The first step came 10 years before the 2010 club won the first of two straight American League pennants.
Jeff Wilson’s Texas Rangers Newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Editor’s note: T.R. Sullivan covered the Texas Rangers over 32 years for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and MLB.com and is sharing his “memoirs” with this newsletter. In this installment, Sullivan continues to review the moves made to build a championship team in 2010 and 2011.Read more T.R.’s Memoirs The Rangers signed Kevin Millwood to a five-year, $60 million deal Dec. 26, 2005, to be their No. 1 starter. Millwood, one of the finest guys to ever wear a Rangers uniform, tried his best to fill that role, but it was tough on a bad team and in a pitcher friendly ballpark. Over four years, he was 48-46 with a 4.47 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP, as well as providing invaluable leadership and mentoring for a young pitching staff. Then the Rangers devised a plan at the 2009 winter meetings. On Dec. 9, 2009, they traded Millwood to the Orioles for pitchers Chris Ray and Ben Snyder. Ray had saved 33 games for the Orioles in 2007 but was coming off a lousy season. In 2009, he was 0-4 with a 7.27 ERA and no saves. The Rangers’ plan was to get a comeback year from Ray and use the money saved to sign pitcher Rich Harden, a right-hander with No. 1 starter ability who had been held back by injuries. Harden, a native of Canada who pitched most of his career for Oakland, never really seemed to like being in Texas. He was 5-5 with a 5.58 ERA in 20 games, including 18 starts, missed six weeks midseason with a muscle strain and was left off the playoff roster. Ray was decent for the Rangers as a setup reliever behind Feliz, going 2-0 with a 3.41 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP in 35 games. Then, in a surprise move, the Rangers traded him and minor-league pitcher Michael Main to the Giants for catcher Bengie Molina. Main had been taken in the first round of the 2007 draft and was supposed to be a hot prospect. He never made the big leagues and the Rangers hardly missed Ray. Molina addressed the catching issue that had been nagging the Rangers since spring training. They began the season planning to use both Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden as their catchers. The Rangers also had veteran Matt Treanor to catch at Triple A after he was acquired from the Brewers on March 22 for pitcher Ray Olmedo. Saltalamacchia was the Opening Day catcher and delivered a walkoff single in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 5-4 victory over the Blue Jays. Teagarden started the second game and Saltalamacchia struck out pinch-hitting for him in the ninth inning. Saltamacchia never played another game for the Rangers. Saltalamacchia had his 2009 season cut short because of surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome on his right shoulder, and he was still having problems throwing the following spring. The Rangers hoped he would be full strength at the start of the season but that was not the case. Saltalamacchia was placed on the disabled list April 9 and later assigned to Triple A Oklahoma City. The Rangers traded him to the Red Sox on July 31. Teagarden was a third-round pick by the Rangers in 2005 and had played at Texas on the Longhorns’ national championship team that year. He also played for the 2008 United States Olympic team and the Rangers clearly saw him as one of their catchers of the future. The Rangers kept him and Saltamacchia over Gerald Laird, who was traded to the Tigers at the 2008 winter meetings. But Teagarden hit just .155 in 2010, which is why they traded for Molina at the beginning of July. Molina and Treanor held down the duties for the final three months of the season. Molina’s “hit for the cycle” game against the Red Sox remains one of the most iconic moments in Rangers history. General manager Jon Daniels said Molina’s inspirational speech to the Rangers before their first game against the Rays in the 2010 ALDS was another iconic moment in club history. That said, if someone ever asks you who started the most games at catcher on the first World Series team in Rangers history … the answer is Misty May Treanor’s husband. Yes, Matt Treanor, husband of the gold medal-winning beach volleyball star, led the Rangers with 67 games started behind the plate. Not bad for a 34-year-old with his fifth organization acquired at the end of Spring Training to give the Rangers depth at Triple A. Subscribe now
Building a lineup
Treanor wasn’t quite as well-known of an acquisition as Vladimir Guerrero, who was in the twilight of what turned out to be a Hall of Fame career. Guerrero, at age 34, had played in just 100 games for the Angels in 2009 around two trips to the disabled list. He had bad knees, was limited mainly to designated hitter and his .295 batting average and .460 slugging percentage were both career lows. Ron Washington wanted him. Washington loved veteran players in his lineup. Sammy Sosa, Kenny Lofton, Milton Bradley, Omar Vizquel and Andruw Jones had all played for the Rangers prior to 2010 under Washington’s recommendation. Now Washington wanted Guerrero, so the Rangers signed him to a one-year deal and it proved to be an outstanding move. Guerrero hit .295 with 29 home runs, 115 RBIs and a .496 slugging percentage as the Rangers’ DH. Guerrero helped give the Rangers a formidable lineup along with Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz in the outfield. Julio Borbon was struggling to establish himself as a leadoff hitter in center field, but David Murphy gave the Rangers an excellent alternative. Three-fourths of the infield was set with Michael Young at third, Elvis