ARLINGTON -- Some people go to Las Vegas ready to deal with wads of cash. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels went with catchers. Lots of them, all in their 20s and highly regarded.
Gerald Laird. Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Taylor Teagarden. Max Ramirez. More coming up behind them. The word going into the 2008 Winter Meetings in Las Vegas was that the Rangers were loaded with catching and had plenty to trade because they had the best young catchers in the game. Their future at the position was set; they were the envy of all other teams.
Two years later, the Rangers are going into the American League playoffs with none of those guys behind the plate. They are going with a catcher who was couldn't make the Brewers roster in Spring Training and another who lost his job to a 23-year-old hot-shot rookie in San Francisco.
The Rangers' own 20-something hot shots are out. Laird was traded. Teagarden couldn't hit. Ramirez couldn't play defense and Saltalamacchia couldn't stay healthy. Instead, the Rangers have relied on the 30-something talents of Bengie Molina and Matt Treanor to guide them through the regular season and into the playoffs.
"I'll tell you what," said bench coach Jackie Moore, who oversees the catching, "coming into Spring Training and what we expected, and what happened between Spring Training and the start of the season, how Treanor stepped into the situation, and how Molina stepped up when we got him, they have done a terrific job.
"The most important thing is the way they apply themselves. Both come in with experience and have the everyday mentality of what they can do each day to make the team successful. They also understand it all starts on the mound. They know they'll win more games with the way they call pitches than they will with their bats."
There are many ways to measure the effectiveness of catchers. Joe Mauer is a great hitter. Ivan Rodriguez is a superior thrower. The Rangers measure their catchers by how well they work with their pitchers and this season their pitching staff has a chance to finish with a sub-4.00 ERA for the first time since 1993.
"It has been awesome," Molina said. "A great experience. It was a challenge, a very good challenge, and I was up for it. I really believe I can catch anybody and I've proven that. It's just been a challenge, not knowing anybody and adjusting to that. It has been very satisfying for me."
If Plan A had held form, the Rangers would have gone through with Saltalamacchia as their No. 1 catcher and Teagarden in reserve. Plan A went out the window and Plan B followed soon after. This is somewhere between Plan J and Plan Z but it's the one that works.
Rangers catchers, 2003-10
Texas has deployed 19 different backstops since Ivan Rodriguez's departure following the 2002 season.
Sandy Alomar Jr.
"They are doing well," manager Ron Washington said. "It has worked out well. We've got two veteran guys. We're trying to make sure we get the most out of them and keep both going."
And as to who will start in the playoffs?
"I have no idea yet but both will play," Washington said. "Molina brings a lot of experience and clutch hitting and works well with pitchers. Treanor's game is receiving and calling a good game. He's worked hard on his offense and helped us a lot with his offense.
"I just think it's important to keep them both engaged."
Treanor is with the Rangers because Saltalamacchia was having physical issues in Spring Training that was hindering his throwing, Teagarden wasn't hitting and Ramirez was still struggling defensively. By March 22, the Rangers were concerned enough about their catching that they traded infielder Ray Olmedo to the Brewers for Treanor.
It was not considered a blockbuster trade. Treanor, married to Olympic volleyball superstar Misty May Treanor, spent 2004-08 as a backup/part-time catcher for the Marlins and played four games for the Tigers in 2009 before a torn labrum in his hip finished his season. The Brewers gave him a Minor League deal but he wasn't expected to make their team.
When the Rangers got him, he was 34 with the mark of Triple-A Oklahoma City on his forehead. That's exactly where they were sending him when Saltalamacchia delivered an Opening Day walk-off hit. But Treanor never made it across the Red River. Saltalamacchia was on the disabled list three days into the season and Treanor was brought to the Majors.
He has been with the Rangers ever since. A guy who spent 11 seasons in the Minors before ever appearing in the Majors has set a career high for games played and at-bats.
"In Spring Training, I know it's a cliche, but when you get traded, it's because somebody wants you," Treanor said. "From the first meeting with Wash to the end of Spring Training I was at peace with myself because I know I had prepared for the opportunity to help if I got called up.
"The other day I was in there when we clinched. No matter who the skipper puts in the lineup, he does it because he knows you can help win that day. He has trusted me a lot this year and to be in there on a day like that gave me a lot of confidence."
Molina, 36, was the Giants' Opening Day catcher and caught 37 of their first 46 games. Then they called up top prospect Buster Posey on May 29. Molina became expendable. The Rangers became interested, so much so they gave up reliever Chris Ray as well as pitcher Michael Main, a former first-round Draft pick.
The Rangers, who were using Ramirez as a backup after Teagarden struggled early in the season, wanted a front-line veteran catcher to pair with Treanor. Molina, who knew how good Posey was, got a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.
"I knew the situation I was going to be in San Francisco," Molina said. "For them to trade me over here and have the opportunity to play is great. Obviously I'm not playing as much as I would like but the trade overall has meant a lot to me."
He is not the two-time Gold Glove catcher that he once was but he is a catcher who has been in postseason play -- he was behind the plate in 2002 when the Angels won the World Series. He is the only Rangers player on the current roster who has won a World Series.
"I watch the game when I'm not playing and I watch the opposing catcher," Treanor said. "I have been watching Bengie quite a bit, how he calls the game, how he goes about his business ... he's fun to watch and fun to learn from."
Washington has been rotating them. One will play two or three games in a row and then the other will take over for two or three games. Unlike in previous years, there have been no complaints from the catchers. Exactly who will catch in the playoffs is unknown but nobody is voicing any concern about it right now.
"It's all about making us better as a collective group," Treanor said. "Making us better and the team better, working together and talking. You accept your role on the team, do the best to your ability and if the team plays well, that's what it's all about."
The Rangers are going to the playoffs. They have played well with Treanor and Molina behind the plate.