Jon Daniels Top 5 Moves

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When Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels took over for predecessor John Hart in 2005 as a mere 28-year-old, the Rangers were coming off a 79 win season. Five of the Rangers 10 highest season win totals have come since, topped by 2011’s 96 win squad.

As with any GM, there is some hit and miss. The Matt Garza trade didn’t go so well, moving prospect Kyle Hendricks to Chicago turned out poor. Signing Shin-Soo Choo to a large deal doesn’t look so good now and neither does trading Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. Koji Uehara didn’t work out in Texas either. Of course, Daniels has hit on big moves as well. There’s always the Mark Teixeira trade. JD made a deal for Cliff Lee in 2010 and in the end didn’t give up anybody all that significant. The Mike Adams trade was certainly a hit. Signing Adrian Beltre has worked out nicely.

But where the now-ninth-year-GM really makes his bones is with the players that cost very little. With Thad Levine and more recently AJ Preller alongside him, Daniels has been adept at finding diamonds in the rough. On the roster right now, the closer Shawn Tolleson was a waiver wire pickup from the LA Dodgers. The 8th inning man Jake Diekman was just a little more than a throw-in piece of the Cole Hamels deal. Sub-3.00 ERA lefty Sam Freeman was a waiver claim from St. Louis. Derek Holland? 25th round pick. Keone Kela? 12th. Nick Martinez? 18th. Colby Lewis was brought back from Japan and has done nothing but been the best postseason pitcher in team history.

On the offensive side, capable starting catcher Robinson Chirinos was acquired for a PTBNL. The two current catchers holding down the fort – a minor league signee and a waiver claim. Mitch Moreland was selected in the 17th round. Mike Napoli has been acquired twice, once for reliever Frankie Francisco and once for nothing other than cash relief. Same story with Josh Hamilton, once for current Kansas City Royal Edinson Volquez and once for cash relief. Delino DeShields was a Rule 5 draft pick coming off a .236 season in Double-A. Ryan Strausborger was a 16th rounder. Come September, 17th round pick Ryan Rua will be back in Arlington.

A huge portion of successful Rangers teams come for miniscule prices. This is a huge component in how Jon Daniels has been able to build winning teams. As demonstrated above, there are plenty of moves to choose from but here are the ones I consider the best:

Honorable Mentions:

6/6/2006 – Rangers select LHP Derek Holland in the 25th round of the 2006 amateur draft.

Holland has a 4.24 career ERA over 820 innings. He pitched in the postseason in each of 2010, 2011 and 2012, totalling a 3.79 ERA in 35.2 IP including 8 2/3 shutout innings in the Game 4 of the 2011 World Series.

 

7/31/2007 – Rangers RHP Eric Gagne traded to Boston for RHP Kason Gabbard, OFs David Murphy and Engel Beltre.

Gagne struggled after the trade, posting a 6.75 ERA in Boston and then a mark of 5.44 the next year in Milwaukee prior to retiring.

Meanwhile, David Murphy slashed .274/.334/.433 with 101 home runs as a semi-regular player throughout his seven year Ranger career. In the postseason, Murphy has a .759 career OPS. Gabbard struggled in 20 starts as a Ranger, walking more batter than he struck out on his way to compiling a 5.14 ERA. Beltre, once a defensive whiz before a major leg injury, picked up 42 plate appearances in the bigs in 2013. He is now in the White Sox minor league system.

 

4/22/2009 – Rangers claim RHP Darren O’Day off waivers from the New York Mets.

Over parts of three years with Texas, O’Day boasts a 2.41 ERA with a 117:34 K:BB ratio in 134.1 innings pitched. In the 2010 season, the sub thrower put up a 2.03 mark. After a rough start to the 2011 season, O’Day was waived by the Rangers and claimed by Baltimore.

 

1/9/2010 – Rangers sign DH Vladimir Guerrero to a one year/$5.5 million contract.

Guerrero played one season for the Rangers. An All-Star and Silver Slugger that year, the probable Hall of Famer slashed .300/.345/.496 with 25 home runs in the regular season.

 

1/19/2010 – Rangers sign RHP Colby Lewis.

After busting as a big-time prospect with the Rangers early in his career, Lewis pitched successfully in Japan after failed stints with Detroit and Oakland. In his second time through Texas, Lewis has posted ERAs of 3.72, 4.40, 3.43, 5.18 and to this point in 2015 4.49. bWAR has him valued at 7.4 WAR over the stint while at the same time never having a salary breach the $4 million mark. Lewis also had huge success in both the 2010 and 2011 postseasons, pitching 50 innings and allowing only 15 runs, 13 earned.

 

1/25/2011 – Rangers RHP Frankie Francisco traded to Toronto for C/1B Mike Napoli.

Francisco continued to contribute as a solid reliever in his season in Toronto, posting a 3.55 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 50.2 innings.

