THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 3, 2006
Doug Melvin traded one of the game’s premier power hitters, after determining once and for all his club couldn’t sign him to an extension, packaging him in a deal that netted a return which included Francisco Cordero.
Following the 1999 season, when Melvin was the Rangers’ general manager, he offered Larry Walker money (six years, $75 million) to Juan Gonzalez, who turned it down. Melvin then traded Gonzalez and two others to Detroit for Cordero and five others.
Last week, at the helm of the Brewers, Melvin offered what was akin to Richie Sexson money (four years, $48 million rather than $50 million) to Carlos Lee, who turned it down. Melvin then traded Lee and AAA outfielder Nelson Cruz to Texas for Cordero and three others.
The Rangers-Tigers deal was extremely controversial on Melvin’s end, as he traded away one of the key pieces of a team that had gone to the playoffs three times in four years, along with role players Danny Patterson and Gregg Zaun, for a potential ace that was coming off shoulder surgery (Justin Thompson), along with young talent in Cordero, Gabe Kapler, and Frank Catalanotto, plus catcher Bill Haselman and minor league southpaw Alan Webb.
It was less controversial in Detroit, where the club was hoping to usher in a new era in a new ballpark with an unquestionable superstar. The Tigers couldn’t get Gonzalez to sign, however (despite offering to make him the game’s richest player at eight years and $140 million), and he departed after one season for Cleveland, leaving the Tigers with just two draft picks as compensation, a supplemental first and the Indians’ second-round pick that were used on Southern University second baseman Michael Woods and Charleston Southern University lefthander Matt Coenen, neither of whom has even shown up in 2006. The deal didn’t pan out well.
The Rangers-Brewers deal is again controversial on Melvin’s end, but less so in Texas. The Rangers added the best player in the deal, the 30-year-old Lee, who was among the most productive hitters in baseball (.286/.347/.549, 28 home runs, 81 RBI) at the time of the deal. They also added, arguably, the most valuable young player in the deal, the 25-year-old Cruz, who will be under the Rangers’ control for six years and was hitting a robust .302/.378/.528 with 20 homers and 73 RBI for AAA Nashville. The Brewers get Cordero, in addition to outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix and Clinton lefthander Julian Cordero.
How Texas made this deal without giving up one of its top pitching prospects is astonishing. Milwaukee, when the deal was struck, was six games under .500, and sat 10.5 games back in the NL Central and six games back in the Wild Card hunt, chasing six teams. I can understand an effort by Melvin to go for it, and the Rangers had the best reliever on the market plus two young outfielders (with whom Melvin was familiar) that were arguably in need of a change of scenery, but if he insisted on Thomas Diamond instead of Julian Cordero, would Texas really have walked away?
Here’s the most astonishing part of the trade Jon Daniels was able to make: Even if you argue that it was a good deal for both clubs, the bigger point is this — Texas is the team that got the deal done, to the exclusion of every other interested team. And there were plenty of competitors.
Including Oakland and Los Angeles of Anaheim, neither of whom was able to make an impact deal of any sort.
Melvin made a last-ditch run at extending Lee, and when that failed, according to what Daniels said on the radio yesterday, Melvin called him (rather than the other way around), and Daniels was prepared, as he’s proving he always is. By midnight the same day, the deal was made.
Remember the days when deals eluded the Rangers because someone in charge was on a hunting trip? That will never happen again. Not as long as the current management is in place.
Beating the trade deadline by three days did a couple things, the first of which was obvious, getting Lee here sooner than later. More importantly, Daniels met Melvin’s price quickly and got Lee off the market before Washington could move Alfonso Soriano or Philadelphia could trade Bobby Abreu. Had one of those two been traded first, it probably would have increased Lee’s trade value and certainly would have increased the number of teams keying in on him, once the music stopped and there was one less available chair.
As I looked at Lee’s numbers, one thing leaped out as the most stunning, and it wasn’t even close: yeah, he was in the National League’s top five in home runs, RBI, and total bases. But in 388 Brewers at-bats this season, the masher who measures 6’3″ and is kindly listed at 240 pounds struck out only 39 times (drawing 38 walks). The only player with a better rate and more than 12 bombs this year is Albert Pujols.
