ARLINGTON, Texas -- Three years of being the seller allowed the Rangers to turn into buyers. And they were big buyers on Friday, trading for the largest piece of baseball real estate on the trade deadline market.
They had a farm system, built on numerous trades highlighted by the Mark Teixeira bonanza in 2007, that was stocked enough to make a deal for front-line starter Cliff Lee without emptying the prospect pantry. Texas did it despite talk of ownership auctions and under an extremely limited budget.
"Our guys have done such good work that we feel like we have more guys coming," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We felt we were in a position to do it because the club is in good position and secondly because we have more guys coming behind them."
The centerpiece to the deal was switch-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak. Texas didn't want to part with Smoak, the club's top pick (11th overall) in 2008. It paid above slot for Smoak, who slipped in the draft because of high signing bonus demands. Seattle asked about him all along during numerous conversations and the Rangers tried to structure a trade without him. But on Friday that all changed. The Rangers felt that the Mariners weren't going to do a deal without Smoak and Texas felt that if Smoak was added, he was the best overall prospect of any potential deal out there, including what the Yankees offered.
Things got done quickly after that. Texas included RHP Blake Beavan, another first-round pick to whom the Rangers paid an above-slot bonus, RHP Josh Lueke and infielder Matt Lawson to complete the transaction. They got $2.25 million in cash as well to offset the approximate cost of the $4.2 million remaining on Lee's salary.
"Where we're sitting and what our needs are and to acquire a pitcher of this caliber is tremendous," club president Nolan Ryan said. "You hope he does what we feel like he can do. We hope it has the impact we feel like it will have. I think we have positioned ourselves as well as we can under what we're dealing with. I'm thrilled with where we are and what we were able to accomplish today."
Ryan immediately thought of 2007, when Daniels sold owner Tom Hicks on a plan to build the organization from within. The Teixeira trade was a big part of that, one that gave the Rangers two players headed to Anaheim next week for the All-Star Game in Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz. But the strategy was also about acquiring talent in the international markets, paying top dollar for high draft picks and then following through with development.
"We stayed the course," Ryan said. "You look at Smoak and Beavan, we made commitments to those guys and got that caliber of player and it's paying dividends today."
The key with Friday's deal is that Smoak's value is extremely high. Scouts love his makeup, size and big bat potential. By finally including him, the Rangers made sure they didn't have to deal any of their other Grade A prospects.
There are a gaggle of good players still in the Rangers' system. They didn't send them all away for a two-month rental and dreams of postseason glory. Tanner Scheppers and Martin Perez were off the table in terms of any deal. They didn't have to ship out Derek Holland or Alexi Ogando.
That's not to say Beavan and Lueke, whom the Rangers were considering as a September call-up and projected big league reliever, aren't favorites among the Texas staff. They certainly are. But they aren't in the same tier as Scheppers or Perez.
Because Smoak was struggling at the plate, moving Chris Davis in his spot doesn't impact the club much at this time. Davis has hit well in the minors, so he might provide a little boost at that spot for the Rangers. Smoak is still a huge unknown. He could, of course, end up becoming the next Teixeira. But that's the risk you take if you want to add a former Cy Young Award winner for a playoff push.
Once manager Ron Washington informed the team that the trade was completed in a meeting hours before Friday's game was scheduled, several players took out a schedule and tried to figure out whom Lee would be pitching against.
The added benefit of getting the deal done Friday is that Lee can make five starts before the trade deadline. Besides Saturday against Baltimore, Lee could face Boston in Fenway Park, Detroit in Comerica Park, the Angels in Arlington and then the Angels again in Anaheim before July 31.
"We've had a lot of stuff kind of hanging over our heads and this is really a positive story for us," starter C.J. Wilson said. "With the combination of his experience from the last couple of years of being in the playoffs and being a Cy Young Award winner and all that stuff is going to rub off on all the pitchers in the same way that Vlad [Guerrero] has rubbed off on all the hitters. It's going to be really good."