Rangers, Mark Teixeira share in win-win
With Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz, Texas reaps benefits of dealing star first baseman
"He goes, 'You know, we gave up our four best prospects for you,'" Teixeira said.
No one was too sure of that assessment at the time, but those prospects helped build the foundation for the Rangers' playoff success three years later.
Teixeira will be at first base when the Rangers host the franchise's first American League Championship Series on Friday. Rangers third baseman Michael Young figured that's where Teixeira would be, just not in Yankees pinstripes.
"I thought I'd make it to the postseason with Tex," Young said. "He was a friend and I didn't want to see him go. But the players we got back have contributed a bunch to where we are."
When the Rangers trot out to the field in the top of the first, Elvis Andrus will be at shortstop and Neftali Feliz will be in the bullpen preparing to close the game if needed. Both have had a huge impact on the club this season. And neither would be on the field at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington if not for Teixeira.
Andrus, a runner-up in the 2009 AL Rookie of the Year voting, is the club's leadoff hitter and made a big impact in Game 5 of the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays with alert baserunning in the first inning. He hit .333 with three stolen bases and showed patience in driving up pitch counts. He also made his usual assortment of nice defensive plays with his large range at shortstop.
Feliz, the 22-year-old rookie closer, set a new record for saves by a rookie with 40 this season. He started 2010 as a setup man, but when Frank Francisco faltered with a couple of rough outings in the first week of the season, Feliz was promoted. He hasn't looked back.
"You've got to give up something to get something," said Teixeira, who was dealt by the Braves to the Los Angeles Angels in 2008 before signing with the Yankees that offseason.
The Rangers knew that. And they understood that trading Teixeira was the quickest way to begin restocking a farm system lagging in prospect depth.
"He had a great glove, could hit from both sides of the plate, had power and had been doing it for years," general manager Jon Daniels said. "He was a complete player. And he wasn't a guy you worried about waking up and reading about in the tabloids."
Daniels and his staff had made the decision just a few months earlier to pour resources into the minor league system to build for the future. Then-owner Tom Hicks supported the decision, knowing it meant sacrificing wins at the major league level in the short term. So the team got the word out that Teixeira was on the market.
Atlanta was clearly the most aggressive suitor, and the Rangers scattered scouts to canvas the Braves' system. The Rangers decided they'd rather have players with strong upside in the lower levels of the minors than those closer to the majors. By doing that, the Braves were willing to put more players in the deal.
The trade was highlighted by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a switch-hitting catcher considered one of the top prospects in the Braves' system. But Daniels and his staff cared just as much about the entire package. That included Andrus, an 18-year-old shortstop in Class A with exceptional raw skills and speed, and Feliz, a 19-year-old flamethrower in rookie ball.
Left-handed pitcher Matt Harrison, who was also on the 2010 Rangers squad and is a candidate to make the ALCS roster, and left-hander Beau Jones were a part of the deal as well.
But this wasn't a case of Texas just getting lucky when it came to Andrus and Feliz.
"We had history with both of those players and that was key," said senior director of player personnel A.J. Preller, who was then running international scouting.
The club had tried to sign Andrus out of Venezuela in 2006. It offered him a signing bonus of around $450,000, but he took a slightly better offer from the Braves a few weeks later.
"We kept an eye on him," Preller said. "We knew he had all the skills and was a premium talent even at age 16. He had a maturity to him even then that appealed to us. It was easy for his name to come up."
Preller and Don Welke, one of the Rangers' top scouts, watched Feliz pitch in the Dominican Republic and then again in instructional ball with the Braves. Texas sent one of its pro scouts to see him as the trade talks heated up. The report mirrored what Welke and Preller had seen a year or two earlier: a powerful arm with an easy motion. Feliz was someone who needed to develop his secondary stuff, but that's usually the case with teenagers.
Once the Rangers made the deal, they went about the process of development.
"Don Welke always says that development is basically accelerating the process of the gifted," Daniels said. "That's what happened here: two unique guys here that are pretty talented and intelligent, and so our developmental guys pushed them."
Andrus broke through first, becoming the Rangers' starting shortstop in 2009 despite never playing above Double-A. His arrival required that Young move to third base, something he was reluctant to do. But once the decision was made, he became one of Andrus' biggest supporters.
"As soon as I saw him at this level, I knew he could play," Young said. "I don't believe in evaluating guys in the minors. You have to do it up here. And he has."
Feliz's laid-back demeanor has helped him take his fast rise to the big leagues in stride. He got to the majors because of his 100 mph fastball, but he found out that wasn't enough to keep him at the highest level. He has developed his secondary pitches, making him a more formidable force. He has also battled nerves so far in this postseason but remains confident.
"I have to treat these games like they are any other games, even if I know they're not," Feliz said through an interpreter. "I feel good. I'm ready to do my job."
So is Teixeira, who has what these Rangers want most: a World Series ring.
"He was a great player and a valuable one, but it was obvious that at that point in his career and where we were in our winning cycle, they weren't synced up," Daniels said. "There's no harm in that. He recognized it. We recognized it. Ultimately, it worked out for him and us."