In 24 Rangers at-bats, Lee has fanned just once. It came in the sixth inning yesterday, his sixth game with the club, and was his first time to go down on strikes in two weeks.
In the last three seasons coming into 2006, Lee averaged 31 home runs and 109 RBI. He should obliterate those totals this year, as he’s already at 28 bombs and 83 RBI at the two-thirds mark, on pace for 42 and 125. A career .343 hitter at Ameriquest Field before the trade, he went 7 for 13 in his three home games as a Ranger before the team left for Minnesota, improving his career line in Arlington to a silly .364/.400/.669.
Whether Texas will be able to do with Lee what the Tigers couldn’t do with Gonzalez is anybody’s guess. The Rangers are saying that they will make an attempt to re-sign Lee this off-season, and they make those statements knowing that he has already turned down the $48 million proposal that Milwaukee made last week. If Texas can’t convince Lee to stay, the club will certainly offer him arbitration and recoup two high picks, hopefully doing more with them than the Tigers did with theirs.
Or will the Rangers even have that chance? Rumbles persist that draft pick compensation could be a casualty of a reformulated collective bargaining agreement this winter, which would mean a team losing a player to free agency would have nothing to show for it. That possibility, however likely or remote (I have no idea where it’s headed), certainly adds to the risk of the trade. But that’s partly where Cruz comes in.
Daniels has said that this is a “win now, win later” deal, and that he wouldn’t have made it without getting the 25-year-old Cruz. The organization envisions him as a mainstay in right field for years to come, a player who will hit for the power that it expected Mench to provide with more consistency than he has in the big leagues.
Cruz’s history is fascinating. Signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Mets at age 16, he spent three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, not hitting his first two years and then exploding with a .351/.434/.610 campaign in 2000. Oakland stole him after that season for shortstop Jorge Velandia, but Cruz struggled at the plate in 2001 and 2002 (both with short-season clubs) before blasting 20 home runs in 2003, his first year out of six with a full-season club, though he hit just .238/.292/.430.
Then came a breakthrough 2004 season for Cruz. He began the year by hitting .345/.407/.582 in 66 games for High A High Desert. A 67-game look with AA Midland proved to be no more of a challenge, as Cruz hit .313/.377/.542 despite what most call the toughest jump in the minor leagues. He got a four-game audition with AAA Sacramento as well, going just 3 for 13 but hitting one of his 26 homers for the year and pushing two runs across to give him an even 100 RBI for the season. He was one of only five minor league hitters to amass 300 total bases, and the A’s packaged him with reliever Justin Lehr after the season to get second baseman Keith Ginter from the Brewers.
Milwaukee assigned Cruz to AA Huntsville, where he hit .306/.388/.577 and prompted a promotion to AAA Nashville. He hit .269/.382/.490 for the Sounds, not counting a run in the Pacific Coast League championship series that netted him MVP honors, as he hit four homers in a series sweep over Tacoma. Cruz made his big league debut at the end of the year, doubling (off Aaron Harang, with the rare “infield double to first”) in five trips and drawing two walks. He was Milwaukee’s 2005 Minor League Player of the Year.
As mentioned above, he was having a standout AAA season with Nashville (.302/.378/.528, second in the league in homers and fourth in RBI) when the trade was made last week, pulverizing lefthanders (.327/.412/.584) in particular. Oklahoma RedHawks play-by-play broadcaster Jim Byers says Cruz is the best player he’s seen all year. (Part of that may be because Cruz hit safely in 15 of 16 games against Oklahoma this year and reached base in all 16, hitting a Vlad-esque .458/.500/.932 in 59 at-bats.)
But Byers won’t get a chance to see Cruz in a RedHawks uniform, at least not now. Texas immediately placed Cruz on the active roster, sending Freddy Guzman back to Oklahoma. Cruz has gone 3 for 9 thus far, homering off Twins reliever Willie Eyre on Monday.
Cruz has unmistakable power in his bat (Baseball America recognized him this week as the top power hitting prospect in the PCL, based on a survey of league managers and scouts) and in his arm, and despite high strikeout totals, he counterbalances those with high walk totals and a knack for the extra-base hit. He’s immediately the Rangers’ best position player prospect, and could be the club’s starting right fielder in April. He was on his second option this year, leaving him one when the 2007 season begins.
