Who's getting the better end of last winter's biggest trades?
The winter of 2007-08 brought us some honest-to-goodness blockbuster trades. Hitting prodigy Miguel Cabrera, star starters Johan Santana, Dan Haren, Erik Bedard and Dontrelle Willis plus standout shortstops Miguel Tejada and Orlando Cabrera all changed teams in the busiest winter trading season in years.
As it turns out, the best trade of the winter was a deal that received almost no attention at the time. Back when talented outfielder Josh Hamilton was sent to the Texas Rangers for minor-league pitchers Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera, it was perceived as more curiosity than blockbuster.
Two thoughts came to mind at the time: 1) Why would the Reds, after rescuing Hamilton from his troubled past, surrender one of baseball's best talents, not to mention one of its best stories? And 2) Why would the pitching-poor Rangers trade a top pitching prospect for such a question mark?
Those questions seem worthless today as both players are flourishing in their new locales, beyond anyone's expectations, and that goes for the two GMs who signed off on the trade.
The left-handed-hitting Hamilton looks like he may fulfill his original promise and is even an early MVP threat. Meanwhile, the right-hander Volquez is proving to be a dynamic starter with the Reds. So far, he's the best in the NL, in fact, with a 7-1 record and a major-league best 1.33 ERA.
Hamilton, a superb center fielder, is making an early run at the Triple Crown: he leads the majors with 53 RBIs, is tops in the AL with a .335 average and is tied for the league lead (with Chicago's Carlos Quentin) with 12 home runs, the latest a game-winner in the top of the 10th inning on Thursday.
Both teams appear to have gained big stars. But if they are contemplative types, both GMs might also wonder how things might have worked out differently if they'd held onto the player they lost.
Yet neither should have any real regrets over such a superb deal.
"Edinson has always been one of my favorites. He's an easy guy to root for, anyway. But when I see Josh making highlight catches and being as productive as he's been, it makes it easier,'' Rangers GM Jon Daniels recently said by phone.
According to Daniels, he and then Reds GM Wayne Krisky spoke 20 times before completing a trade that seemed like a strange one at the time. Now both men looks like geniuses, though Krivsky didn't survive long enough to enjoy Volquez's exploits, having been fired 21 games into this season in a move another competing GM called "totally unfair."
For a variety of reasons, the trade almost never happened. "The Rangers didn't want to give up Volquez and we didn't want to give up Hamilton," said Krivsky. "We went back and forth quite a bit. We were looking for pitching and we had a little bit of a surplus of outfielders. I wasn't going to trade Josh unless I got someone with a real high upside, and young too."
Daniels, meanwhile, targeted center field as the Rangers' main area of need, a wise idea considering Texas' big outfield. Daniels tried hard to sign free-agent Torii Hunter, offering $75 million over five years plus an option, and also inquired at different times about Carlos Gomez (who eventually went to the Twins as the key piece in the Johan Santana deal), the Yankees' Melky Cabrera and even Braves outfield prospect Jordan Schafer, who was later suspended for violating the league's anti-drug policy.
Hamilton's own well-chronicled drug problems appear to be in his past, and scouts say he can do almost anything he wants if he stays sober. In fact, the Reds' main concern about him was his inability to stay healthy and on the field after a season in which he suffered multiple injuries and twice went on the disabled list.
The Rangers, who have a stockpile of decent pitching prospects (Thomas Diamond, Eric Hurley, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and many others), tried to package several different prospects before finally relenting on Volquez. Krivsky was single-minded, and that's a good thing in this case.
"He was insistent that Volquez be in the deal,'' Daniels recalled.
Volquez had been awful in Rangers camp in 2007, then became an early cut who was sent all the way down to Class A. That wound up being a decision that enabled him to work his way back onto the radar screen.
"In my mind, both organizations did a good job of creating value,'' Daniels said.
And both wound up acquiring truly valuable properties.