TORONTO – Each of the four teams in the American League Division Series made major moves at the trade deadline, but while the Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros both held playoff spots when they bolstered their rosters, the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays were in much more tenuous positions when they waded in.
Now, they each enter the postseason as a division champion after remarkable sprints to the finish line, and their post-deadline turnarounds may very well encourage future bubble teams to build up rather take a step back by dealing assets for prospects.
By adding Cole Hamels and lefty Jake Diekman from the Phillies plus groundball machine Sam Dyson, the Rangers plugged some roster holes, and took off in the standings. The decision to push forward wasn’t as straightforward as it appears now, as Rangers general manager Jon Daniels explains in this Q&A.
“I remember a conference call our leadership group had in May and we were scuffling along a little bit, our bullpen was showing some cracks and we were kind of kept afloat by some guys that at the end of the year weren’t even part of the mix anymore,” says Daniels. “Wandy Rodriguez did a great job for us, Nick Martinez did a great job for us, but there was always a sense and we talked about it, when you look at on the field there was no give-in, no quit, these guys didn’t roll over. We were a little outmanned, especially on the pitching side, but you had the sense about this club that there were some good things going on, and a lot of reasons to believe the guys were going to get better. You knew (Shin-Soo) Choo was too good a player here to be the month he had in April. (Elvis) Andrus is a better player than he’s shown early on.
“Despite other people maybe looking at us and thinking we’re not going to be there, we believed we were better than that. Unfortunately we dug a pretty big hole, we knew Derek (Holland) was going to come back at some point, (Leonys) Martin was going to come back at some point, and then once we got into July, we got some calls about some of our veteran players. Alex (Anthopoulos) actually called about some guys, but as we got into it and what really the market was, it just didn’t make sense. You weren’t going to get such a good baseball trade that you have to do it. We didn’t want to pull the rug out from under the club, ownership wasn’t saying pare down the payroll or anything like that, fortunately they were great throughout the process, we just said hey what are we going to need to do this winter. It was clear we were going to have to bolster our pitching staff, we were in, we were half pregnant, veteran club, we’ve got some veteran players on the field in the middle of big contracts, so we’d chosen our direction.
“As we got more into the Cole conversations, we got Diekman into the deal as well, and then we were looking for another reliever and Dyson ended up being that guy, we were going to hold our guys and give this team a chance. I think Toronto was a little more all-in, they had some other things going on, we never got in on the high-end rental guys like David Price, Johnny Cueto, B.J. Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, we were never really engaged on those guys.”
All along you were looking for longer term pieces?
“I keep using the phrase what was our off-season shopping list going to be and how much of it can we address now and benefit from it now also. That was our thought process.”
When making deals, how do you weigh the present value of acquiring a now player versus the potential future value of the prospects you may be surrendering in a deal?
“I personally think it’s all about the individual deal. The biggest thing for me is you’ve got to really have your arms around where your club is. Some of the guys we traded, Jared Eickhoff is already in the big-leagues, some of these guys are going to show up and they’re going to be good and it sucks to watch it, but it’s going to happen, it’s part of the deal. If you don’t have the stomach for it organizationally, and you’re not willing to see that happen, then you shouldn’t be engaged in that sort of deal. It’s not whether – it’s going to happen, lock it up. It’s a rare deal where a team has a highly desirable player like a David Price, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Troy Tulowitzki and had the ability to look at the whole marketplace, and misses. These guys are going to play in the big-leagues and they’re going to be good and you’ve got to be OK with that. If you can do that and you have your arms around where your club is competitively and the deal fits into that plan, we haven’t been afraid to move some of those guys. Where you screw up is when you mis-evaluate where you are and you trade Adrian Gonzalez for Adam Eaton. You don’t live that down and that doesn’t go away, 10 years later he’s still killing balls in the big leagues. It’s all about your organizational philosophy. If you understand the risks and evaluate where you are competitively and it fits in to your overall plan and you have scouts and development folks that produce players which our organization has demonstrated that it can do, you have to have some confidence that they are going to develop more, too.”
How does the loss in the 2011 World Series, when you were twice a strike away from the title in Game 6, still impact you?
“I think about it all the time, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t, it still burns. It’s not a motivator for any moves we do. The irony is David Freese made the last out for us to win the division the other day and our fans, they boo him whenever he comes to the plate. For me, it underlines that it’s really hard to win, and losing really sucks, and you’re in the wrong business if those two things don’t drive you on some level. I mean, losing sucks. The year we had last year, for whatever reason, injuries, moves that we did or didn’t make that didn’t work, (manager Ron Washington) stepped down, you can make reasons, excuses, bottom line is we lost 95 games. It sucks, it hurts, it’s brutal. When it’s part of your plan like we did in ‘07, we stripped it down, like the Astros, the Cubs, when it’s part of your plan it’s a little easier to stomach, but it’s still not very fun. It’s hard to win and when you have one of those opportunities in front of you, you don’t want to pass it up and what happened at the end of ‘11, what happened to us last year, are just reminders that it’s really hard to win, and we don’t want to bypass opportunities when we see them.”
Both your team and the Astros reached the postseason with rookie managers. Can you describe the impact Jeff Banister made on the Rangers?
“Very real. I think the first thing that stands out to me about Banny is that he’s smart, baseball smart, street smart, book smart, I think he’s got a really good understanding of how to motivate people, interact with people, taking information and communicating that information. But one of the biggest impacts he’s had is culturally in our clubhouse, from a standpoint of accountability, being open minded to other ideas and opinions. It started as his belief system but it became a marketing slogan how our club never-ever-quit. Because that’s kind of how he lives his life, he’s got an inner confidence, he believes that he and we are going to outwork the competition, earn it and there’s a confidence that comes from that. It’s understated, we don’t talk about it a lot, but the guys in the clubhouse feed off it, and they’ve taken on that personality a little bit.”
The postseason is just starting, but off-season business opens in a month. Have you started planning for 2016 already?
“From a scouting standpoint we have, we have some target lists, naturally you can always target different spots, so we’ve had guys doing work on different clubs, on different target positions, target players. But we haven’t started our off-season due diligence and meetings on it at this point.”