Andrus at short and Ian Kinsler at second. All three went to the All-Star Game in 2010. First base was a revolving door. The Rangers opened the season with Chris Davis, but he was demoted after hitting .188 with 17 strikeouts in his first 15 games. Justin Smoak, a switch-hitter who had been the No. 1 draft pick out of South Carolina in 2008, was called to play first but was deemed expendable after hitting .203 in 70 games. The Rangers finally called up Mitch Moreland in late July, and he gave the Rangers more of what they needed. In 47 games, he hit .255 with nine home runs, 25 RBIs and a .469 slugging percentage. Moreland was a guy who could reinforce a lineup at the bottom of the order and handle himself defensively. And that is what he has been for his entire 12-year career, including eight seasons in which his team advanced to postseason. Mitch Moreland is basically a winning baseball player. Give a gift subscription
Lewis, Oliver sign back up
Another big signing for the Rangers that winter was right-handed pitcher Colby Lewis, their top draft pick from 1999. When last seen in Arlington, Lewis had pitched in three games for the Rangers in 2004 before suffering a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. He missed all of 2005 as well before drifting into baseball oblivion by wandering between the Nationals, Tigers, Athletics and Royals over 2006-07. During those two years, he pitched in 28 games and had a 6.20 ERA. Then, he made a brilliant move that changed his career for good. He signed to pitch for the Hiroshima Carp in Japan and spent two tremendous seasons there — 26 combined wins, 2.82 ERA and a 0.996 WHIP, plus 1.2 walks and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings. When the Rangers signed him, I figured he was a candidate for the starting rotation who would have to win a job in spring training. No, Daniels told me. Lewis was a lock for the rotation. Darren Oliver was also a big free-agent signing, and another pitcher who had been rescued from baseball oblivion. Oliver enjoyed a 12-year career, mainly as a starter, from 1993-2004, but he seemed to be finished after being released by three different teams during the 2005 season. Mets general manager Omar Minaya signed him to a minor-league contract for 2006 season and made him a reliever. Oliver, with his career revived, enjoyed three excellent seasons with the Mets and Angels, then two more with the Rangers in 2010-11. He finally called it quits after two years with the Blue Jays in 2012-13. Fun fact: Oliver earned $21 million in salary after being released by the Rockies, D-backs and Cubs in 2005. Share Jeff Wilson’s Texas Rangers Newsletter
Building the bullpen
Oliver was one of three key setup relievers backing up closer Neftali Feliz during the 2010 season. The others were right-handers Darren O’Day and Alexi Ogando. How did the Rangers get them? O’Day was claimed off waivers from the Mets on April 22, 2009. The Rangers were in Toronto that night. O’Day was in Panama City Beach, Fla., after being designated for assignment by the Mets. He flew to Toronto through Memphis and arrived at the Rogers Centre during the game. The Rangers hadn’t received his jersey back from the tailor, so he had to wear the jersey of injured left-hander Kason Gabbard. When O’Day entered the game with two on and one out in the bottom of the 11th, he he met the entire Rangers infield for the first time, along with Saltalamacchia and Washington. Once the introductions were complete, O’Day gave up a game-winning single to Kevin Millar. O’Day, tough to hit because of his sidearm style, hung around the entire season and had a 1.94 ERA in 64 appearances. In 2010, he was 6-2 with a 2.03 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP in 72 games. Before long, the crowd was singing “O’Day! O’Day! O’Day! O’Day!” every time he came to the mound. Good thing his grandmother and father changed the surname from Odachowski many years earlier. O’Day was of Polish origin. Ogando was from the Dominican Republic, originally signed by the Athletics on March 26, 2002. Back then he was an outfielder named Argenis Benitez. He really wasn’t that good and he had a lot of other problems. The Athletics found out his name was really Alexi Ogando and he had been caught up in a human trafficking scheme. Young Dominican players were paid $3,000 to “marry” a young lady and get her to America. Ogando and Rangers pitcher Omar Beltre were among those caught up in the scheme and suspended. They were also denied visa work applications into the United States. The Athletics pretty much turned their backs on Ogando/Benitez and left him unprotected in the minor-league phase of the 2005 Rule 5 Draft. The Rangers took him at the urging of A.J. Preller, the Rangers’ director of player personnel. Preller had been one of Daniels’ first hires after being named GM. Preller’s idea was to use Ogando as a pitcher because of his strong right arm. The Rangers knew of Ogando’s legal issues because they were facing the same problem with Beltre, one of their own top pitching prospects. The Rangers were hoping the issue would get addressed quickly and the two players could get on with their careers. It did not. It took four tortuous years before Ogando and Beltre were finally cleared to play for the 2010 season. Beltre, who the Rangers viewed as a potential No. 1 starter, made two starts for the Rangers in 2010 and was later diagnosed with spinal stenosis. It brought a premature end to his career, just as it did with Matt Harrison several years later. Ogando had a much bigger impact. He joined the bullpen after just 18 games in the minors. He was 4-1 with a 1.30 ERA in 44 relief appearances before moving to the rotation and becoming an All-Star in 2011.https://open.spotify.com/embed/episode/4MWdLeLJAmlOYys4L4nLDo