Nix will have one option remaining in 2007 as well, but it’s not hard to imagine he might not need it. The Brewers have installed him in center field in Nashville, and he’s off to a .538/.600/1.000 start in 13 Sounds at-bats after hitting .269/.323/.430 for the RedHawks. My initial hopes that he’d become Jim Edmonds may not come to fruition, but there’s no reason he can’t become Mark Kotsay, a solid major leaguer who has been traded twice. I’ll never lose faith in Nix, but it’s pretty clear that he needed a fresh start somewhere else.
Mench needed one as well. He got hot at the right time, embarking on a 10-game run leading up to the trade in which he hit .444/.462/.611, striking out just three times in 36 at-bats. But take out his seven-game homer streak in April (.414/.433/1.172) and this latest run, and he wasn’t very good, hitting .246/.306/.360 in his other 272 at-bats.
As for the pitcher in the deal, T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com reports that Milwaukee initially asked for Edinson Volquez. According to Jim Reeves of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Brewers then requested Scott Feldman or Wes Littleton. They eventually settled not on a young pitcher with big league experience but on a kid southpaw who is years away, if he ever does make it.
Julian Cordero signed with the Rangers out of the Dominican Republic after the 2004 season, unusual in that he was already 20 at the time of his signing. He has emerged quickly, though. Pitching briefly in the DSL (one appearance) and the Arizona League (4.32 ERA in 25 innings) last season, he was assigned to Clinton to begin the 2006 season and was decent in relief, going 2-4, 3.43 in 22 games out of the LumberKings bullpen. But a July move into the rotation provided the sort of breakthrough that you can imagine made Cordero a tradeable prospect in short order. In five Clinton starts, the lefthander went 0-1, 2.08, scattering 19 hits and five walks in 26 innings while fanning 18.
It will be worth keeping an eye on how Cordero progresses on the Milwaukee farm, starting with his assignment to the West Virginia Power of the Low A South Atlantic League. He’s certainly the least heralded player in the deal and the furthest by far from making any sort of impact, but you never know: Yeah, he could be Alan Webb. But he could also be Edwin Encarnacion.
The other Cordero is the key to the deal for Milwaukee. After a disastrous April (11.45 ERA, .333/.400/.563), his ugliest month since arriving in Texas six years ago, he lost his closer’s job and for the most part was very good setting up Akinori Otsuka, posting a 2.87 ERA and holding opponents to a .234 average. But a meltdown at home against New York on July 26 punctuated a severe problem getting the job done at home, where his ERA was 6.56 this year (as opposed to 3.20 on the road). You hate to suggest that Ameriquest Field was getting into Coco’s head, especially after all the success he’s had here for years, but it looked as if the boos might have been taking a toll.
Cordero ripped through four scoreless outings (two hits, three walks, and six strikeouts in 3.2 innings) in his first five days as a Brewer, and he has supplanted Derrick Turnbow and Danny Kolb as Milwaukee’s closer. Melvin has already said he intends to pick up Cordero’s $5 million option for 2007, something Texas was not likely to do.
Righthander Rick Bauer slides into the eighth-inning role vacated by Cordero. He has the longest active homerless streak in baseball, at 49.2 innings.
Notably, the Brewers will likely have all four players they received in the trade beyond this season, if they exercise the Cordero option. They’ll control Cordero through 2007, Mench through 2008, Nix through at least 2009, and Julian Cordero through at least 2010, though if they add him to the 40-man roster before then (and don’t lose him via Rule 5 beforehand), they can control him even longer.
I believe the younger Cordero will be Rule 5-eligible this winter, though it’s almost inconceivable that the Brewers would worry enough about that to add him to the 40, at this stage of his development.
Another pitcher who will be eligible for the December draft is righthander Jesse Chavez, but it won’t be Texas who has to decide whether the 22-year-old is a risk to lose if not placed on the 40. The Rangers traded Chavez to Pittsburgh just before Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline in exchange for righthander Kip Wells, who’d made three strong starts for the Pirates upon his return from surgery to repair a blocked artery in his pitching shoulder/armpit area.
