this trade for the Rangers was Otsuka. Otsuka pitched for the Rangers for two seasons, recording 36 saves and owning a miniscule 2.25 ERA. He has not pitched in the majors since 2007.
On the other hand, San Diego found success in Young, who won 33 games over five years, owning an ERA of 3.60.
What happened to Gonzalez? He is now considered one of the best all-around first basemen in the game. He mans first for the Boston Red Sox and has hit over 32 homeruns four of the past five seasons while also hitting for a high average.
Swing and Miss.
The Nelson Cruz Trade
The trade that started to turn things around for the Daniels administration occurred in July of 2006. The Rangers acquired Nelson Cruz, the starting right fielder for their World Series run. Yet Cruz was not the acquisition ranger fans were most excited about.
On July 28, and in the thick of a playoff push, Daniels pulled the trigger on a deal that would send Francisco Cordero, Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench and Julian Cordero to the Milwaukee Brewers for Cruz and highly sought-after Carlos Lee.
Lee was expected to come in and lead the Rangers to the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
It was not to be, and Lee bolted south after the season to the Houston Astros. The trade appeared to be destined for disaster early.
After a few years of struggling between AAA Oklahoma City and the big league club, however, Nelson Cruz finally put together all the pieces to his enormous potential at the end of the 2008 season.
He then became an All-Star in 2009 and carried that over into the rangers’ memorable 2010 run. Cruz batted in the heart of a potent Rangers offense and delivered time and time again, with the numbers to back him up.
Although not apparent at first, the Cruz trade contributed overall to the Rangers' incredible run about as much—if not more—than the next few (higher profile) trades.
The Mark Teixeira Trade
This trade, at the end of Daniels’ career, will be the one he is most remembered for. On July 31, 2007, amidst high speculation, Daniels traded superstar Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay to the Atlanta Braves for a group headlined by Jarrod Saltalamacchia signaling to Ranger fans that the team was in full-on rebuilding mode.
Teixeira’s career, before and after the trade, has been one that makes you wonder whether the trade was a success or an epic failure. Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, All-Star appearances, and a bevy of other awards are those owned by Teixeira.
Why trade arguably the best young hitter and defender in baseball at his position for any amount of prospects. The stats show that many high profile prospects fizzle out in the pros and never amount to anything.
Daniels knew that the entire organization needed an overhaul, and the chance to acquire five top prospects for Teixeira was a risk that needed to be taken. If just two of the prospects flourish in the majors, you can count the trade a success. So who was it going to be to succeed and make Daniels look like a genius?
Saltalamacchia? The centerpiece of the deal? If you had to put your money on someone to be the superstar, it would probably be the one that gets the most recognition at the time of the trade.
Well, Salty’s career has been nothing short of disappointing; he has failed to live up to the hype. As a Ranger, he owned a .243 batting average with 19 homers over four seasons. He is now currently residing on the Boston Red Sox roster.
Beau Jones hasn’t seen the majors since the trade and is currently playing for the Rangers AAA affiliate in Round Rock.
Matt Harrison was a highly touted Braves’ prospect at the time of the trade and has had an up-and-down career. He is the Rangers’ No. 3 starter and started the 2011 season 3-0 while going at least seven innings and not allowing more than one run a game.
Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus were both just 18 at the time of the trade—Feliz, a rookie-level right handed fireballer, and Andrus, a shortstop in High-A ball. These names, just prospects at the time, have turned into the crown jewels of the trade.
Andrus was ranked by Baseball America as being the Braves No. 2 overall prospect before the trade and was heralded as a possible Gold Glove defender. Jamey Newberg, noted blogger for the Rangers, made this comparison between Andrus and floundering Rangers prospect at the time Joaquin Arias:
“Andrus shows the plus range, plus arm, and fluid hands that Arias has always shown, not to mention the athleticism and promise of offensive productivity as his body matures. He exhibits an advanced ability to use the entire field with the bat, his walk rates are unusually good, and he's an instinctive player in all phases.”
While Arias, who was chosen over Robinson Cano by the Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez trade, has failed, Andrus has fulfilled much of the promise at a very young age.
