How Mark Teixeira and Atlanta Braves Took Texas Rangers to World Series

Timothy HowellCorrespondent IIJune 19, 2011

How Mark Teixeira and Atlanta Braves Took Texas Rangers to World Series

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    Now wait a minute, how'd I help get the Texas Rangers to the World Series?
    Now wait a minute, how'd I help get the Texas Rangers to the World Series?Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    When the Texas Rangers selected Mark Teixiera with their fifth pick in the first round of the 2001 MLB Draft, they arguably landed a future Hall of Famer.

    In his first season with the Rangers, Teixiera was an immediate success, hitting 26 home runs, playing stellar defense, and finishing fifth in the ROY voting.

    Over four full seasons with Texas, Teixiera averaged 35 home runs per year, collected two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers, and received one All-Star nod.

    Now with the New York Yankees, Teixiera—despite eight-plus big league seasons under his belt—is still in the midst of his prime at just 31-years old.

    He's a mere four home runs away from 300 for his career and is just shy of collecting  his 1400th base hit.  

    If Tex can manage to stay healthy and productive enough to play until he's 40, his numbers could easily be good enough make him a "lock" for the HOF—especially considering that he never appeared on the Mitchell Report.

    But the Rangers decision to let Tex go at the 2007 trade deadline might have been the best decision the team has ever made, and it was absolutely instrumental in getting Texas to last year's World Series, the first in the franchise's existence.

Alex Rodriguez: A Failure as a Ranger

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    Alex Rodriguez apparently practicing a "split-fingered" grip while amidst a summer of losing with the Texas Rangers
    Alex Rodriguez apparently practicing a "split-fingered" grip while amidst a summer of losing with the Texas RangersRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    Mark Teixiera was to be a free agent after the 2008 season. A Scott Boras client, Teixiera would command top dollar if the Rangers were to re-sign him.

    But, as was especially noticeable during the 2007 season, Tex had become increasingly upset with what he viewed as the front office of the Rangers' unwillingness to spend enough money to put together a team worthy of contention.

    Tex had a valid argument—even as early as 2007, Rangers owner Tom Hicks' ineptitude was beginning to rear its ugly head.  

    Tex's current teammate with the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez, was signed by the Texas Rangers in 2000 for the unbelievable sum of $252 million, to be paid out over a 10-year contract.

     For Rangers fans, the signing was extremely exciting—they'd be able to call one of the game's best overall players their own.

    But the contract itself would prove to be fiscally irresponsible, and it would be the beginning of the end for both Tom Hicks and his ownership group.

    Essentially, A-Rod's contract brought the Rangers bankruptcy rather than a pennant, and it would make the Rangers front office a little gun-shy in terms of spending money on players, even with Tex repeatedly asking management to put a contender on the field.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: The Centerpiece to the Mark Teixiera Trade

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    A fresh-faced Saltalamacchia during his rookie season for the Atlanta Braves in 2007.
    A fresh-faced Saltalamacchia during his rookie season for the Atlanta Braves in 2007.Doug Benc/Getty Images

    By the end of May 2007, the Rangers were sitting at 19-35 and had played themselves right out of another season. Everyone knew that it was time to rebuild once again and that Mark Teixiera would be the centerpiece of any potential trade.

    On July 31, the Texas Rangers, despite multiple offers from various teams, decided to trade their star first baseman to the Atlanta Braves.  

    When its all said and done, this deal may go down as one of the most lopsided trades of all time—Tex is just one man, and the Rangers have already seen two of the trade returns play in an All-Star game, with one winning a ROY award.

    Mark Teixiera went back to his home state of Georgia with left-handed reliever Ron Mahay in return for five key Braves' prospects—one of whom, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, was already making a splash in the big leagues at the tender age of 22.

    Saltalamacchia was a former first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves out of Royal Palm Beach High School in Florida. "Salty" was a highly regarded prospect in the Braves organization and a premier athlete who played a position (catcher) that the Rangers had had trouble filling since Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez left via free agency after the 2002 season.

    Had it not been for the Rangers' threats of terminating the deal if Salty were excluded, the Atlanta Braves in all likelihood would have kept the talented backstop out of the trade discussions.

    After all, in his first 47 games in the bigs, Salty had  hit .284 with four home runs, and his mature approach at the plate had drawn rave reviews—and comparisons to yet another former Braves prospect, Jeff Francoeur.

