July’s past.

If I’d started the Newberg Report back in 1993, a time in this franchise’s history when focusing at least partly on the farm system was necessary to maintain sanity, I would have written a lengthy bellyache over the July trade of Kurt Miller and Robb Nen for Cris Carpenter, a deal that would be the rough equivalent today of Martin Perez and Tanner Scheppers for Jon Rauch.

But I didn’t start this thing up until 1998.  Here are some of the things I’ve written over the years in reviewing the club’s July trades:

July 17, 1998 – Texas trades Warren Morris and Todd Van Poppel to Pittsburgh for Esteban Loaiza: It’s got some risk, but Morris is not the kind of prospect that made anyone think he would blow through every level.  He may very well hit his ceiling short of the bigs, and if so, congrats to Melvin and Nichols for judging him accordingly and turning him into a legit big league starting pitcher.  Loaiza is not filler by any means, and maybe he will make Pittsburgh as sorry as Boston is about giving up on Sele or Florida on Helling.

Loaiza is not Clemens and not even Harnisch, but he’s got a little upside and he is clearly an improvement over Van Poppel in the current rotation.

I had seven recipients on the mailing list when I sent that out.  Thank goodness.

(To be fair, the Clemens reference was made because he and Harnisch were rumored to be available that month.  It wasn’t a comment on lifetime body of work.)

July 19, 2000 – Texas trades Esteban Loaiza to Toronto for Michael Young and Darwin Cubillan: Almost two years ago to the day, Texas acquired a swingman named Esteban Antonio Veyna Loaiza from Pittsburgh for two minor leaguers, Warren Morris and Todd Van Poppel.  His finest game in that 1998 season, and probably the finest game he has tossed at this point in his career, came against Toronto on July 30, his third start for Texas, when he allowed one run in eight innings on four singles and two walks, punching out nine Blue Jays, but he lost the game, 1-0.  (If memory serves, the game’s only run scored on a roller up the middle that anyone not named Kevin Elster would have gotten to – and Elster was released the next day in conjunction with the July 31 acquisition of Royce Clayton.)  Five days later, Loaiza faced Toronto again, allowing two runs in eight frames on five hits and two walks, fanning five, taking a no-decision.

The work he did against the Jays must have left a lasting impression.  Toronto acquired Loaiza yesterday, sending AA middle infielder Mike Young and AAA righthanded reliever Darwin Cubillan to the Rangers.  My opinion?  This is not a watershed trade for either club, but one that I think each team will look back on favorably.

Yeah.  Never mind all that.

July 11, 2003 – Texas trades Ugueth Urbina to Florida for Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Snare, and Will Smith: As I walked out of my depositions yesterday afternoon, I turned on the ignition to the sound of Grady Fuson’s voice on the Ticket, and before I was out of the parking garage I realized this was no State of the System interview.  There was news.  By time I’d reached a traffic light I’d heard who the three prospects were that we were importing from Florida, but I hadn’t heard yet who we sent the Marlins.

Know what?  I couldn’t conceive of an answer to that question that would have upset me, because I now have faith that we aren’t going to be shopping Blalock or Teixeira or Nix and of course the nature of a July trade like this never means the contending club sending three prospects away is getting kids back anyway.  It didn’t matter to me if it was Juan Gonzalez or Rafael Palmeiro or Ismael Valdes or John Thomson or Ugueth Urbina.  Or two of them.

It wasn’t until the Fuson interview concluded that I heard it was Urbina, and I was stunned.

Adrian Gonzalez, someone else, and someone else, for a rental reliever.  Fuson’s finest moment here.

July 18, 2003 – Texas trades Ryan Ludwick to Cleveland for Ricardo Rodriguez and Shane Spencer: What concerns me a little is why the Indians, rebuilding just as Texas is, would make this deal.  When Florida sent three promising kids to the Rangers for Ugueth Urbina, it was at least defensible from the standpoint that the Marlins wanted to give the post-season a run.

But Cleveland is in much the same position as Texas, and with a handful of interesting young outfielders (Milton Bradley, Matt Lawton, Grady Sizemore, Jody Gerut, Coco Crisp, Ben Broussard, Alex Escobar, Luis Garcia) it seems odd that the Indians would move a young starter for another outfield candidate – on the other hand, we do know that they were zeroing in on Kevin Mench before he got hurt earlier this month.  It’s also true that Cleveland has a wave of young pitchers on the way, but you don’t generally deplete pitching inventory to build outfield inventory.

The bottom line from the Indians’ standpoint, according to Shapiro, is that they felt they needed a big league boost in right-handed power, and Ludwick has proven at every minor league level that he might be ready to provide it.

Man, that trade sure looked good for a while.

