Nearly three years before Josh Hamilton claimed his first MVP Award after helping the Rangers to the World Series in 2010, general manager Jon Daniels and his staff faced a difficult decision.
The Cincinnati Reds were willing to trade an outfielder with all of the tools to become one of the top players at his position. But they wanted a young starting pitcher who had the upside to become a longtime member in their rotation.
The Reds wanted Edinson Volquez; the Rangers didn’t want to give him up. For nearly a month, the Rangers tried all kinds of different combinations of trades to acquire Hamilton without trading Volquez. But it became very apparent that if the Rangers wanted Hamilton, they had to part with one of their top pitching prospects.
“Our scouts felt we were acquiring one of the most talented players in the game,” assistant general manager Thad Levine said. “It came down to who do we value more: a premium position player who plays every day or a starter who pitches every five days. We felt the everyday player was of slightly greater value. But it was a debate.”
At the time, the Rangers were coming off a 75-87 season and were stressing rebuilding the pitching staff. So to trade one of the few high-level pitching prospects in the organization wasn’t an easy decision.
“In trading Edinson Volquez, we felt strongly we were trading a pitcher who had All-Star capabilities,” Levine said. “He’s a guy we had signed and developed. He had grown with us. We felt like he was on the cusp of breaking through in the big leagues. We knew his arsenal was one that if he harnessed it, he was going to have success.”
But the idea of having an elite centerfielder and a former No. 1 pick with all the tools was too good to pass up. After the 2008 season, both teams felt like they got a good deal. Hamilton wowed the nation with his performance in the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium and hit .304 with 32 homers and 130 RBIs. But a changed swing that didn’t feel comfortable and a series of injuries caused Hamilton to have a disappointing encore. He played in just 89 games and hit .268. Interestingly, injuries also hurt Volquez, who missed nearly all of 2009 after reconstructive elbow surgery. The recovery carried into 2010 and at one point Volquez was moved to the bullpen. But Volquez made some tweaks to his delivery and had a solid finish to the season, good enough to earn a start in the postseason.
Of course, Hamilton put up career-best numbers, including a .359 batting average and a .633 slugging percentage on his way to the MVP Award.
“There were scouts in the room before we made the trade that said he could be the best player in the game from a talent standpoint,” Levine said. “Those same people thought he was capable of doing what he did last year, too, when he had some injuries and prolonged slumps. That’s part of the challenge in evaluating the true person we were acquiring.”
The Rangers did their homework and were convinced that Hamilton was on the right path off the field and could be a force on it. Three years later, it’s become one of the key trades in Daniels’ history as general manager.
“It’s pretty telling that a guy that missed the last month still made contributions that the BBWAA deems to be better than players who played for six months,” Levine said. “I think they’re right.”