The Real Teixiera Trade Impact Players: None of Them Are Named "Salty"

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    Once Elvis entered the Rangers' building, the team new immediately it had a star in the making.
    Once Elvis entered the Rangers' building, the team new immediately it had a star in the making.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Saltalamacchia came over with four other prospects, none of whom had so much as sniffed the major leagues, but all of whom were young with very high ceilings—exactly the kind of depth the Rangers' beleaguered farm system needed.

    Of the four prospects (excluding Salty), three were pitchers, and the other was a slick-fielding, Venezuelan shortstop named Elvis Andrus—he hadn't even reached his 19th birthday yet.

    Salty, at 22 years of age, was the oldest and the only one of the five that was major-league ready. Saltalamacchia would see immediate time with the Rangers as he would spell Gerald Laird at catcher and played a little first base as well.  In 46 games with Texas in the summer of 2007, he hit well, posting a .251 BA and hitting 7 home runs.

    However, Salty's future with the Rangers wouldn't be nearly as bright as the promise of 2007 seemed to indicate.

    Injuries and ineffectiveness—both defensively and at the plate—would limit Salty to just 145 games combined over the 2008 and 2009 seasons, during the latter of which Salty took large steps backwards at the plate, posting a paltry batting average of .233.

    Although the opening day starter for the Rangers 2010, it would be Salty's last season in Texas as he had been passed up by other catching prospects and would ultimately be traded to the Red Sox for two young pitchers in July of that year.

    But the two youngest prospects in the Teixiera trade—right-handed flamethrower Neftali Feliz and the aforementioned Elvis Andrus, both of whom were teenagers at the time of the deal—would have a huge impact on the Rangers as early as 2009.

Elvis Andrus: On His Way to What Should Have Been an '09 ROY Award

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    And just as quick as this "high-five", one prospect passes another.
    And just as quick as this "high-five", one prospect passes another.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    At just 20 years of age at the start of the 2009 season, Elvis Andrus was named the Rangers' starting shortstop out of spring training. This decision ruffled some very well respected feathers—namely franchise cornerstone and 2008 Gold Glove-winning shortstop, Michael Young.

    Young—as he did in 2004 when the Rangers acquired Alfonso Soriano, who supplanted Young from his natural position at second base—voiced his displeasure by demanding a trade.  And just as had transpired five years prior, Young would not be traded.  But no one could have predicted the immediate success defensively that Elvis would have at short stop.

    Andrus made spectacular plays at short with ease, displaying similar range to a young Ozzie Smith and a cannon for an arm.  In 2009, largely thanks to Andrus, the Rangers defense improved dramatically.

    Elvis Andrus proved to be not just a defensive whiz, but a more-than-capable hitter as he hit .263 with 40 RBI and stole 33 bases in 39 attempts.  His speed added yet another skill-set to the Rangers that they had sorely lacked in seasons past.  

    It's an understatement to say that Elvis Andrus' rookie year was a smashing success—he ended up finishing second in the 2009 Rookie of the Year voting.  But Elvis wasn't the only member of the Teixiera trade to have a big impact with the Rangers in 2009.

Behold Neftali Feliz: The Man with 100 MPH Heat so Easy It Should Be Illegal

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    Neftali Feliz in 2009.  Take a good look at the baseball in his right hand—if you face him, this photo is the only time you'll ever see the ball.
    Neftali Feliz in 2009. Take a good look at the baseball in his right hand—if you face him, this photo is the only time you'll ever see the ball.Harry How/Getty Images

    Neftali Feliz was barely 19 years old when he came over from the Atlanta Braves in the Teixiera trade.

    It wouldn't take long before reports of his sizzling fastball buzzed the ears of Rangers fans just as they whizzed past the bats of hapless minor leaguers.

    On August 3, 2009, major league hitters would get a chance to try and hit the young Dominican right-hander—the kid with the ridiculously easy motion and triple-digit fastball.

    The Oakland Athletics had two innings to figure out the 21-year old Feliz—it wouldn't go so well for them.  

    Over those two innings, Feliz struck out four A's and hit triple digits with a fastball that crackled as high as 103 MPH.  

    Despite the emergence of their two young stars, the 2009 Rangers would fail to make the postseason for the 10th consecutive season.

    Regardless, Rangers fans knew they had something special in both Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz for years to come.

    As it turned out, fans wouldn't have to wait long for the eminent success of Feliz or for their beloved Rangers to snap their streak of playoff absence—2010 would bring forth a season of epic proportions.

