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Rangers can reverse fortunes with a familiar trade

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In 2007, Texas rebooted their system with the Mark Teixeira trade

MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In what has become one of the most documented trades in 21st century baseball, the Texas Rangers pretty much rebuilt their entire organization at the 2007 trade deadline when they traded franchise player Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves.

For “Big Tex,” who was drafted fifth overall by the Rangers in 2001, the Rangers received one of the most talked about return packages in the game’s storied history.

Top shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus, top pitching prospect Neftali Feliz, top catching prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia and minor league pitchers Matt Harrison and Beau Jones. All for Teixeira and veteran lefty reliever Ron Mahay.

Nowadays, ginormous trade packages like this are much more common. No sport besides baseball —with its seemingly endless supply of professional minor leaguers— can make the kind of trades that this wonderful game can. (As I recently wrote about.)

The Chicago Cubs have supplied us with two of those deals. In 2016, they traded one of baseball’s very best prospects and more to the New York Yankees get Aroldis Chapman. In 2017, they did the same with Eloy Jimenez to acquire controllable Jose Quintana from the Chicago White Sox.

The Washington Nationals consummated the Adam Eaton blockbuster in-between those two deals at the 2016 Winter Meetings. To acquire Eaton from the Chi Sox, they traded three top pitching prospects, including blue chip pitcher Lucas Giolito.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Two days earlier, the Boston Red Sox traded the best prospect of any system, Yoan Moncada, along with similarly regarded pitcher Michael Kopech to the White Sox for superstar starter Chris Sale.

In the last year and change, these deals have not been as common. Top prospects just aren’t traded often. The Cubs are a recent outlier here, doing it thrice in three seasons, but Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have obviously earned that leeway after ending the infamous 108-year title drought.

The Teixeira trade has become famous because of how great it worked out for Texas — and how horribly it went for the Braves.

To quickly summarize Atlanta’s fate: Teixeira was great for the Braves, but the club fell off the deep end. A year later, with Tex approaching free agency, Atlanta was only able to get back Casey Kotchman and a minor leaguer from the Los Angeles Angels for the all-star first baseman they had given up so much to get.

For the Rangers, this deal was the one that started Texas’ multi-year run of contention, and also solidified Jon Daniels as one of baseball’s youngest and brightest minds.

It wasn’t immediate for Daniels, who stumbled out of the gates with a failed Alfonso Soriano trade in 2005 and an awful Adrian Gonzalez deal a month after.

Nearly two years later, after the Teixeira deal —in fact, just five months later— came the Josh Hamilton deal with the Cincinnati Reds.

In 2009, Andrus jumped Saltalamacchia as the prize of the 2007 trade and started 125 games for the Rangers as a 20-year old rookie, posting a 3.6 WAR at shortstop before everybody was doing it.

The Rangers made the World Series in 2010 and then added Adrian Beltre in one of the most undervalued free agent signings of the past 50 years. That resulted in another World Series appearance, of which we all know the outcome.

From there, Texas remained contenders until 2016, excluding 2014 where just about every player of value got hurt.

Unfortunately, the Rangers run is over. They came as close as you possibly can (twice) but couldn’t finish the job. Now, they are in a very familiar position to rebuild their organization.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Chicago White Sox Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Just like in 2007, when the Rangers received a Lone Star State-sized ransom for their star, it is time for them to do it once again. The irony is that their opportunity to do so comes via Andrus, the big acquisition from the Teixeira trade.

Before moving on, I feel it’s important to understand that the other top prospects in the deal have actually been busts. The trade doesn’t really deserve to be immortalized as it is, but was a rarity for the time. (The Detroit Tigers made a similar deal with the Miami Marlins in the coming winter for Miguel Cabrera.)

Saltalamacchia never developed with the Rangers and was cast off to the Red sox in 2010. Feliz won American League Rookie of the Year in 2010, but never recovered from his monumental meltdown in the 2011 World Series, as well as his doomed attempt at transitioning from shutdown closer to starter.

Matt Harrison actually turned out to be the heir to Andrus in the deal. He became a mainstay in the Rangers rotation in 2011 and 2012, making the all-star team in ‘12. Unfortunately, devastating back injuries cost him his prime years and eventually his entire career and he was a salary dump in the 2015 Cole Hamels trade.

Jones, a 2015 first-rounder who had become a bullpen arm exclusively, turned out to only be worth trouble. He was demoted from Double-A to High-A in 2009 and threatened to quit baseball after hearing the news. He was last seen with Double-A Midland in the Oakland A’s system in 2012.

The Rangers are actually about to win their seventh straight game as I write this piece about how they should officially blow it up. Even with the streak, they are 10 games under .500 and would need to triple the streak to try and enter the playoff race.

It’s obviously not going to happen.

There is one major roadblock to the Rangers committing to a rebuild, especially going as far to deal their franchise star Andrus. Texas recently broke ground on a brand new, state-of-the-art stadium that is set to open 2020 right across from the insane Dallas Cowboys behemoth. They obviously don’t want to be rebuilding when the thing opens.