Napoli, traded to Texas just four days after Anaheim shipped him to Toronto (in exchange for Vernon Wells), had two of his best years with the Rangers. His 2011 season was far and away the best of his career – a .320/.414/.631 slashline led to a 173 OPS+ and a 5.4 bWAR. His regular season success carried into the playoffs of that year as he totalled another 19 hits and three home runs in October baseball. Voted an All-Star starter in 2012, Napoli powered 54 balls over the fence in his two Rangers seasons.

Now, onto the Top 5 Moves of JD’s career.

 

5. 7/9/2010 – Rangers 1B Justin Smoak, 2B Matt Lawson, RHPs Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke traded to Seattle for LHP Cliff Lee, RHP Mark Lowe.

At the time seemingly a large package of prospects shipped to Seattle, none of the new Mariners turned into impact players. Lawson made the decision to quit baseball before he got a chance at the big leagues. Justin Smoak spent five years in the Pacific Northwest with a Mariners career line of .226/.308/.384, good for a 97 OPS+. The former first rounder is now playing in Toronto. Beavan, a fellow Rangers first round pick, registered big league time in parts of four seasons. He threw 293 innings with a 4.61 ERA. Reliever Josh Lueke tossed 32.2 innings with a 6.06 ERA before he was traded to Tampa Bay for C John Jaso.

Meanwhile, Cliff Lee spent only half a year in Texas but still made a large impact on the franchise. In 108.2 regular season innings Lee put up an ERA of 3.98, well above his 3.52 career mark. In the postseason, the lefty ace allowed only two runs in 24 innings of work over the ALDS and ALCS as he lead the 2010 Rangers team to not only their first playoff series win but to the franchise’s first World Series visit.

 

4. 7/28/2006 – Texas Rangers trade RHP Francisco Cordero, LHP Julian Cordero, OFs Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for OFs Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz.

Looking back on it, this was an odd trade. At the time of the trade, the Rangers sat at 51-51, two games behind the first place Oakland Athletics. A free agent after the season, Carlos Lee was clearly a rental player and a move Texas made to contend. However, to acquire the left fielder, the Rangers moved major league pieces – big league pen arm Francisco Cordero, starting caliber outfielder Kevin Mench and at the time emergency call-up outfielder Laynce Nix. From that point forward, the 2006 Rangers team went 29-31 and finished 13 games out of a playoff spot. In that sense this trade was a failure. For what it’s worth, Lee did slash .322/.369/.525 in his time with Texas.

However, the throw-in piece alongside Carlos Lee is what made this trade one of Daniels’ greatest moves. Outfielder Nelson Cruz, for a long while a 4A player, turned into one of the key pieces of the best teams in franchise history. After sub-.300 OBPs in both the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Cruz broke out in ’08 and never looked back. In his eight year Rangers career, the right fielder earned two All-Star appearances, an ALCS MVP and put up a .268/.327/.495 slashline with 157 home runs. Cruz totalled 14 more dingers in postseason games for Texas, as he consistently delivered in big-time moments both in the playoffs and with multiple walk-off home runs. He has a career OPS over 1.000 in 41 games of playoff action. His greatest moment as a Ranger is when he had the final out of the 2011 World Series hit to him, a ball he surely caught (although for the life of me I can’t picture it).

Of the players sent to Milwaukee, Nix and Francisco Cordero were the only two players of significance after the deal. Nix appeared in parts of 11 seasons, his best years as a fourth outfielder for Cincinnati and Washington. Cordero also spent some of his best post-trade years with the Reds after signing a four-year deal to close in the Great American Ballpark. He would add another 212 saves after his Texas career came to an end and had ERAs under 3.00 over his time in both Milwaukee and Cincinnati.

 

3. 1/5/2011 – Texas Rangers sign 3B Adrian Beltre to a six year/$96 million deal.

It takes a rare player to turn a large contract into one of a long-term GM’s top three moves. Adrian Beltre is that rare player. At an average annual value of $16 million, the third baseman has easily given surplus value to the Rangers already. Through four full seasons, Beltre has three All-Star appearances, two Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers and four top 15 MVP voting finishes including a 3rd place finish and a 7th place finish. The numbers for those four and a half seasons:

2011: .296/.331/.561, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 131 OPS+, 5.8 bWAR

2012: .321/.359/.561, 36 HR, 102 RBI, 139 OPS+, 7.2 bWAR

2013: .315/.371/.509, 30 HR, 92 RBI, 138 OPS+, 5.6 bWAR

2014: .324/.388/.492, 19 HR, 77 RBI, 145 OPS+, 7 bWAR

2015: .268/.310/.415, 11 HR, 38 RBI, 97 OPS+, 3.4 bWAR

TEX Career: .308/.356/.513, 128 HR, 414 RBI, 132 OPS+, 29 bWAR

This is a player that has been for the most part the best on the Texas roster for four seasons and will almost certainly be inducted at Cooperstown donning a Rangers cap. Middle of the order bats who are also one of the best defensive players at their position don’t come near as cheap as $16 million a year these days yet that is exactly what Daniels has received from Adrian Beltre.

