Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series about how the Texas Rangers acquired Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. Read part 2 here.
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels answered his cell phone the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 19, he couldn't help but get a sense of déjà vu.
Daniels' counterpoint in Detroit, the straightforward Dave Dombrowski, wanted to start the offseason with a bang. His plan: shed some salary and reorganize his infield with the bold stroke of trading slugger Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler.
The deal would not only give Dombrowski wiggle room for the rest of the offseason, but he could also slide an All-Star in at second base and move Miguel Cabrera to first. For the Rangers, it was a chance to satisfy two major winter goals -- finding a left-handed power bat for the middle of the lineup and alleviating a logjam at middle infield.
As Daniels listened, he thought back to the day before when the idea was actually floated inside his office on the fourth floor of Globe Life Park in Arlington.
Daniels and some of his top lieutenants were tossing around scenarios in his office -- something they do often -- when assistant general manager A.J. Preller threw out the notion of trading Kinsler for Fielder, as long as the Tigers made sure to send some cash along, too. Preller had read of the Tigers' budget concerns and wondered if it was possible.
But at the time, the Rangers weren't sure if a team that played in the AL Championship Series was ready to trade one of its biggest bats.
"A.J. brought it up because it made sense," Daniels said. "After the call, we all talked about it and it didn't take long for things to get going."
Because the Rangers weren't caught off guard by Dombrowski's early proposal, they were able to act quickly.
They could also draw on the information they got from a half-day chat with Fielder at the Four Seasons Resort & Club in Las Colinas prior to the 2012 season. Then, Fielder was a free agent and the club had interest, so Daniels and a group of folks, including then-CEO Nolan Ryan, chatted with him.
"I got the impression that he would have liked to have come to Texas," said Don Welke, senior special assistant to the GM. "At one point, he looked across the table and said, 'What do you got for me, Nolan?' They were trying to sell him to us and we weren't buying at that point. We were there to see what their thoughts were and get the lay of the land. He was laid-back, quiet, humble, and showed a lot of humility."
But Fielder's asking price was never in the Rangers' ballpark.
"I think that Prince really represented something that the Rangers knew would fit for their team," his agent Scott Boras said. "But the year component was not there. There were other teams in on him at more years."
Detroit ended up going nine years to sign Fielder, agreeing to a $214 million deal. But that meeting gave the Rangers a sense of who Fielder was as they talked about trading for him.
Even before placing the call to Daniels, Dombrowski was confident that Fielder would waive a no-trade clause to go to Texas. He chatted with Boras, wondering about some teams that Fielder would consider, and Boras said he quickly mentioned Texas.
But for the deal to work, both sides couldn't drag their feet.
"We were very sensitive to the outset that as much as you trust everybody, things tend to leak and those were players you didn't want rumors about," Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine said. "There was an agreement that if this was going to work, let's do it quickly. If not, let's put it to bed and not talk about it."
Daniels talked to ownership about the need to stretch a bit on the budget, knowing that Fielder wasn't going to be his only offseason acquisition. A series of phone calls between Dombrowski and Daniels got the deal done in less than 48 hours with $30 million going back to the Rangers in the last five years of Fielder's current contract, making the additional salary more palatable for Texas.
Boras then called Fielder with the news and to tell him Detroit had officially asked him to waive his no-trade.
"I told Prince that the no-trade is a chance to get something else, maybe travel arrangements or something," Boras said. "He didn't hesitate. He said he didn't want anything. He was excited about Texas and agreed to make the move and that was it."
A PLAN IS BORN
The Fielder acquisition got the Rangers' offseason off to a hot start. It was part of a strategy formed in the Arizona desert in October.
Daniels hadn't planned on spending baseball's biggest month around a meeting room at the club's spring training home. But a second straight disappointing finish meant that while the Tigers and Boston Red Sox were dueling in the ALCS, the Rangers' front office and scouts were busy coming up with a to-do list for the winter.
"The meetings in Arizona were actually the second set that we had," Levine said. "The first is right after the season with the major league staff, coaches and support staff. We debrief about our current team and assess who we'd like to retain and guys you let walk. The second meetings are with our chief talent evaluators and a lot of our minor league coaches and front office folks. We go through every free agent as well as every potential trade target and ask our guys to come to those meetings with as much information as possible."
The needs were pretty obvious. The club had to find some consistent production at first base. The Rangers had too many middle infielders and not enough jobs for all of them, were unsettled at catcher and needed to fill out the outfield. And from at least one of those spots, they had to find some power, preferably of the left-handed variety.
"We walked through everything," Daniels said. "Can we meaningfully upgrade in two of those three spots -- catcher, first base and left field? Can we get the kind of professional hitter that could give us the tough at-bats we were lacking? We needed players that could set the tone, set the example for the type of at-bats we wanted. We had too much swing and miss."
Right before the 2013 season, the Rangers had already mapped out how the free-agent market was likely to look following the season. And even then, the name Shin-Soo Choo came up.
"You put together a board of sorts of options and you start to put those things on paper and have those discussions about what could work," said Josh Boyd, director of pro scouting. "Choo was a guy we identified, but not in any kind of priority order or anything. But as the year goes and the trade deadline comes up and even after that, the board changes."
What the Rangers liked about Choo -- and grew to like even more as the 2013 season progressed -- was his ability to get on base, in part because of his patience. No qualified leadoff hitter saw more pitches the past two seasons than Choo, who also led top-of-the-order batters in walks -- by a wide margin. It was the type of player the Rangers lacked and Daniels & Co. knew it.
But Choo wasn't on the board at the trade deadline, knowing that the Cincinnati Reds weren't going to deal him in the middle of a pennant race. And there was always the possibility that Choo could sign an extension, though that's a rarity with Boras clients.
So the Rangers kept an eye on Choo and hoped to have a shot in free agency.
The meetings in Arizona only steeled their resolve.