Rangers poised for postseason push
With the team in bankruptcy, GM Jon Daniels gets creative before the trade deadline
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Even hours after the trade deadline had passed, general manager Jon Daniels sat in the visitors clubhouse at Angel Stadium clicking the semi-worn keys on his BlackBerry as he kept a pulse on what was going on around the league.
It's the first thing you notice about Daniels: He's constantly communicating. If he's not on the phone with a general manager or talking face-to-face with a scout, he's busy e-mailing or texting to check in on what opposing teams may be doing.
Such is the beauty of modern technology, and Daniels and his staff use every bit of it they can. Daniels believes strongly that as a front office, the Rangers need to make every possible effort to contact as many teams or folks as they can about players they may have an interest in, no matter how remote.
"That's because things change all the time," Daniels said. "Teams may change their stance on moving a particular player. Teams may change their stance on how they value your players. You may change your stance on the price you're willing to pay on a guy. Something may change on the position that makes it stronger or weaker. Things change and you have to be prepared for anything."
Tweets were atwitter with quick news that the Rangers made attempts, no matter how unlikely, on some big names like Roy Oswalt, Josh Johnson, Prince Fielder and Adam Dunn before the deadline passed. No, they didn't inquire about Manny Ramirez. But he was one of the few exceptions. Some players, like Johnson, have intrigued the Rangers for a few years and they will check in repeatedly about them as a way of reminding teams of their interest.
The inquiring, of course, isn't limited to the big names. The Rangers were busy compiling a large list of right-handed-hitting corner infielders and second baseman, two areas they ended up addressing last week.
"You are going to ask on everybody," Daniels said. "That's our job. Everybody's got their own style. Some canvas everyone, some don't. Early on in the process, I like to know who might be available and then you keep tabs. We're honest with a club. We'll say, 'Our interest is secondary and would only be your player if a couple of other things fall through.' Or in Cliff Lee's case we said, 'We're very serious and we want to make this happen.' The more you talk, you understand what they want to accomplish and they understand what you want to accomplish and if there's a middle ground."
The key, of course, is having a strong enough farm system to make other general managers eager to answer a call from the Rangers. Texas has that. And for a team in bankruptcy, prospects become a major currency.
Daniels set up the Rangers' mobile trade lab from a suite at Doubletree in Anaheim late Thursday and worked long days leading up to the deadline.
All of the activity left the clubhouse buzzing as the week wound down. No longer were the Rangers a team in the position of trading off assets in order to acquire potential. They were on a shopping spree, searching for high-impact stars and role players to help heave Texas toward its first postseason appearance in more than a decade.
"I'm checking the blogs every day," David Murphy said. "You never know what we might do and it's fun to see."
Just 48 hours before the trade deadline expired, the Rangers made three more moves. They dealt Double-A pitching prospects for Florida's Jorge Cantu and Washington's Cristian Guzman and traded catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Boston for two Class A minor leaguers, a player to be named later and cash.
Everybody's got their own style. Some canvas everyone, some don't. Early on in the process, I like to know who might be available and then you keep tabs.” -- Rangers general manager Jon Daniels
Cantu will play first base against left-handed starters and will get some chances against righties with Mitch Moreland receiving the rest of the playing time. Guzman is the club's second baseman while Ian Kinsler is on the disabled list with a strained left groin.
Neither trade could be considered a blockbuster. But because the Rangers have worked so hard to stock their minor league system, they were able to make those kinds of deals to add depth and some veteran players who can help during the time in the season when injuries creep up.
Those two deals happened after Texas snagged veteran catcher Bengie Molina from the Giants and went all-in to grab Cliff Lee, the top starting pitcher on the trade market. The Rangers had to send their top hitting prospect and some good pitching ones, too, to make it happen. But that move sent a signal to the rest of the league that Texas, despite its tenuous financial situation and ownership flux, was serious about pushing for an AL West title and a postseason run. And the Rangers may not be done yet. They could still make some moves in August if they need to.
"It means they truly believe that we have a legitimate shot to get exactly where we want to go," Murphy said. "We have a lot of pieces in our farm system that we've wanted to hold onto for a long time and we just needed to wait for the right minute to make trades and give those guys away and the timing is perfect."
There's a time for patience and a time for persistence. The Rangers showed patience last season. Daniels and his staff could have tried to add considerably to a club that was 1½ games out of first place at the All-Star break and three games out at the trade deadline. But the right trades weren't there and the Rangers didn't want to give up minor league pieces that were gaining value.
"At the time, as players, you want to add something and go for it," Murphy said. "But in hindsight, I'm glad they showed patience. What if we had given away a key player that we would have needed to make a deal this year? They didn't do that and now we're able to make those deals."
In the end, the Rangers made five moves. It was as much activity in a buying mode for Daniels since 2006, his first year on the job. Then, with the Rangers three games out just prior to the deadline (behind both Oakland and Los Angeles), Daniels traded a package of players, including Francisco Cordero and Kevin Mench to the Brewers for Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz. He also acquired Matt Stairs and Kip Wells in an effort to bolster the team to make a run. But it didn't happen. The Rangers finished 80-82 and 13 games out in the AL West.
Texas, though, got Cruz out of all of that trading and the next season traded Mark Teixeira to begin its farm system rebuilding effort. That three-year plan put the club in position to make the deals it made the past two months.
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Of course, making trades with a club three games out is much different than one that has the biggest division lead in baseball. This time, Daniels is adding to a team that has positioned itself well for the final two months. And rather than sit back and see how things played out, he wanted to get as aggressive as he could without depleting the organization of its young players. In the process, he's added some integral pieces that he hopes solidifies his squad's contender status.
"We don't get these big league players unless other clubs liked our minor league players and our developed players better than our opponents," Daniels said. "More than any publication or anything like that, I think this is verification that the work that our scouts and minor league coaches have done because other teams have really coveted some of our young players. We've been able to bolster the big league team, but we've also kept many of our best players that will help us in the short-term and long-term. Now it's up to the boys out on the field."