Even with air conditioning.

But if you’re not a contender, what are you? You’re rebuilding, or you’re in denial.

That means trading Andrus. And Beltre. And Hamels. And anyone not in your long-term plans that you can deal.

Recent seasons have been hard on Jon Daniels when it comes to trading. He was nevertheless given a contract extension earlier this month.

Among blockbuster deals, the 2015 Hamels trade has worked out. The 2016 Jonathan Lucroy trade has not.

MLB: NL Wildcard-Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Deals for Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza in 2012 and 2013 —both with the Cubs— cost Texas Kyle Hendricks, Carl Edwards Jr. and recent bloomer Christian Villanueva.

In 2015, Texas traded Corey Knebel (along with two others) to the Brewers (who they would revisit a year later for Lucroy) to obtain Yovani Gallardo, who is actually back with the depleted Rangers and started on Saturday.

If anything, Daniels is due.

Baseball has changed rather drastically in the little-over-a-decade since the Teixeira blockbuster. As I detailed previously, the top minor leaguer trades have died down a bit in the last year.

A big part of that is teams being more protective than ever of their prospects. Also, the Marlins have traded all-star talents for pennies on the dollar over the last several months, minimizing leverage for 29 other teams in trade talks.

If they could only manage one top prospect for Christian Yelich, and arguably none for Marcell Ozuna, what is Andrus’ trade value?

At last season’s trade deadline —waiver and non-waiver— many big names were traded. J.D. Martinez and Yu Darvish were dealt as impending free agents, the latter fetching Willie Calhoun while the former was acquired rather cheaply.

The Yankees won the Sonny Gray sweepstakes, but didn’t surrender any of their untouchable prospects like Torres, Miguel Andujar or Justus Sheffield to the A’s. They did trade Blake Rutherford to the White Sox, but got three MLB players.

The Tigers were able to snag Jeimer Candelario from the Cubs for a pair of vets. But take it with a grain of salt as it was from the immune Epstein-Hoyer regime in Chicago, who also dealt Jimenez to the White Sox to get Quintana.

In August, the Astros made perhaps the biggest move acquiring Justin Verlander. It didn’t cost them Kyle Tucker, Francis Martes or Forrest Whitley.

Though he has missed time with injury this season, Andrus is back and healthy for the Rangers. He’s their top trade bait, but shortstop isn’t the black hole of offensive production that it was the last time Elvis switched buildings.

Still, the 29-year old is under contract all the way through 2023 at a reasonable price. He does have an opt-out after this season and next, which complicates things. But like any impending free agent (see: Manny Machado or even go outside the box with Kawhi Leonard), sometimes you make the move before they hit the market to establish a rapport. (h/t to Adam Morris of Lone Star Ball for waking me up to the opt-out)

Andrus exploded for 20 home runs last season, his previous career-high registering at eight the year prior. His power, like everyone in the “juiced ball era,” is rising. But his best value is across the board.

He’s stolen 30 bases a season in his career. He’s a fine defensive shortstop. In large thanks to his infield mate and best pal Beltre, he has developed into one of the best clubhouse leaders and personalities in our game today.

His overall attributes —he does everything well— and his off-the-field contributions are all plusses that give the Rangers some leverage to make a franchise-altering deal at the deadline.

The Rangers minor league system has been torn apart by trades and unproductive drafts —especially when they picked Dillon Tate fourth overall in 2015— and could use just about anything. Especially pitching.

Few farm systems can claim less young pitching talent than the Rangers. There are some good bats, though. Leody Taveras and Cuban signee Juan Pablo Martinez are very exciting young outfielders and Calhoun is big-league ready with the bat, just not with the glove or between the ears, according to Rangers brass.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Personally, I would be surprised to see Daniels trade Andrus. The Rangers have been hot and it wouldn’t be the first time a team erroneously rode a winning streak past the July trade deadline without making what is perceived by simpleton writers like me as the “right” move.

I also don’t think Daniels is ready to rebuild. Though the pitching staff is one even the San Diego Padres (and his former Padawan A.J. Preller) would scoff at, Texas does have some bats. Particularly Shin-Soo Choo, who is owed $21 million dollars in each of the next two seasons, but has had a fantastic season.

If the Rangers could possibly deal him, along with Hamels and/or Beltre, they would certainly be inclined to keep Andrus for the other side of the rebuild, if it indeed arrives.

Furthermore offensively, Joey Gallo has become an elite OPS machine, Jurickson Profar is finally getting a chance to play and Nomar Mazara is still just 23. Some quality rookies like Ronald Guzman, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Jose Trevino have come up, and then there’s Calhoun on the precipice.

But the team is still a ways away from being a threat in October. That means sell. Whether they actually do will be seen over the next month and more.

And it all starts with Elvis Andrus. And Mark Teixeira. And Jon Daniels.