Thursday night was no time for Jon Daniels to celebrate.
The general manager found a trading partner for left-hander Cole Hamels, a veteran piece the Texas Rangers had to move as they try to build a winner for future seasons, and pulled into his home around midnight.
Fewer than 12 hours and one quick run, Daniels was back on the phone working on other deals ahead of Tuesday’s nonwaiver trade deadline.
Besides, there’s not much to celebrate when selling off players instead of acquiring them.
The Hamels deal to the Chicago Cubs became official Friday morning, but the Rangers still have much to do to give their development/rebuild plan a proper liftoff. There’s no Mark Teixeira trade to be made, as there was when Daniels last launched into this mode in 2007, but deals remain that could produce key contributors down the road.
“You don’t love being on this side of these deals,” Daniels said. “You’d rather be in it and looking to get the quality big-league guys now to help us win, but the reality is that’s [not] where we are right now.
“We’re open. We’ve engaged in conversations on a variety of fronts. ... We’re open with the mindset that if that’s young talent that’s coming back and fits our long-term plan a little bit better, we absolutely are having those conversations.”
The Rangers sent Hamels and cash, perhaps as much as $8 million, to the Cubs for right-hander Eddie Butler, righty prospect Rollie Lacy and a player to be named. Butler joined the Rangers in their bullpen Friday night before the opener of a three-game series against the Houston Astros.
Adrian Beltre was at third base and in the cleanup spot. Keone Kela and Jake Diekman were available out of the bullpen. Those three have drawn interest from contending clubs, but the best deal the Rangers could pull would involve Kela.
The toughest to pull off a trade would be Beltre, who has full no-trade protection, has been on the disabled list four times the past two seasons and his production is down this season at age 39.
But the Rangers view him as a difference-maker for a contender based on the other contributions he makes to a team. The Rangers also don’t see him as the typical rental player, believing his value to the franchise goes behind hits and RBIs.
They want to keep it for the rest of this season and for as long as he’s willing to play.
“His value to us is different than his performance or statistical line,” Daniels said. “We’ve got the most games played by players under 25 years old in the big leagues. We’re a young group. The value of Adrian with that group is real. The value of Adrian’s legacy with our organization is real. He and I have had a number of conversations. I’m not saying that a deal can’t happen — it may — but there are some different elements at play for us.”
Kela, the closer who was 23 for 23 in save chances before blowing his first Tuesday, throws hard, has a terrific curveball, is healthy and, just as important, can’t be a free agent until after the 2020 season.
All teams covet controllable pitchers with elite stuff and pay handsomely to acquire it.
Conversely, rental relievers, like Diekman, don’t fetch a rich return unless they are the best of the best, like closer Aroldis Chapman two years ago when the Cubs acquired him for a package that included New York Yankees star rookie Gleyber Torres.
“We’ve been asked quite a bit about our relievers, and we’ve got to be open there,” Daniels said. “That’s just where we are. We’ll see. It’s hard to handicap. Some conversations are more advanced than others.”
Daniels said that six teams had inquired on Hamels over the past month and four were still in on him as recently as Thursday before the Cubs became the front-runners. Two were on Hamels’ 20-team no-trade list, and two, including the Cubs, were not.
While Hamels’ performance the past five starts (1-3, 10.23 ERA) was an eyesore, Daniels said that teams are betting on his track record. The Rangers could have waited to let him make one more start or even hold off trading him until August, but the market trend for rental starters told Daniels to strike now.
“It was a situation where we thought the time was right. We thought the deal made sense,” Daniels said. “The reality is teams know he’s better than he’s been recently.”
Butler, 27, is under club control until 2022. The Rangers selected him in the 36th round in 2009, but he chose to attend Radford College and became the 46th overall pick in 2012 (Colorado Rockies).
He spent a good chunk of this season on the disabled list with a groin injury and has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen despite being a starting pitcher for 39 of his 57 career appearances.
The Rangers will consider letting him start this season but for now will fill Hamels’ vacancy with Double-A Frisco righty Ariel Jurado, who will start Saturday.
Lacy, 23, was sent to High-A Down East. The Rangers will select a player to be named within the next few weeks from a predetermined list of minor-league pitchers and position players.
They will be looking for more deals over the next four days.