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Top Five: Best Trades In Rangers History

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After the recent acquisition of Cliff Lee, we take a look at some of the best trades in Texas Rangers history.

Every time an organization executes a trade, a sense of anger, apprehension or excitement entrances the fan base. It’s far more common for a team with a higher payroll (Hello, Yankees and Red Sox) to make the huge blockbuster move, acquiring a super star for prospects and galvanize a fan base. Occasionally as we saw this past week, a team with a lower payroll can make a move for an ace pitcher as the Rangers did with Cliff Lee on Friday, much like the Milwaukee Brewers did two seasons ago for C.C. Sabathia. Sometimes, though, the best move can be trading off a superstar player rather than trading for him - even if it’s at the behest of the fans at the time.

The Rangers aren’t known for their blockbuster moves to acquire the mega star as they did with Cliff Lee. Still, the Rangers managed to pull the trigger on a number of trades that have benefited the organization greatly. Here’s a look at the top five trades in Texas Ranger history.

#5 December 21st, 2007: Rangers trade Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera for Josh Hamilton.

Sometimes a trade just works out extremely well for both teams and this is one of those instances. Josh Hamilton has been one of the best stories in recent baseball history, going from essentially one of the biggest busts and flame outs in draft history to one of the best hitters in the game - even after a three year hiatus from baseball. Hamilton has flourished in Texas, being named to the All Star team each year he has been a Ranger. While it won’t add any wins for the Rangers, the display Josh Hamilton put on in the 2008 Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium was nothing short of amazing. Hamilton finished seventh in the MVP race in 2008, but did win the Silver Slugger award. Through Saturday’s game, Hamilton has put up a WAR of 9.9 as a Texas Ranger in just 329 games. He’s had an excellent first half in 2010, helping fuel the Rangers offense to their division lead into the All Star break and should be an MVP candidate at the end of the year.

Yes, the Rangers did give up Edinson Volquez who did win 17 games for the Reds in 2008, but Hamilton’s value has easily exceeded that of Volquez’s - especially since Volquez has missed the past year plus of games due to Tommy John surgery. Volquez will be back with the Reds soon, but has still only amassed a WAR of 5.1 for the Reds in his time there. Hamilton has been worth twice the amount of wins for the Rangers than Volquez for the Reds - and Hamilton will be a key cog in the Rangers playoff run in 2010 and going forward into the future.

#4 July 28th, 2006: Rangers trade Julian Cordero, Francisco Cordero, Laynce Nix and Kevin Mench to the Milwaukee Brewers for Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz.

Carlos Lee only played 59 games for the Rangers in 2006, a team that finished 80-82 and in third place in the AL West. After the season, Lee bolted in free agency to the Houston Astros. However, given that Lee was a Type A free agent, the Rangers received two compensation picks in the 2007 entry draft and used them on Blake Beavan and Julio Borbon. Also coming over from Milwaukee was the current Rangers starting right fielder, Nelson Cruz. Cruz spent 2007 spent between AAA and Texas, mashing in nearly 200 AAA at bats (.352/.429/.695) but struggling for the Rangers with a line of .235/.287/.384.  In 2008, Cruz played primarily in AAA before breaking out in 33 games for the Rangers and finally claimed the starting right field job in 2009 and is an anchor in the Rangers lineup.

Cruz alone is worth what the Rangers gave up, but the compensation picks from Lee have already been put to use for the big league club. Borbon is the starting center fielder on the 2010 Rangers and Beavan was used to acquire Cliff Lee. The impacts of this trade could very well be what puts the Rangers over the top for 2010 and leads the team to their first postseason series win in franchise history.

#3 July 11th, 1980: Rangers purchase Charlie Hough from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Hough was with the Los Angeles Dodgers for a decade before the Rangers purchased him in the summer of 1980. The Dodgers had essentially used him as a reliever, making 417 appearances and starting only 15 games for the Dodgers while accumulating 59 saves. The Rangers, however, decided to turn him into a starting pitcher after acquiring him. He pitched partially out of the bullpen in 1981, making only five starts, but from 1982-1990, Hough made 306 starts for the Rangers. In his 11 seasons in Texas, Hough won 139 games, pitching 2308 innings with a 3.68 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. Further, Hough notched 98 complete games for the Rangers. While Texas never won more than 85 games during Hough’s time with the team, Hough still had a positive impact with a compiled WAR of 31.1 in his 11 years with the Rangers. For somebody that was acquired just for cash, that’s a pretty healthy investment.