July 28, 2006 – Texas trades Francisco Cordero, Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, and Julian Cordero to Milwaukee for Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz: 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 is among the most productive hitters in baseball this year (.286/.347/.549, 28 home runs, 81 RBI).  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.

* * *

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.

As for that last part, we hadn’t seen anything yet.

July 31, 2007 – Texas trades Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay to Atlanta for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Beau Jones: I know this, though: a Teixeira trade had become virtually inevitable, and from that standpoint I’m excited about what Jon Daniels pulled off.  I’m looking forward to checking those Elvis Andrus box scores in Bakersfield and those Neftali Feliz short-season pitching lines, and to imagining what my team’s roster could look like two years from now, when Saltalamacchia could be part of the Rangers’ identity, and Teixeira may very well be in pinstripes or adorned by an orange and black bird, as the Braves work to try and sign the two draft picks they received when Teixeira left for the Coast.

It’s pretty obvious that sometime between July 2006 and July 2007 is when Michael Chabon’s writing style (specifically, the comma-to-period ratio) started rubbing off on me.

July 9, 2010 – Texas trades Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke, and Matt Lawson to Seattle for Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe: That Texas landed baseball’s best left-handed pitcher, a proven big game warrior on a short list of the league’s best pitchers, period, without giving up Perez or Scheppers or Holland or Hunter or Ogando is sort of stunning.  I understand that Seattle was targeting a young hitter.  But I’m still having trouble getting my head wrapped around a deal for a pitcher like this where you part with a young blue-chip position player but don’t have to dip into what is a very deep top tier of your pitching prospect stable — and that’s without even considering that you had to have the Mariners put cash into the deal, something other teams wouldn’t have insisted on.

* * *

I’m repeating myself, but drafting Smoak in 2008 set things up for a Matt LaPorta/C.C. Sabathia trade down the road.  From the April 23 Newberg Report:

When Texas chose Smoak on June 5, 2008, Davis was less than two weeks into his AAA promotion, having hit his way out of the Texas League with a monstrous .333/.376/.618 two months.  There was every reason not to pop the 21-year-old Smoak with the 22-year-old Davis barreling in toward the first base job that Ben Broussard and Chris Shelton were attempting to hold down.  The Rangers could have taken the second player on their board, Georgia high school righthander Ethan Martin, and avoided the possible Davis-Smoak conundrum.

You never draft for need.  You take the best player available.  With ownership willing to spend what it would take to pay Smoak’s expected signing bonus demands, Texas did take the best player available on Draft Day 2008.

And they had the best player available, at least in Seattle’s eyes, again yesterday, enabling the execution of Step Five, for which It was Time.

As a result Texas now suits up the best big league pitcher available, the latest incredible development in what has been, and promises to continue to be, an extraordinary baseball season in Arlington.

Yeah, that was a pretty good day.

And then there’s this, from a column I wrote for MLB.com on August 9, 2007, looking back 11 years to a trade Texas made with Florida just after the 1996 trade deadline.

On August 8, the two teams agreed in principle on a deal that would send [John] Burkett to Texas for Ryan Dempster, a 19-year-old righthander whom the Rangers had drafted the summer before in the third round, plus a player to be named later from an agreed list of prospects that included [Rick] Helling.  Texas didn’t need to run Dempster – the key to the deal for the Marlins – through revocable waivers since he was not on the 40-man roster.

Helling was having an outstanding AAA season, but Melvin thought Florida was going to choose AAA reliever Danny Patterson as the player to be named.  At least until August 13, when Helling threw the first perfect game in Oklahoma City history.

The Rangers couldn’t alter the parameters of the deal.  But they were hardly remorseful buyers.  Two days earlier, in his Rangers debut, Burkett had authored a complete-game, 6-0 shutout, stretching the Texas division lead back to five games.

The Rangers placed Helling on revocable waivers in early September, when post-season rosters were already set, and he reached the Marlins without being claimed, allowing the teams to complete the trade on September 3.  (Presumably, had he been blocked, Texas simply would have pulled him back and conveyed him to Florida after the season.)  With the minor league season over, Helling, who had gone 12-4, 2.96 for Oklahoma City, posted a 1.95 ERA in four Marlins starts and a relief appearance, scattering 14 hits and seven walks in 27.2 innings while punching out 26 National Leaguers.

Again, though, Texas had no regrets.  Burkett went 5-2, 4.06 in 10 Rangers starts as the club nailed down its first post-season berth, and earned what remains the only playoff win in franchise history with a complete-game gem in Yankee Stadium, a 6-2 victory to kick off the series before it turned sour.

It’s that particular piece of Rangers trade history that I was reminded of earlier tonight.

James Garner

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