Neftali Feliz: 2010 ROY

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    Neftali Feliz and Bengie Molina embrace after Feliz struck out A-Rod looking for the last out of the 2010 ALCS—earning the Rangers their first AL Pennant in the franchise's history.
    Neftali Feliz and Bengie Molina embrace after Feliz struck out A-Rod looking for the last out of the 2010 ALCS—earning the Rangers their first AL Pennant in the franchise's history.Elsa/Getty Images

    Neftali Feliz became the Texas Rangers closer after the first week of the 2010 season.  It became apparent immediately that it might be several years before he would relinquish the role.  

    Neftali ended up with an All-Star appearance and the 2010 Rookie of the Year Award, not to mention his save in Game 6 of the 2010 ALCS—one that would send the Rangers to their first-ever World Series appearance. The game-ending strikeout—in perhaps the decade's most bittersweet baseball irony—came against none other than Alex Rodriguez.

    Tom Hicks had promised all Rangers fans that A-Rod would help Texas reach the World Series. I guess he was right, after all.

    But despite the rampant success of Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus—two young players who could prove to be cornerstones of the franchise for years and years—they aren't the only pieces of the Teixiera trade that are currently helping the Rangers in their attempt to defend the American League Championship.

Matt Harrison: Continuing to Prove That the Best Might Lay Ahead

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    Matt Harrison—yet another key contributor in the Tex deal.
    Matt Harrison—yet another key contributor in the Tex deal.Elsa/Getty Images

    Left-hander Matt Harrison was a third-round pick out of high school by the Atlanta Braves.  

    Harrison, in July 2008, was the first minor leaguer in the Tex trade to make his major league debut with the Rangers.

    The season as a whole would be seen as a success for Harrison, who finished with a 9-3 record, and there would also be some growing pains for the young hurler in 2009 and 2010.

    Injuries and ineffectiveness—similarly to Salty—would mar reports during Harrison's first three seasons in the big leagues.  

    However, in 2011 a more mature Harrison is putting together his best overall season thus far.

    As of yesterday, Matt Harrison was 5-6 with a 3.16 ERA, and his 13 games started thus far have been the most since his rookie season in 2008.  

    Harrison had one of his better starts of the season in a no-decision last night against his former club, the Braves. He pitched 6.1 innings with six strikeouts and just one earned run allowed.

    If he continues to progress, Harrison's future with the Rangers could certainly be as bright as Andrus' or Feliz's.

    Of the five players the Rangers received for Tex, only one—Beau Jones—has failed to make the big leagues as of yet.  But, the left-hander has yet to reach his 25th birthday and is having a solid season at the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock, where he has so far posted a 3.25 ERA as a middle reliever.

Mark Teixiera: In It for One Thing

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    Only one of a scant few known images of Tex as an Angel
    Only one of a scant few known images of Tex as an AngelJeff Gross/Getty Images

    So how did the Mark Teixiera trade work out for the Atlanta Braves?

    In terms of production, Tex worked out well for the Braves.

    He was a member of the Atlanta squad for almost the entire second half of the '07 season and the first half of the '08 season. Over those 157 games, Tex did what he has always done: hit well with plus pop—he knocked out 37 home runs and 134 RBI.  

    Not too bad.  

    And the Braves certainly saw more of him than did the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels had old Tex for exactly one-third of a season—54 games—and saw him hit a blistering .358 with 13 home runs and 43 RBI. T

    Tex helped lead the Angels down the stretch in '08, towards the AL West title.

    And then he was off for free agency and a new team as the Yankees backed up their cash-truck (stuffed with money) and dumped it firmly in Tex's lap.  

    So now that it's all in hindsight, the Rangers have a pretty good idea what they reaped from the Mark Teixiera trade, and the Yankees have a much richer Tex in tow, it's pretty obvious: 

    The Texas Rangers are the victors—not just over Teixiera and his teammates in the 2010 ALCS—but in what was the best trade the franchise has ever pulled off.

    And yes, it was a better trade than the Cliff Lee acquisition of a year ago, although Lee was instrumental in taking them to their first AL pennant, no question.

    Bear in mind though, that had it not been for dumping Tex, the Rangers never would've used their first-round pick in 2008 on a first baseman (Smoak)—the player that made the Mariners blow off the Yankees and deal Lee to Texas.