Swapping Stories: The Jeff Fassero Trade of 1999
August 27, 1999: Texas trades a player to be named later to Seattle for lefthander Jeff Fassero; September 22, 1999: Texas sends outfielder Adrian Myers to Seattle to complete the trade.
There’s a natural timeline break in Rangers history, the November 1999 trade of Juan Gonzalez that followed a four-year run which included the club’s only three division titles and preceded four straight last-place finishes in the AL West. While the trade of Gonzalez wasn’t supposed to trigger such a dramatic collapse, the fact is that Texas was one of baseball’s most consistent contenders before the trade, and hasn’t finished above third in the division in the eight seasons since.
Few trades in franchise history had more impact than Doug Melvin’s trade of Gonzalez, Danny Patterson, and Gregg Zaun to Detroit for Justin Thompson, Francisco Cordero, Frank Catalanotto, Gabe Kapler, Bill Haselman, and Alan Webb. Few had less impact than the last trade Melvin made before the Gonzalez blockbuster. On August 27, 1999, four days before the deadline to acquire playoff-eligible players, Texas agreed to send Seattle a player to be named later for left-handed veteran Jeff Fassero. Almost a month later, on September 22, AA Tulsa outfielder Adrian Myers was shipped to the Mariners to complete the deal.
It was not a trade made out of desperation. Going into an off-day on August 26, the Rangers had won eight of 11, extending their lead over Oakland from 4.5 games to 6.5 games with five weeks left to play. But Melvin, who had lost Eric Gunderson to a season-ending injury in May, was looking for an extra left-handed arm to complement Mike Venafro and Mike Munoz on the post-season roster, as he wasn’t prepared to count on young southpaws Doug Davis, Matt Perisho, or Corey Lee in the playoffs.
Seattle was hovering around .500, out of the race, when the Rangers expressed an interest in the 36-year-old Fassero, who had been the club’s Opening Day starter despite off-season elbow surgery to remove bone chips. Fassero was in the midst of a terrible year, going 4-14, 7.38 for the Mariners and losing his rotation spot as he neared the end of a two-year contract worth a little more than $10 million. Seattle wasn’t going to bring him back.
Texas wasn’t interested in bringing Fassero aboard for any more than the end of the 1999 season. More specifically, the Rangers looked at him as a veteran who would upgrade their October staff. While right-handed hitters were spanking Fassero at a .341 clip, lefties were hitting just .252. If the Rangers were to draw the Yankees in the playoffs for the third time in four years, the thought that Fassero might be able to come in to get Paul O’Neill or Tino Martinez out in the middle innings was what drove Melvin to trade for the free-agent-to-be. Even that idea took a leap of faith, however. New York had scored 12 times in 10.1 innings against Fassero in 1999.
The Rangers and Mariners agreed to the trade on August 27, and Seattle took almost a month before deciding on Myers, a fleet 24-year-old outfielder, to complete the deal. The Rangers’ 21st-round pick in 1996, Myers hit a punchless .235/.323/.300 for the Drillers in 1999, his first season in AA. He would spend four years in the Mariners system, reaching the AAA level in 2002 and earning eight spring training at-bats in 2003, which would turn out to be his final year in pro ball. Myers never reached the big leagues, but his eight pro seasons were seven more than his cousin, outfielder Mandell Echols, enjoyed after being drafted by Texas in 1995’s 41st round out of the same school (William Carey College in Mississippi).
Texas went 4-3 in the seven games in which Fassero appeared down the stretch in 1999, but he wasn’t very good. In 17.1 innings he posted a 5.71 ERA – and that included a scoreless, one-hit effort in a four-inning spot start against his former Mariners teammates – allowing 20 hits and 10 walks while fanning 13. In the club’s three-game playoff sweep at the hands of the Yankees, he appeared one time, giving up a run on two hits and a walk in the eighth inning of the Rangers’ 8-0 loss in Game One.
Fassero signed with Boston that off-season, kicking off an odyssey that saw him pitch for six teams in seven seasons. The 43-year-old’s career came to an end when San Francisco designated him for assignment in May of 2006, clearing a roster spot for young lefthander Noah Lowry.
The Giants had drafted Lowry in the first round of the 2001 draft, two years after Texas selected the Ventura Junior College southpaw in the 19th round but failed to convince him to sign rather than transfer to Pepperdine.
No media attention was paid at the time to the Rangers’ inability to sign Lowry in the summer of 1999. Texas had one of its most promising draft classes in franchise history, coming away with high-ceiling righthanders Colby Lewis, David Mead, and Nick Regilio with its first three picks, and landing third baseman Hank Blalock (third round), outfielder Kevin Mench (fourth round), and righthander Aaron Harang (sixth round), all of whom had debut seasons as dominant as any in the minors that summer.
Plus, of course, the Rangers were headed for their third playoff berth in four seasons, relegating that June’s draft to footnote status – a fate that would also be reserved for the team’s late-season trade of Adrian Myers for Jeff Fassero.
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.