 

2. 12/21/2007 – Texas Rangers trade RHP Edinson Volquez and LHP Danny Ray Herrera to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for OF Josh Hamilton.

A year into this deal it seemed like an even one. Hamilton was coming off a breakout .304/.371/.530 season. Meanwhile in Cincinnati Volquez was coming off a breakout 3.21 season. Both were All-Stars. Both were post-hype prospects. But from there the two players took very different paths.

Edinson Volquez, part of the Rangers DVD pitching prospect trio back when he was Edison, followed that 2008 season with ERAs of 4.35, 4.31, 5.71, 4.14 and 5.71 over the next five seasons. It wasn’t until a 2014 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates that he cracked the sub-4.00 mark again. Control problems were the prime reason for the regression. In 2008, his BB/9 rate was 4.3. In 2009, it was 5.8 and that number stayed over five for the rest of his Cincinnati Reds career.

Josh Hamilton didn’t regress after 2008. Instead, he improved. In 2009 Hamilton took a step back with a .268/.315/.426 line as he battled injuries and played only 89 games. In 2010 he won the MVP. In 2010 Hamilton hit .359, slugged .633, hit 32 home runs and totalled 8.7 bWAR. Every year he was a Ranger Hamilton represented the team in the All-Star game. Including his current stint with the team, his career Texas slashline is .302/.360/.543. As a Ranger Hamilton has 148 of his 198 home runs. He was either the best or second best player on the franchise’s first three playoff teams since the turn of the century. The price for one of the best players in team history was a back of the rotation starter and a soft-tossing screwballer who threw 101.2 big league innings.

 

1. 7/31/2007 – Texas Rangers trade 1B Mark Teixeira and LHP Ron Mahay to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for LHP Matt Harrison, SS Elvis Andrus, RHP Neftali Feliz, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia and RHP Beau Jones

This is widely regarded as JD’s best move, and for good reason. All reports indicated Mark Teixeira had no plans on returning to Arlington once he became a free agent following the 2008 season. Out of the playoff race, Daniels moved him with a year and a half left on his deal and received four future big leaguers including three impact players.

From an Atlanta standpoint this deal was a disaster. Teixeira played well over the back half of 2007 and the front half of 2008 before the first baseman was shipped to Anaheim in exchange for career minor leaguer Stephen Marek and glove first 1B Casey Kotchman. Ron Mahay gave the Braves 28 innings with a 2.25 ERA before leaving for Kansas City prior to the 2008 season. In order to get these short stints of production, Atlanta traded away a large portion of the core of two World Series bound teams.

Matt Harrison was a middle of the rotation pitcher for Texas before a back injury derailed him and the southpaw was included in the Cole Hamels trade. In his eight year Ranger career, Atlanta’s 2003 3rd round pick tallied 668.1 innings with a 4.21 ERA, 5.5 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9. For those who value wins, Harrison is 50-35 for his career. His best two years were the 2011 and 2012 seasons. In the Rangers second World Series season Harrison posted a 3.39 ERA while putting up his best K/9 rate of his career at 6.1. In 2012 the North Carolina native was an All-Star on his way to a 3.29 ERA and his only 200 inning year. Despite injuries shortening his 2013, 14 and 15 seasons as well as ultimately his Rangers career, Harrison was a very valuable player for Texas during the team’s peak.

Elvis Andrus took over for Michael Young as the team’s starting shortstop and is still holding down that role with no end in sight. Andrus has appeared in two All-Star games for Texas, 2010 and 2012, and has totalled 19.2 bWAR to this point. A career slashline of .270/.331/.346 along with a plus glove at the most important position in the field earned Andrus a contract extension which will keep him a Ranger through 2022. In recent years the shortstop’s numbers have been down but recent adjustments, working to this point, bring hope he can recover his All-Star form.

Neftali Feliz, now a Detroit Tiger, spent parts of seven seasons in Arlington, Texas. The hard-throwing righty appeared in 230 games, threw 274 innings and totalled a dominant 2.69 Rangers career ERA. Feliz struck out 8.3 and walked 3.5 per nine. The closer on the two World Series teams, he finished with 72 saves in 2010 and 2011 with ERAs of 2.73 and 2.74. In 18.2 playoff innings, including the final outs of both the 2010 and 2011 American League Championship Series, Feliz has a 1.93 ERA and 23 strikeouts.

Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, considered by some the biggest piece at the time of the trade, struggled as a Ranger before a trade to Boston brought back RHP Roman Mendez and 1B Chris McGuinness. Beau Jones peaked at Triple-A.

Amazingly, in 2015 Mark Teixeira is the best player from this trade. But the huge amount of value the Rangers received from Harrison, Feliz and Andrus between the summer of 2007 and now helped put Texas into the World Series in consecutive years.

Grant Schiller
Grant is currently a student at the University of North Texas and long-term hopes to get into the world of scouting. He will spend many nights over the summer checking out the prospects around the Texas League in Frisco. When not around baseball, Grant will probably be dropping threes at the rec with no remorse.

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