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Weighing the risks of a blockbuster deal

Weighing the risks of a blockbuster deal

ARLINGTON -- Trade Deadline deals can have immediate impact, but they can also carry repercussions that last well beyond the current season. General managers will have to consider both as they make phone calls this week.

Two general managers did so two years ago in one of the biggest deals in the history of the Trade Deadline. It's still one of the biggest talent packages acquired for one of the biggest names to be traded at the Deadline.

The Rangers had dropped out of the American League West race and were prepared to do some serious rebuilding. Mark Teixeira was the logical place to start. He was approaching free agency and had made it clear he had little interest in re-signing with the Rangers.

The Braves were running in second place in the National League East behind the Mets. They were trying to get back into the playoffs after their magnificent run of 14 straight division titles had come to an end in 2006.

The trade talks during the summer of 2007 went on for more than a month. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels guesses there were between a dozen and 20 serious conversations with Braves general manager John Schuerholz.

The deal, after hitting a last-minute snag, was completed on July 31, when the Rangers sent Teixeira and reliever Ron Mahay to the Braves for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Minor League shortstop Elvis Andrus and pitchers Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Beau Jones.

"I view Jones and Mahay as a wash," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said in analyzing the deal. "The Rangers got two high-profile positional players and two high-profile arms. This is a good package, but we must remember Teixeira is a rare player that does both hit and field. The reason you ask for numbers is because of the failure rate of prospects. These deals are harder to make because of the value of young players today."

Two years later, the trade still reverberates through both organizations and demonstrates the far-reaching consequences of a Trade Deadline blockbuster deal.

"It had a symbolic impact on our organization," Daniels said. "It was a clear point in time when we changed our approach on how we would build our team."

The Rangers had flirted with a youth movement for eight years but had always been sidetracked by costly free-agent signings and ill-advised trades. The Teixeira trade -- which came after the first baseman rejected a $180 million contract offer from club owner Tom Hicks -- signaled the Rangers' complete commitment to rebuilding around young players.

The Rangers took the package because Andrus was considered a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop with speed and some offensive potential, and Saltalamacchia was viewed as a front-line catcher who could put up above-average offensive numbers. Harrison was viewed as middle-rotation starter, and Feliz, despite being in Class A, had a big arm that could approach 100 mph. Two Rangers scouts told Daniels that Harrison had to be a part of the deal.

"Those players are still young, and their development will determine how much impact they'll have on our organization," Daniels said. "But it became symbolic how our organization was viewed internally and externally."

The deal did not have the desired impact on the Braves, who had started 48-year-old Julio Franco at first base on July 31. Teixeira arrived the next day and hit a three-run home run in a 12-3 victory over the Astros. That left Atlanta with a 57-51 record, 3 1/2 games behind the Mets. But the Braves had a .500 record from there and finished in third place.

"Teixeira did exactly what we thought he would do when he got here," Schuerholz said. "None of us planned on our pitching staff being decimated by injuries after we got him. We had some trouble winning one-run games, too, but that was a function of being able to keep healthy pitchers out there.

"I'd be dishonest if I didn't tell you that there was a lot of conversation and contemplation about, 'Should we do this? Is this the right guy? We know he's going to be a free agent, and we know that his market price is going to be so steep that we might not be able to match it. But if we can get back in the playoffs and we can re-energize our community, our team and our fans, then it's worth it.'"

Other teams had interest, and the Rangers had scouts watching farm teams in many organizations.

"It was actually a lot of fun," Daniels said. "We were looking at the best young players in other organizations, trying to find the best combination. The whole organization was involved. Our international scouts and pro scouts were all out there somewhere, and our amateur scouts had dealt with a lot of these players in preparing for the Draft."

Daniels knew it would be a huge trade for him, and he talked to other general managers with firsthand experience. Among the lessons -- don't limit yourself by which organizations you talk to and what kind of players you want in return.

"Typically, teams look for three things in these deals," Daniels said. "Quality, as far as impact at the big leagues; quantity in getting multiple players and a chance of hitting on one or two; and proximity to the big leagues.

"We felt we wouldn't get all three, so we made a choice. We had ownership's blessing to look long-term rather than immediate gratification. We went for quality and quantity and did not focus on established big league players."

The Angels wanted Teixeira but wouldn't part with pitcher Joe Saunders. The Dodgers talked about first baseman James Loney and outfielder Andre Either, but they refused to part with pitchers like Chad Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw. The Diamondbacks came in at the last minute, but the Rangers weren't interested in first baseman Conor Jackson.

They were seriously intrigued by the Braves' farm system.

"We had good reports on their system," Daniels said. "We knew they had quality pitching. They had just spent the past two decades developing pitching. They had an established big league catcher in Brian McCann, so we felt that was an area they would talk about. They also had [shortstop] Yunel Escobar and had Edgar Renteria at the time, so we felt that was a good fit for Elvis."

