After trading a star, Rangers want return
Texas seeks contributions from those acquired for Teixeira
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The gauntlet has been laid down for the Rangers, Twins, Orioles and Athletics.The results won't be known for a while, but the general managers of all four teams put themselves on the line over the past six months. Each traded a star player for a package of young players designed to lay the foundation for future success. The Rangers traded Mark Teixeira to the Braves, the Twins sent Johan Santana to the Mets, the Orioles traded Erik Bedard to the Mariners and the Athletics traded Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks. The Marlins could be included here but are in their own special category, having sent both Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers. To give up players of that magnitude, all four GMs had to make sure they received significant value in return or else live with the consequences. Early returns suggest that the Rangers did well in acquiring pitchers Matt Harrison, Neftali Perez and Beau Jones; catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia; and shortstop Elvis Andrus for both Teixeira and pitcher Ron Mahay. A casual survey of officials from non-involved clubs suggests that the Rangers made a strong deal, because they didn't overly obsess with acquiring only pitching. Saltalamacchia could be Texas' starting catcher this year, and almost everybody believes that Andrus, who is only 19, has an outstanding future as a frontline shortstop. "I think what it did show was that the less control you had of the [acquired] player, in most cases you didn't have to give up quite as much 'now' talent," Braves GM Frank Wren said. "In our case, we had a year and a half of control, and we gave up some pretty good players. But we also got a guy who is very impactful. "When you make those kinds of trades, you have to do so with the thought that the worst could happen and then come to the conclusion whether you still want to do it." The caveat for the Rangers is that it may take a few years before the Teixeira trade has a significant impact at the Major League level. Andrus and Feliz, a 19-year-old right-hander who is the hardest thrower in the Rangers organization, may have the highest ceiling of the five players. But that was part of the Rangers' philosophy in trying to get the most talent back in the deal. They were willing to wait a few years on the young players rather than take lesser talent from players who might make a more immediate impact. "We wanted to make sure not to limit ourselves," Rangers GM Jon Daniels said. "We wanted to make the best deal possible. We knew we wanted to strike a balance of pitching and position players. To walk out of there with a catcher, shortstop, two left-handed starters [Harrison and Jones] and a power right-handed arm, we're really happy with what we brought back."
The Rangers obviously did extensive scouting and homework on all five, as well as on other players who were discussed but not included in the trade. But through the final two months of last season -- plus the Instructional League, Arizona Fall League and early Spring Training -- the Rangers have been able to get a better grasp of what they acquired. Saltalamacchia has come to camp in direct competition with Gerald Laird for the starting catching job. Right now the job appears to be Laird's to lose, but the Rangers won't fret if Saltalamacchia is not ready to be their starter. They remind themselves that he is only 22. "People talk about him as being as a starting catcher, but [they] are looking through a different prism," Daniels said. "You've got to keep in perspective how young he is. He's got a lot of ability." Saltalamacchia had never played above Double A before the Braves brought him to the big leagues last year, but he acquitted himself well offensively. A switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate, he had 308 at-bats for the Rangers and Braves, hitting .266 with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs with a .310 on-base percentage and .422 slugging percentage. He hit .213 with runners in scoring position. Saltalamacchia has played first base, but the Rangers want him to concentrate exclusively on catching, and believe that he could be an impact offensive catcher. A name brought up is former Braves catcher Javier Lopez, a three-time All-Star who averaged .287 with 28 home runs and 93 RBIs over 162 games in a 17-year career. The defense needs work, but Saltalamacchia has a plus arm and has put in extensive time during the winter with catching instructor/third-base coach Matt Walbeck, and he has earned high marks from the Rangers for his work habits. Andrus is considered a major prize, a 19-year-old, slick-fielding shortstop with offensive potential and tremendous intangibles. His knowledge of and feel for the game are what makes people feel he'll be an impact player. "He has unbelievable makeup," said one scout. "You can compare him to Derek Jeter as far as being in the game from the first pitch to the last. Offensively, he has quick hands. He needs a better lower half, but that will come. He has tremendous action at shortstop -- an instinctive player with tremendous ability. It's Gold Glove talent, but his intangibles are what set him apart." Andrus, after playing at Class A Bakersfield, will likely play at Double-A Frisco this year. The jump from Class A to Double-A is the biggest jump a player can make in the Minor Leagues, and really determines how serious a prospect the player is. The Rangers are beginning to believe that Harrison could be the proverbial "sleeper" in this deal. The 22-year-old left-hander could end up being a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher at the Major League level. One scout suggested that Harrison could end up being the best pitcher acquired in any of the four big deals made. Another said that Harrison compares favorably with Angels left-hander Joe Saunders, a 15-game winner in his first 33 Major League starts. "I like Harrison," Rangers pitching coach Mark Connor said. "I like all his stuff and his command. He stays behind his fastball and really drives it downhill with life. His curveball is tight and late, and he has a good changeup. His delivery is good -- for a young kid he repeats it well." Watch out for Feliz. He has a chance to be special. The Rangers are astounded by the power of his arm and how little effort it takes for him to generate that power. "It's the easiest gas you'll ever want to see," said Scott Servais, Texas' farm director. "It's like you and me playing catch in the backyard: 95 miles per hour, and no effort." Young power pitchers from the Dominican Republic are not uncommon. The latest tendency on the island is for a recruiter to grab a kid with a great arm, stick him on the mound and put him on display for Major League teams. They view that as a faster way to get a player signed than worrying about developing the offensive/fielding skills of a position player. That leaves the Major League team with the task of developing the player into a complete pitcher rather than rushing him through the system simply because of his overpowering arm. The Rangers made that mistake with Edinson Volquez, and they must avoid it with Feliz. Jones was the fifth player in the deal, a last-minute addition to alleviate the Rangers' concerns about Harrison's health. Jones is a left-hander with average velocity who needs to work on his breaking ball and command. Over the past two seasons, he has walked 5.6 batters per nine innings. He has been used as a starter and a reliever and, depending on how well he develops the breaking ball, could end up as a left-handed setup reliever. The Rangers did give up a left-handed reliever when they included Mahay in the deal. But this is all about what the Rangers got for Teixeira, a trade they simply can not afford to have backfire on them. This is a team that has little to show for deals that involved Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano, and that still has to deals with the fallout of an ill-advised Chris Young-Adrian Gonzalez trade. But right now they at least have five players to be excited about in place of Teixeira.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.