Andrus has developed into one of the more exciting players in the game with his incredible range and arm at shortstop. He gets to balls up the middle that have never been gotten to before from other Ranger shortstops. He is a Gold Glove winner waiting in the wings for the baseball community to stop their obsession with Derek Jeter.
Feliz, the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year, has fulfilled all the promise—and then some—for the Rangers. Newberg also wrote this about Feliz at the time of the trade:
“In 29 innings last year, Feliz used a mid-90s fastball that reportedly touches 98 with late life, plus a still-immature slider and change, to hold hitters to a .192 average -- and no home runs -- issuing 14 walks and punching out 42 hapless opponents. He was at his best down the stretch, logging 11 scoreless innings in four August appearances, scattering four hits and one walk while fanning 15 hitters. At the conclusion of the season, Baseball America judged his fastball to be the best in the entire Braves system, despite just 39 innings of work in his two pro seasons combined.”
Taken from the same article by Newberg, Baseball Prospectus said, “"This is a teenager with a lightning arm who could turn into a frontline starter or a dominant closer, but right now, he's a teenager with a lightning arm."
Nail on the head. Feliz has been a lights-out, shutdown closer and set-up man for Texas since his call up in 2009. He owns a .232 ERA and 47 saves while striking out over a batter an inning.
The future is bright for young Feliz, whether as a shutdown closer or future ace of the staff.
The Cliff Lee Trade
The 2010 season was unlike any other in Rangers history. Coming into the season, the Mariners were the talk of the American League West by boasting two of the best pitchers in baseball in Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, and the best defense on paper. The A’s were young and talented but still seemed a year away, and the Angels were the incumbent west champions and favorites to repeat.
The Rangers, full of young talent in Andrus and then-setup-reliever Neftali Feliz, were ready to take the next step in their rebuilding process—which began with the Teixeira trade three years prior.
Coming off a scorching hot June, The Rangers found themselves in first place in the west with a growing fan base. All of a sudden, the Rangers had gone from a cellar-dwelling franchise to a playoff contending team—seemingly over night to the rest of the baseball community.
Jon Daniels, however, was not happy with just a playoff contending team, and neither would the emerging fan base. Enter Cliff Lee.
Approaching July 9, it was all but assured that the Yankees would trade top prospect Jesus Montero—along with others—to the Mariners in exchange for Lee. But with the Mariners coveting Rangers first-base prospect Justin Smoak, Daniels and the Rangers come out of nowhere to land Lee and immediately turning the Rangers into serious World Series contenders.
Daniels sent Smoak along with pitchers Blake Beaven and Josh Lueke and infielder Matt Lawson to the Mariners in exchange for Lee and Mark Lowe. Newberg responded to the trade with:
“That Texas landed baseball’s best left-handed pitcher, a proven big game warrior on a short list of the league’s best pitchers, period, without giving up Perez or Scheppers or Holland or Hunter or Ogando is sort of stunning. I understand that Seattle was targeting a young hitter. But I’m still having trouble getting my head wrapped around a deal for a pitcher like this where you part with a young blue-chip position player but don’t have to dip into what is a very deep top tier of your pitching prospect stable – and that’s without even considering that you had to have the Mariners put cash into the deal, something other teams wouldn’t have insisted on.”
In the future, Justin Smoak will be an All-Star for a long time as a Mariner. Everyone in the Rangers organization knew this. But when you feel you’re one piece away from competing for a title, these are the risks you take. There will be many-a-game when Rangers fans will watch Smoak trot around the bases and think about what could have been. But the goal was to reach the playoffs and win a series for the first time in franchise history.
Jon Daniels has overcome ugly trades early-on in his career to become one of the most talented general managers in all of baseball. Through these trades, Daniels landed Andrus, Cruz, Lee and Feliz while also making room on the roster for second baseman Ian Kinsler.
This is not a concise list of all of Daniels’ successes and failures though. 2010 MVP Josh Hamilton was not even mentioned. Nor was the inability of Daniels to pull the trigger on a trade that would have sent Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to the Rangers instead of the Red Sox.
Whether he remains in Texas or moves on to other opportunities, Daniels has engraved a winning attitude on this team and this community and will forever be remembered as the architect of the first American League champions in franchise history.