The 29-year-old Baylor product was back on the mound in late June, making four bad starts (12.42 ERA) before reeling off three very good ones (1.83 ERA), and he was solid in his Rangers debut yesterday in Minnesota. With the sturdy effort (five-plus innings, one run on seven hits and two walks, three double play grounders), Wells improved his career mark to 57-74, 4.43 in 176 starts and 20 relief appearances.
Wells has always had an impressive arsenal but has been short on results. But he’s on a roll right now, is pitching for a contract (he’s on a one-year, $4.15 million deal), and maybe going to war in his home state will provide a bit of a rejuvenation. It’s a good risk to take, at little cost. Chavez has a good fastball and a dirty slider, but his high strikeout totals (70 in 59 innings for Frisco this year, plus three in two Oklahoma frames) were accompanied by 28 walks and a 4.43 ERA that was marked by a difficulty in getting left-handed hitters out.
Chavez has a chance, to be sure. But this is the type of trade you make without blinking, when you have a chance to win. Congratulations to area scout Steve Flores, who recommended that the Rangers take Chavez in the 42nd round in 2002, monitor him during his sophomore year at Riverside Community College as a draft-and-follow, and sign him in May 2003. The Rangers developed Chavez well. That’s a heck of a good result for a 42nd-round selection.
Congratulations are also in order for John Lombardo and the scouts, coaches, and baseball operations people who recommended that the organization sign minor league free agent Joselo Diaz this winter. The 26-year-old reliever went 2-0, 1.29 in eight Frisco appearances and 0-0, 3.28 in 28 RedHawk outings, fanning 75 and walking 42 in 63.2 combined innings, and Texas was able to convert him on Monday into veteran outfielder-DH Matt Stairs, who should give the Rangers a dependable left-handed bat over the final two months. The 38-year-old has slugged .500 against righthanders over his career, which began as a second baseman-shortstop (slightly less believable than Carlos Delgado breaking in as a catcher). Stairs will be a free agent after the season, just like Wells.
The latest flurry of Rangers moves included the following over the last week: Adam Eaton (who was outstanding on Tuesday) was activated. Bryan Corey was designated for assignment and ultimately traded to Boston for 22-year-old righthander Luis Mendoza, who was assigned to Frisco. Josh Rupe was called up to replace Cordero. Lee replaced Mench on the active roster, and Cruz replaced Guzman, who was optioned to AAA. Texas acquired 31-year-old catcher Miguel Ojeda from Colorado for cash considerations, assigning the veteran to Oklahoma (for whom he drove in three runs last night in a 2 for 4 effort). John Wasdin was designated for assignment, and John Rheinecker was optioned to AAA. Scott Feldman briefly came up for Rheinecker before returning to the RedHawks to make room for Wells.
The Rangers got Oklahoma infielder Aarom Baldiris through waivers and outrighted him off the 40-man roster.
The Rangers, like every team, will put the majority of their players on revocable Major League waivers this month, just to see what trade opportunities they can create. Would Rod Barajas clear? That’s not the important question; it’s more important to keep an eye on the AL East standings, where Boston and the Yankees are tied for first at the moment.
Mark Teixeira over his last nine games: .432/.488/.757 with four home runs. Lee, for more than one reason, may be the best thing that has happened this year to Teixeira, who was named the club’s July Player of the Month (.316/.407/.579, seven homers, more walks  than strikeouts ).
Gary Matthews Jr. has driven in 54 runs from the leadoff spot, one behind Soriano for the major league lead.
Lefthander Jesse Carlson was promoted from Frisco to Oklahoma, and righthander Eric Hurley was moved up from Bakersfield to Frisco.
The Rangers have converted a player named Julio Santana from shortstop to pitcher for the second time in 15 years. This one is a 20-year-old who is a slick fielder but hasn’t hit at all. He was dropped from Spokane to the Arizona League, where he has now pitched twice in relief, giving up two runs on no hits and three walks in 1.1 frames, fanning one.
