Catcher Jorge Alfaro was a mere 16 years old in 2010 when he signed a $1.3 million bonus contract to play for the Texas Rangers.
Outfielder Nick Williams, a native of Galveston, was only 18.
“You develop relationships with these kids,” said Josh Boyd, the Rangers’ senior director of player personnel. “You watch them grow.
“And when something like this happens, you miss them.
“But . . . .”
Boyd didn’t have to finish the sentence. The “but” was on a plane, headed from Philadelphia to Texas. The “but” pitched a no-hitter for the Phillies last weekend in Chicago.
No matter the sentimental attachments, no matter the cost in prospects or payroll price, left-hander Cole Hamels is the “but” that justifies everything.
The Rangers had to surrender Alfaro, Williams, veteran Matt Harrison and three young pitching prospects to get the Phillies to hand over Hamels and left-handed reliever Jake Diekman.
“Obviously, it was a tough day in that regard,” said Mike Daly, who oversees the Rangers’ player development system. “There was a lot of investment we had in those young players.
“Ultimately, though,” Daly said, shifting to a more rational gear, “it’s Cole Hamels.”
Daly didn’t have to explain.
There are three ways, more or less, to get a pedigreed pitcher such as Hamels:
▪ A team can bust its payroll bank and sign him for $20-million-plus as a free agent.
▪ It can draft one, nurture him, pay his inevitable Tommy John rehab bills and then wait for lightning to strike.
▪ The club can eviscerate its farm system and trade for him.
The Rangers went with the modified, odds-on method, Door No. 3.
The farm system took a bullet, but it still has a vibrant pulse. Daly rattled off the names of Lewis Brinson, Brett Martin, Ariel Jurado and Andrew Faulkner — the next to the next wave of Rangers prospects.
Is Hamels worth six players in return?
General manager Jon Daniels answered it like this:
“You’re talking about one of the best pitchers in the game, under control, who wants to be here and who has the work ethic, the consistency and the performance.
“It worked out well with Philadelphia because they were motivated less by dollars and more by the talent we had. These guys are going to play in the big leagues for Philadelphia — they are. That’s not a matter of if —they’re going to. They’re good, they’re talented, they’re good makeup guys, and I wish them well.
“We’ve got a lot of staff here that have worked hard to put them in that spot. But that’s part of developing players, part of building a farm system. Some guys are going to play for us, and others are going to be of value in deals like this.”
The latter constitutes a lesson that all GMs must learn. The club swatted down trade offer after trade offer for young prospect Jurickson Profar, and now, injured, he hasn’t started a game in two seasons.
On the night before the trade deadline in 2009, a then-22-year-old Derek Holland pitched 8 2/3 innings of two-hit baseball, striking out 10 and, as club legend went, prompted the Rangers to pull him out of an aborted deal with Toronto for Roy Halladay.
As recently as three weeks ago, a Rangers source suggested that if a swap of prospects for Hamels was a possibility, “We would already have done it.”
Maybe Daniels had a change of heart. Maybe the Phillies’ demands softened.
Whatever happened, there will be no looking back Saturday night.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697