Swapping Stories: The Guillermo Mercedes Trade of 1995
June 22, 1995: Texas trades shortstop Guillermo Mercedes to Cleveland for lefthander Dennis Cook.
In the 1980s, the Texas Rangers were leaders in the effort to mine talent in Latin America. The club signed and developed players like Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, Ruben Sierra, Wilson Alvarez, and Jose Guzman, going outside the draft to build the core of the club and stock the system with players that other teams would eventually part with established players for.
As other organizations caught up in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, and players in Puerto Rico became subject to the draft, the Rangers’ not only lost their edge in Latin America, but by any objective measure, were probably closer to the back of the pack than the front in the 1990s and in the first part of this decade.
From time to time between the prolific ’80s and the organization’s recent resurgence in Latin America, Texas did manage to land a handful of prospects from that part of the world, usually to the credit of Omar Minaya, then the Rangers’ international scouting director. Among them were eventual big leaguers Julio Santana, Fernando Tatis, and Ruben Mateo, each signed by Texas in the ’90s.
Also among the players that Minaya found in that time was a 16-year-old shortstop named Guillermo Mercedes, who signed with Texas in December 1990 out of La Romana in the Dominican Republic. Mercedes weighed a listed 155 pounds when he signed, but there was no projection needed as far as his defense and footspeed were concerned.
Mercedes finished among the league leaders in both fielding percentage and stolen bases in each of his first four years in the system. Going into the 1994 season, despite having not played above the Low Class A level, Mercedes was nonetheless ranked by Baseball America as the Rangers’ number eight prospect.
On November 18, 1994, a month and a half after Doug Melvin was hired as Rangers General Manager, he faced his first deadline to add eligible minor leaguers to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. Among the players Melvin added was Mercedes, who was just a career .229 hitter with no home runs (and only 26 extra-base hits) in 308 games.
At the time, the club’s top position player prospect was shortstop Benji Gil. The next two were probably second baseman Edwin Diaz and third baseman Mike Bell. Coming off a disappointing 1994 season, AA Tulsa shortstop Rich Aurilia was shipped in December to San Francisco with outfielder Desi Wilson for righthander John Burkett (who never suited up for the Rangers, at least this time).
Whether the stock the Rangers placed in Mercedes had anything to do with their willingness to move Aurilia is unclear, but it was probably Gil’s presence that made both Aurilia and Mercedes available in the right deal. When Melvin made the 1994 trade for Burkett, it was an effort to bolster a rotation that included Kenny Rogers, Kevin Gross, Roger Pavlik, and Bob Tewksbury.
Six months later, it was the bullpen that Melvin used his perceived shortstop surplus to address.
In June 1995, Melvin had a chance to acquire veteran southpaw Dennis Cook from the Indians, at the cost of Mercedes. It had been a miserable spring for the 20-year-old, who hit .218 with two extra-base hits in 110 at-bats for High A Charlotte and .119 in 42 at-bats for Tulsa.
Cook had struggled himself. Coming into 1995 he had a lifetime ERA of 3.85 in seven big league seasons, but through the first half of the season he had pitched himself out of regular use for the Indians, who had acquired him off waivers from the White Sox over the winter. Cook had a 6.39 ERA in 11 Cleveland relief appearances, getting into just one game in a span of 18 days when Indians General Manager John Hart designated the 33-year-old for assignment on June 18.
Texas worked out a trade for Cook by offering Mercedes four days later. Cook was pretty good in the second half for Texas, posting a 4.00 without a decision in 34 relief appearances and one start. He was then an instrumental piece of the club’s solid set-up relief crew in 1996, the franchise’s first-ever playoff season, winning five games out of the bullpen and posting a 4.09 ERA in 60 appearances, fanning 64 hitters in 70.1 innings of work. He pitched twice in the Rangers’ four playoff games against the Yankees, walking one in 1.1 hitless and scoreless frames.
Cook left Texas after the 1996 season, helping Florida win a World Series – over Cleveland – in 1997 (posting a 3.90 ERA during the regular season and firing nine scoreless innings in the post-season) and later pitching for two Mets playoff clubs. All told, Cook pitched 16.1 playoff innings in his 15-year career, never allowing an earned run.
Meanwhile, Mercedes lasted just two and a half years in the Cleveland system, never reaching the big leagues.
But he made an impression on Hart.
Texas hired Hart as its General Manager in November 2001, and Mercedes returned to the Rangers organization, brought on to run the club’s Dominican instructional league program that winter. He then managed the Rangers’ Dominican Summer League club from 2002 to 2005 and has served as its hitting coach the last two seasons.
The December 1990 signing of Mercedes out of La Romana – which is where the Rangers’ Dominican academy was based in the years that he managed the DSL club – wasn’t nearly as heralded as the discoveries of Rodriguez, Gonzalez, Sosa, and Sierra before him, or Santana, Tatis, and Mateo afterwards.
But he provides a good example of the importance of building depth in minor league inventory, because even though Mercedes didn’t have close to the impact that those others had as players, Texas was able to develop him to the point that he could be flipped for a key component of its first playoff team. That’s a scouting and development success story.
Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.