Rangers' future bright thanks to Teixeira trade

Updated: April 4, 2009, 12:02 AM ET
Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Mark Teixeira has provided quite a future for the Texas Rangers even without being a part of it.

Teixeira turned down a big contract extension in 2007 that would have made him a franchise cornerstone, forcing the Rangers to trade their former first-round pick to Atlanta that summer.

Though he didn't stay with the Braves a full year, Texas will open the 2009 season on Monday with three players from the deal who will be starters: catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Elvis Andrus and left-hander Matt Harrison.

And that's not all the Rangers got for a player who obviously didn't want to stay in Texas and is with his third team since leaving.

Hard-throwing 20-year-old starter Neftali Feliz could be close to his major league debut and Beau Jones is a left-handed reliever in the minors. None of quintet is older than 23.

"When it became abundantly clear that he wasn't going to be here, the timing was right for us," Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine said. "We found a team that was going for it right then and thought he was the exact piece they needed. ... There was a little bit of the stars aligning."

Atlanta was trying to get back to the playoffs that summer and Teixeira, the switch-hitting slugger who was the fifth pick in 2001 out of Georgia Tech, had rejected Texas' eight-year, $140 million offer.

The Rangers were last in the AL West and had already shifted their focus to building for the future. They also dealt veterans Kenny Lofton and Eric Gagne around the same time.

Saltalamacchia immediately joined the Rangers after the trade, though he initially played some at first base. Last year, Salty was recalled before the end of April after starting at Triple-A Oklahoma and then split time behind the plate with primary starter Gerald Laird, who was traded to Detroit after the season.

Harrison made it to the majors last July, still enough time to become the only Texas rookie left-hander to win nine games. He is now the No. 5 starter, with his youth being the main reason he is in that rotation spot.

Now comes Andrus, the 20-year-old shortstop with so much promise that the Rangers moved five-time All-Star Michael Young, the AL Gold Glove shortstop last season, to third base. That cleared the way for Andrus, who has never played above Double-A.

"We got two starters who play the center of the field and sometime this year you could have two-fifths of your starting rotation being from that trade," Levine said. "When we made that trade, did we think it was going to produce like it did? I think we were hopeful."

The addition of Teixeira didn't push Atlanta into the postseason in 2007. Out of contention last summer and with the first baseman eligible for free agency after the season, the Braves traded him to the Los Angeles Angels two days short of the year anniversary of his acquisition.

Teixeira is now with the New York Yankees after signing a $180 million, eight-year contract over the winter.

"Five young guys that are under the age of 24, for a guy that was a one-year thing, it was a really good thing for us," said Saltalamacchia, also a switch-hitter and former first-round pick now getting to be an everyday catcher.

For GM Jon Daniels, Levine and the Rangers, it also relieved a bit of the sting from previous deals that didn't work out quite as well.

In January 2006, the Rangers traded right-hander Chris Young and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to San Diego, where both became All-Stars, for pitchers Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. Young was a Dallas-born kid and Gonzalez was a former No. 1 pick Texas got from the Florida Marlins.

Eaton went 7-4 in 13 starts after beginning his only Rangers season on the disabled list, then left in free agency. Otsuka was solid in the bullpen for 1½ seasons before a forearm injury and right elbow surgery.

That deal came only weeks after the Rangers avoided a huge salary arbitration payday for Alfonso Soriano by sending him to Washington for three players. One of them was right-hander Armando Galarraga, since traded to Detroit. Galarraga went 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA in 30 games (28 starts) last season for the Tigers while Texas had the worst pitching staff in the majors.

The Rangers aren't likely to make the same mistake with Feliz, whose fastball has topped out at more than 100 mph. Feliz remained in major league spring training until the final week, though the plan had always been for him to pitch this season in Triple-A for the first time.

"We took a chance at some guys who were a little bit further away that we thought had a big ceiling, and it's paid off so far," Levine said. "We put ourselves in position where we could have waves of guys coming from that trade. They weren't all hitting right now, or not all hitting four years down the road."

For the Braves, they can't replace the five prospects lost and don't have much left to show for their trade with Texas.

Ron Mahay, the left-handed reliever who went with Teixeira, only played in Atlanta for two months. He left in free agency and is now with Kansas City.

The Braves got first baseman Casey Kotchman and minor league pitcher Steve Marek from the Angels when they traded Teixeira last summer.

"Atlanta is a great organization, but I see this organization going the right way and building from within," Harrison said. "It's going to be good for the future, so I'm just glad to be part of it."

Baseball America recently tabbed the Rangers' minor league system as the best in baseball, a ranking certainly boosted by the likes of Andrus, Feliz and Derek Holland, a crafty left-hander who will be in the Oklahoma rotation with Feliz.

"Every day is exciting," Andrus said. "There will be more exciting days going and going."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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