Thursday, August 03, 2006

How Shrek Got His Groove Back, or: Carlos Comes To Town

I'd like to start with a point or two of clarification, so we don't get confused here:

* I have been nothing but a fan of Kevin Mench during his whole time in Texas.

* I don't believe in making trades simply to appease the fan base, or players in the clubhouse.

* I hate explaning the Infield Fly Rule. (Just note it for future reference.)

While I don't think the six-player deal the Rangers and Brewers executed was the greatest trade our Little Red Shoes have ever pulled off (that would be the 1998 trade deadline move of Darren Oliver and Fernando Tatis to the Cardinals for Todd Stottlemyre and Todd Zeile, which helped us cinch up the AL West that year), it was the best thing the Rangers could have done to goose an offense that has not been firing on all cylinders the last two seasons.

It may also be one of those trades that works out for everyone involved, from the players involved to the teams dealing.

Here are your components:

Kevin Mench was growing frustrated with his spotty role in the Rangers ranks. He was always mentioned in trade talks, and he never really knew himself whether he would be in the lineup from day to day. In the last offseason, he appeared on a Philadelphia Eagles pre-game show (his hometown team) and said bluntly, "I really don't expect to be with the Rangers much longer." For whatever reason, Mench has been in manager Buck Showalter's "dog house," and never appeared to be able (or willing) to climb out of it.

His production hasn’t helped much. This season, Mench was hitting .284 / .338 / .469 with 12 home runs (most coming in the week-long stretch after his shoe size was correctly used). Those aren’t numbers you normally want to see from a corner outfielder. Granted, that might have been different had he played every day in the outfield. (Sorry, it’s the Mench apologist in me coming out. Can’t be helped.)

In Milwaukee, he'll get more playing time, a fresh start on a team with a manager he doesn't have to tiptoe around, and a chance to let his personality win over the home crowd (which should take about six minutes). In his first seven games with the Brewers as their everyday right fielder, he's 4-for-17 with one homer and five RBI.

For whatever reason, Francisco Cordero has not been able to come close to the level of dominance he showed in the 2004 season. That year, he recorded 49 saves (a club record), with five blown saves, a record of 3-4 and an ERA of 2.14. In 2005, you've got 37 saves, eight blown opportunities, a record of 3-1 and an ERA of 3.39. This year, it all falls apart: seven saves recorded, nine blown, a record of 7-4 and an ERA of 4.59; loses the closing job to Akinori Otsuka; begins to show some signs of consistency, but never fully recovers.

The appearance against the Yankees on July 26 was the final straw, allowing four runs to score in the eighth inning on a homer, a double and a wild pitch It spoiled a great effort by John Rheinecker, paved the way for a Yankees sweep, and punched his ticket to Milwaukee.

With luck, Cordero will find his mojo again in the land of Cheeseheads, but there was no sign of it happening at the Temple.

Laynce Nix played his way out of a starting job in center field this year, and the outlook for him returning to the Rangers has never seemed good since. Like Mench and Cordero, Nix was a fan favorite in Arlington, but had difficulty staying healthy and offensively productive.

It's highly likely we'll look back on the trade of these players and -- like so many other times in Rangers history -- wonder what would have happened had we not let them go (see: Sosa, S; Nen, R; Hafner, T, ad nauseum). But the players we got in return for Mench, Cordero and Nix soothe the pain a bit. In his first three games as a Ranger, Carlos Lee showed why he’s a threat both offensively (7-for-12, 1 RBI) and defensively (solid, accurate throws from the left corner every time).

Add in the hottest prospect from the Brewers’ farm system (outfielder Nelson Cruz), and it looks like Rangers GM Jon Daniels pulled a fast one on Milwaukee’s GM, our old friend Doug Melvin. But don’t be too sure Melvin didn’t get exactly what he wanted out of the deal, either.

Lee has made it clear he would not re-sign with the Brewers when his contract expired, turning down a four-year extension worth $48 million earlier in the month. Melvin was tasked with trying to get the most value for Lee while he was still a tradable commodity. While the GM for the Rangers, Melvin engineered the trade of Juan Gonzales to the Detroit Tigers to acquire Cordero (along with six other players), so he knew what CoCo was capable of. He also watched as Mench and Nix developed through the Rangers minor league system.

He wanted players who were major-league ready, not minor league prospects who may or may not be ready for prime time. The other five teams who were talking to the Brewers about Lee probably had players ready for the big club, but Melvin knew the guys on the Rangers’ offer sheet could be plugged in and produce from day one.

Add all of it together, and it looks like everyone’s gotten what they wanted: Daniels gets to add offensive firepower without trading away any key components of his farm system or the major league roster; Mench, Cordero and Nix get a fresh start with a new team; Melvin gets maximum value back from a player he was going to lose in the off-season.


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