Trade that shocked the world
The Rangers took control of the American League in 2010 by winning 11 straight games in June. First base and catcher were still unsettled, but much of the rest of the team looked strong. The Rangers clearly, though, wanted to upgrade their rotation. C.J. Wilson, Lewis and Tommy Hunter were pitching well, but Scott Feldman and Harden were struggling. Derek Holland and Harrison had potential but weren’t quite there yet. The Rangers wanted one more starter, and they were thinking big. In 2009, the Rangers made a strong run at Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay but came up short, partly because they were reluctant to give up Holland or Hunter in the deal. The Rangers were willing to be more aggressive this time around. By mid-June it was clear the Mariners were willing to trade left-hander Cliff Lee, who could be a free agent after the season. The Mariners, after going 85-77 in 2009, had acquired Lee in the offseason for three minor-league players in the hopes that he would lead them to a division title and more. Instead, the Mariners were 33-44 by the end of June and 14 games out of first place. Lee, a Cy Young winner just two years earlier, was more than available, and the Rangers landed him and reliever Mark Lowe in a deal that went down July 9, 2010. The deal was a huge lift for the Rangers. Daniels made the trade, then allowed Washington to announce the trade in the clubhouse. The room erupted with joy. The Rangers had to give up two former No. 1 draft picks. One was Smoak. The other was right-hander Blake Beavan, who had been the 17th overall pick in the 2007 Draft and was enjoying a strong season — 10-5, 2.78 ERA, 1.01 WHIP — at Double A Frisco. But the Rangers were thrilled they didn’t have to include Holland, left-hander Martin Perez and right-hander Tanner Scheppers in the deal. The Rangers also gave up minor-league infielder Matt Lawson and right-handed pitcher Josh Lueke in the deal. Lawson never reached the Majors. Lueke did with a fastball hitting the upper 90’s, but he also became a source of embarrassment for the Mariners and a source of friction between Daniels and Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik. In 2008 while in the Rangers’ farm system, Lueke had been arrested for rape and non-consensual sodomy. Lueke denied the charged but eventually pleaded no contest to lesser charges of false imprisonment with violence and was sentenced to 42 days in jail, plus three years of probation. The jail sentence amounted time served plus time off for good behavior. After the trade went down, Lueke’s past history was revealed in a story by industrious Seattle Times investigative reporter Geoff Baker. It proved to be an embarrassment to the Mariners, an organization that had included a “Refuse to Abuse” anti-violence against women campaign as part of their admirably extensive community outreach program. The Mariners have long been a leader in community involvement among MLB teams. Club president Chuck Armstrong was not happy to find out about Lueke’s past until after the trade. Zduriencik said he was aware there had been an incident in a bar, but did not know the extent of the situation. Zduriencik also insisted Daniels misled him by saying Lueke had been “acquitted” of the charges. All of that was contradicted by Rick Adair, who had been a coach in the Rangers’ system at the time of the incident before becoming the Mariners pitching coach under manager Don Wakamatsu. Both Adair and Wakamatsu were fired a month after the Lee trade. But Adair told Baker he had given Zduriencik a full scouting report on multiple Rangers prospects leading up to the trade and had explained in detail what had transpired with Lueke. Daniels later said that he offered to take back Lueke. Armstrong said he wanted the Rangers to exchange another player for Lueke, but the Rangers insisted the deal was done. Classic he said, she said. No matter. Lee went 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA in 15 starts down the stretch, won games 1 and 5 against the Rays in the division series and then delivered a brilliant performance in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. He was 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA in two starts against the Giants in the World Series and the Rangers lost in five games, but Lee’s postseason work had left a huge impression on the Rangers and their fans. The chase was on that winter. Lee was a free agent and the Rangers wanted him back. Chuck Greenberg would lead the chase, now that the Rangers had emerged from the bankruptcy auction with new ownership and considerably greater financial resources. The Rangers were going up against the Yankees and Phillies. The Yankees’ financial clout in free agency is legendary, but Greenberg said the Rangers’ new owners weren’t bringing a “pop gun” to the negotiations. The Rangers didn’t get him. Lee signed a five-year, $120 million deal to go back to the Phillies, leaving the Rangers frustrated, disappointed and empty-handed. What they didn’t know was they would end up in 2011 with the best rotation in club history. Lewis and Wilson were back, Ogando made a successful transition from the bullpen, and Holland and Harrison finally achieved their potential as front-line starters. What the Rangers did know is they had Plan B ready if they didn’t get Lee. Free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre. Leave a comment
T.R. is a Military Brat and graduate of the University of San Francisco who retired in 2020 after a 40-year career with the Denison Herald, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and MLB.Com. He covered the Texas Rangers for 32 years.