Texas placed lefthander William Rodriguez and righthander Cesar Rojas (who came over in the Guzman trade) on the restricted list, and righthander Travis Thompson on the voluntarily retired list.
The Rangers signed Florida high school shortstop Marcus Lemon, the club’s fourth-round pick in June. The son of former big leaguer Chet Lemon, the younger Lemon had committed to play for the University of Texas and suggested before the draft that he wanted $1.5 million (roughly mid-first-round money) to sign. While the Rangers surely didn’t agree to pay Lemon that much, the fact that they had no second-round pick this year probably helped them get Lemon’s deal done for something more than slot.
Texas has signed 16 players from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela in the last month, headlined by hard-throwing 16-year-old righthander Wilmer Font, 16-year-old lefthander Geuris Grullon, and 17-year-old third baseman Emmanuel Solis. The others: righthanders Anyenil Mendoza, Wilfredo Boscan, Carlos Pimentel, and Ender Rosendo; lefthander Juan DeJesus; catchers Melvin Gonzalez and Leonel De Los Santos; shortstops Jorge Inirio, Carlos Gonzalez, and Junior DeJesus; and outfielders Ariel Ventura, Edward Alfonzo, and Christian Zapata.
San Diego released utility man Eric Young and optioned outfielder Terrmel Sledge to AAA. Atlanta released righthander Ricardo Rodriguez from AAA Richmond. Cincinnati released righthander Esteban Yan. San Francisco released lefthander Michael Tejera. Colorado signed lefthander Mike Venafro to a minor league deal. The Mets promoted outfielder Rashad Eldridge from AA to AAA.
Padres righthander Chan Ho Park lands on the disabled list and needs a transfusion to treat intestinal bleeding that caused the loss of half his blood volume. Wow.
Cubs righthander Kerry Wood will surely be a free agent this winter, and he says he intends to shop himself as a reliever. Interesting.
Hillcrest grad Matt Sulentic spanked Northwest League pitching around at a .354/.409/.479 clip and has been promoted to Low A Kane County, two months after Oakland made him its third-round pick.
What follows is the signature trade for every Texas Rangers general manager, plus a few who weren’t GM’s in title but who, by all accounts, engineered the deals in question:
June 6, 1973: Traded Mike Nagy and John Wockenfuss to the St. Louis Cardinals for Jim Bibby.
Dan O’Brien Sr.
October 25, 1973: Traded Bill Madlock and Vic Harris to the Chicago Cubs for Fergie Jenkins.
November 10, 1978: Traded Dave Righetti, Juan Beniquez, Mike Griffin, Paul Mirabella, and Greg Jemison to the New York Yankees for Sparky Lyle, Dave Rajsich, Domingo Ramos, Mike Heath, Larry McCall, and cash.
April 1, 1982: Traded Ron Darling and Walt Terrell to the New York Mets for Lee Mazzilli.
August 8, 1982: Traded Lee Mazzilli to the New York Yankees for Bucky Dent.
December 8, 1983: Traded Jim Sundberg to the Milwaukee Brewers for Ned Yost and Dan Scarpetta.
July 29, 1989: Traded Scott Fletcher, Sammy Sosa, and Wilson Alvarez to the Chicago White Sox for Harold Baines and Fred Manrique.
November 2, 1999: Traded Juan Gonzalez, Danny Patterson, and Gregg Zaun to the Detroit Tigers for Justin Thompson, Francisco Cordero, Frank Catalanotto, Bill Haselman, Gabe Kapler, and Alan Webb.
January 14, 2002: Traded Carlos Pena and Mike Venafro to the Oakland Athletics for Mario Ramos, Gerald Laird, Ryan Ludwick, and Jason Hart.
December 6, 2002: Traded Travis Hafner and Aaron Myette to the Cleveland Indians for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese.
February 16, 2004: Traded himself and cash to the New York Yankees for Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias.
July 28, 2006: Traded Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix, and Julian Cordero to the Milwaukee Brewers for Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz.
Don’t think for a minute that that’s going to be the biggest trade Daniels makes as Rangers general manager. I think we learned this past week that, in addition to favoring the creative and aggressive approach, Daniels is never going to be outworked, and I can’t think of any combination of qualities I’d rather have in my team’s GM.