#2 July 19th, 2000: Rangers trade Esteban Loaiza to the Toronto Blue Jays for Michael Young and Darwin Cubillan.

The Rangers acquired their all-time franchise hits leader for Esteban Loaiza. Soak that in for a minute. Loaiza, who came to the Rangers two summers earlier in 1998 from the Pirates for Warren Morris and Todd Van Poppel, had a 5-6 record with a 5.37 ERA for Texas prior to being dealt to Toronto in 2000. Loaiza hadn’t achieved much success in Texas even in the years prior. Between July of 1998 and July of 2000, Loaiza went 17-17 with a 5.19 ERA for Texas, good enough for a 2.7 WAR.

Michael Young, of course, has been with the Rangers for his entire major league career. He’s been a six time All Star as a Ranger and even picked up a Gold Glove in 2008 as well. He’s now the franchises all time hits leader and currently sits at 1771 hits in a Rangers uniform. A career .800 OPS player in the infield, Young has posted a 24.4 WAR in his eleven seasons with Texas so far. Had his fielding not been so poor throughout his career (despite the Gold Glove award), Young’s WAR would be higher. Still, he’s had an impact on this franchise in 11 years that nobody can doubt.

#1: July 31st, 2007: Rangers trade Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay to the Atlanta Braves for Beau Jones, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus.

Trading a bonafide superstar is not an easy thing for an organization to do. To trade a superstar and have it be the greatest trade in franchise history is even more difficult, but the trade that sent Mark Teixeira from Texas to Atlanta in 2007 is it. Teixeira was excellent as a Texas Ranger, there’s no doubting it. In five years with the Rangers, he posted a .901 OPS, belting 153 home runs while posting a WAR of 17. With that said, he was eligible for free agency following the 2008 season and it was unlikely that the Rangers were going to re-sign him. Rather than wait until the 2008 deadline to trade him, the Rangers went ahead and maximized their profit by dealing him with a year and a half left on his contract.

Teixeira was excellent in Atlanta, posting a 6.3 WAR in his 157 games in a Braves uniform before being dealt to Anaheim in July of 2008 - a trade which landed the Braves Steve Marek and Casey Kotchman. Not the most lucrative or intriguing package in the world.

Then of course, there is the ransom that the Rangers picked up for Teixeira. While Jones, Harrison and Saltalamacchia have yet to live up to expectations, Salty especially, Andrus and Feliz have. Andrus finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting last year and was named to the American League All Star team this year without having turned 22 yet. He is one of the most exciting Rangers to watch and is easily one of the best defensive short stops in baseball.

Neftali Feliz had been groomed as a starting pitcher but has now settled into the closers role for the Rangers and, like Andrus, was named to the All Star team this year. While it’s debatable if Feliz should have been converted into a reliever, the success he’s had for the Rangers is not. A bullpen is critical to any teams success, especially in the playoffs, and Feliz looks like he’s going to be the anchor of the Rangers bullpen for the rest of this year and into the future. On top of that, he’s just really, really fun to watch pitch.

Saltalamacchia and Harrison have struggled in their Rangers career, but Harrison has turned in a solid first half for the Rangers this year with a 1.37 WHIP in 50.1 IP. While Saltalamacchia’s struggles are pretty well documented, I’ve still got faith that he’ll develop into a good catcher. Even assuming he doesn’t, Feliz and Andrus make this trade worth the price of admission. The Braves picked up 6.3 WAR out of Teixeira in the 157 games they had him, but the Rangers will easily surpass that by the time Feliz and Andrus’ Rangers careers are over. The two young stars have already contributed a combined 5.3 WAR and both will only be 22 years old by the time spring training starts next February. The Rangers trade with the Braves has been pivotal in setting up this current Rangers team success as well as it’s positive longterm outlook.

With the Rangers now with a stocked farm system and a team in first place, it might not be necessary to continue wheeling and dealing. I highly doubt we’ll see the Bengie Molina trade on this list if it’s revisited next year or in five years; but if things fall the Rangers way, Cliff Lee could leave his mark in Rangers history even if he’s here only for three months. After years of futility, the team has made some excellent trades in the recent years to set up this team as a legitimate pennant contender now and into the future.

Thanks to Baseball Reference for statistical and transacation data.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.