Daniels liked the idea of getting impact players in the middle of the diamond. Ultimately, they settled on Saltalamacchia, Andrus, Harrison and Feliz. When Harrison's velocity dropped in his last start before the trade, the Rangers wondered about his health. He had a "toe turf" problem that had led to shoulder soreness. The Rangers felt he was still worth the risk, but the Braves agreed to include Jones in the trade.

It was still a hefty package, although the Braves fended off the Rangers' efforts to acquire pitcher Tommy Hanson or center fielder Jordan Shafer.

"We knew we had to give up some talented young players to do it," Schuerholz said. "But throughout my career, we've been willing to trade quality to get quality, if it was the right piece. It doesn't always work. We did the same thing when we got J.D. Drew.

"But if you really want to win and you're committed to doing it and you've got the scouting system that keeps your farm system filled with quality talent ... then you can make those deals. You can't make a lot of them, but occasionally and periodically you can do it."

Two years later, Andrus and Saltalamacchia are regulars in the Rangers' lineup. Harrison was in their starting rotation until he went on the disabled list with biceps left tendinitis. Feliz is at Triple-A Oklahoma City and on the verge of being called up. Jones is at Double-A Frisco.

Teixeira, on the verge of free agency, began the 2008 season with the Braves. But on July 29, with the Braves in fourth place, he was traded to the Angels for first baseman Casey Kotchman and Minor League pitcher Stephen Marek. It was not a deal that recouped the talent the Braves traded to the Rangers.

"Even with the realization that Mark was the perfect guy for us to get, there was a lot of lively conversation internally about each and every prospect that we put in that deal and how tough it was to do for us as an organization that is a quote-unquote homegrown organization to give up so much homegrown talent," Schuerholz said. "But we believed on balance that even if it looked like the sweeter deal for the other team, we got the guy that we wanted.

"We weren't stripped bare when we made that deal. We had some other young players coming along, thanks again to the great scouting and player development that our guys do. We weren't completely knocked off our feet by not having any talent behind those guys. We had a healthy farm system then, and we still have a healthy farm system."

This week, other general managers will face similar decisions. The consequences are long-term.

Dramatis Personae
The key players in the Mark Teixeira saga.

The General Managers

John Schuerholz: Highly successful Braves general manager had won two World Series, the first with the Royals. He was in his last year as GM before assuming club presidency.

Jon Daniels: This was his second season as Rangers GM. He tried to win immediately when taking the job, then decided to embark on a rebuilding program.

Frank Wren: He was Schuerholz's assistant for eight years before being promoted to GM after the 2007 season. He made the decision to trade Teixeira to the Angels.

Tony Reagins: He was in his first year as the Angels' general manager, having replaced Bill Stoneman, and he acquired Teixeira for two players. He had been director of player development before his promotion.

Center of Attention
Mark Teixeira: He was the Rangers' No. 1 Draft pick in 2001. He made his Major League debut in 2003 and was an All-Star in 2005. He was outstanding both offensively and defensively but was eligible for free agency after the 2008 season. He is now an All-Star with the Yankees.

Braves prospects
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Braves drafted him out of high school with the 36th overall pick in 2003. By 2006, he was ranked the top prospect in the organization. A switch-hitter, he projects as a 20-homer, 80-RBI guy with strong defensive skills behind the plate.

SS Elvis Andrus: He was 16 when he signed with the Braves in 2005 out of Venezuela. By 2006, he was rated the second-best prospect in their system. In 2007, he was playing for the World in the All-Star Futures Game. In 2008, Andrus was rated as the best defensive shortstop in the Texas League.

LHP Matt Harrison: He was drafted out of high school in 2003. By 2007, he was rated as the Braves' top pitching prospect. He won nine games for the Rangers in 2008, the most in club history by a rookie left-hander.

RHP Neftali Feliz: His fastball was clocked as high as 101 mph while starting for the World in the All-Star Futures Game. He was 17 when the Braves signed him in 2005 out of the Dominican Republic. Feliz struck out 153 batters in 127 1/3 innings in 2008.

LHP Beau Jones: He was the 41st overall pick out of high school in 2005. Not a hard thrower, he has been converted to relief and has a chance to be a setup man. He is current at Double-A Frisco.

Angels players
Casey Kotchman: He was the 13th overall pick in the 2001 Draft, eight slots after Teixeira. He hit for average but not significant power in the Angels' farm system. His first full season in the Majors was 2007, when he hit .296 with 11 home runs and 68 RBIs. He was hitting .287 with 12 homers and 54 RBIs in 100 games when the Angels traded him for Teixeira.

Stephen Marek: He was a 40th-round draft-and-follow out of junior college in 2005. A power pitcher, he began as a starter but was switched to reliever in hopes of being able to pitch at the back end of the game. He's currently at Triple-A but battling control troubles with almost a walk per inning.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Mark Bowman contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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