Toronto didn't know what it had in Michael Young.
To be fair, neither did Texas.
But regardless of what the two clubs envisioned Young's upside to be, the Rangers will unapologetically claim the sequence that led to the July 2000 acquisition of Young as one of the highlights of Doug Melvin's tenure as general manager.
In 1998, Melvin sold high on right-hander Todd Van Poppel -- who changed organizations nine times but was traded just this once -- and second baseman Warren Morris, sending them to Pittsburgh two weeks before the trade deadline for unheralded right-hander Esteban Loaiza, a pre-arbitration 26-year-old who had gone 27-28, 4.63 for some very bad Pirates clubs.
In Loaiza's third start as a Ranger, he held Toronto to one run on four singles and two walks over eight innings, fanning nine in a 1-0 loss. Five days later, he limited the same Blue Jays club to two runs on five hits and two walks in eight innings, striking out five. He wouldn't start against Toronto in 1999 or 2000, but it's safe to say he made an impression on the Jays with those two 1998 starts.
Texas went to the playoffs in 1998 and 1999, but the 2000 season was a different story. Though the Rangers were hovering around .500 in July, their three AL West division-mates were off to strong starts, leaving Texas firmly entrenched in last place. Unlike the previous two summers, Melvin was in a selling mode as the 2000 trading deadline approached.
Loaiza had gone from that unknown, inexpensive commodity in 1998 to a 28-year-old earning $2.65 million who reportedly clashed with pitching coach Dick Bosman and ignored game plans with his pitch selection. He'd fallen into a middle relief/spot starter role and was likely going to be non-tendered at the end of the season.
As of July 19, Toronto was 1.5 games behind the Yankees in the AL East, locked in second place with Boston. Sporting a rotation that included David Wells, Kelvim Escobar, Chris Carpenter, and Frank Castillo, the Jays decided they could no longer fight through the struggles of 23-year-old Roy Halladay, whose ERA stood at 10.90. Toronto general manager Gord Ash called his good friend Melvin. He wanted Loaiza, who had been so good against his club two summers earlier.
The Jays had what was perceived to be the deepest inventory of middle infield prospects in baseball at the time. At Triple-A Syracuse were shortstop Cesar Izturis and second baseman Brent Abernathy. At Double-A Tennessee were shortstop Felipe Lopez and second baseman Michael Young. Ash had told Melvin several weeks earlier he was prepared to move one of them to get Loaiza.
Ash valued Lopez the most, as did Melvin. Ash ranked his other three prospects in the order of Izturis, Abernathy, and Young. That's where Melvin, based on the reports of pro scout Rudy Terrasas, disagreed.
"We didn't feel we could get Lopez," Melvin said. "And we were not real high on Izturis. Abernathy looked like he might have been a better hitter than Young at the time, but he was a one-position guy who was going to have to hit. Young's athleticism and ability to play both sides of the bag was the difference for us."
The fascinating part of that evaluation is that the Rangers were just a year and a half into a four-year commitment to Royce Clayton at shortstop, which might have led one to believe that the versatile middle infielder would have been passed over for the second baseman who projected to hit more. But Texas opted for the 23-year-old Young.
"We thought he had a chance to a regular player," said Melvin, who suggested at the time that Young could develop into a Mark Loretta type. "But we didn't think he'd be an All-Star."
On July 19, 2000, the Rangers sent Loaiza to Toronto for Young and 25-year-old Venezuelan right-hander Darwin Cubillan, a live-armed reliever who had posted huge strikeout numbers in the Yankees and Blue Jays systems. Cubillan, who had debuted in the big leagues two months earlier, was assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma. Young was sent to Double-A Tulsa.
Young had hit .275/.340/.426 for Tennessee that summer, playing second base, batting mostly second or fourth in the order, and earning a spot in the Double-A All-Star Game one week before the trade. Texas had different plans. With Jason Romano entrenched as the Drillers' second baseman (and possibly the Rangers' future answer at that position), the Rangers moved Young back to shortstop, and installed him atop the batting order.
Young got off to a phenomenal start for Tulsa. He had two hits in each of his first four games, and six of his first seven. Overall, in his 43 games for the Drillers, he had a phenomenal 23 multi-hit games -- and only 11 single-hit games -- and never went two games without a hit. The Rangers rewarded his .319/.368/.457 run, which included a sturdy 32 RBIs batting mostly from the leadoff spot, with a five-day big-league stint at the end of the year.
Texas sent Young to the Arizona Fall League in October, but it was a development two months later that dramatically changed Young's career path.
On December 11, 2000, the Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez. Grooming a replacement for (or even an alternative to) Royce Clayton was one thing. But the arrival of A-Rod meant there was no need for an everyday shortstop to be groomed at the upper levels of the farm. Texas moved Young back to second base, assigning him to Oklahoma to start the 2001 season. Romano returned to Tulsa as its starting second baseman.
Randy Velarde was acquired to man the position in Arlington. He was off to a solid start, hitting over .330, when he pulled his left hamstring on a groundout to shortstop in the first inning of the Rangers' May 24 game in Tampa. Young, who was hitting .291/.358/.460 for Oklahoma, was pulled in the first inning of the RedHawks' game against New Orleans minutes later and flown to Baltimore to meet the club the following day. Velarde landed on the disabled list, and would remain sidelined for seven weeks. Romano was promoted to Triple-A to step in at second base while Young was in Texas.
It's the last Young would ever see of the Minor Leagues.
It wasn't until 2003 that Young -- and Loaiza -- stepped into big league stardom. Young, who was the subject of intense internal debate in 2002 as to whether he'd hit enough to remain at second base everyday, erased all questions in 2003 with his first of four straight seasons surpassing 200 hits and a .300 average. Loaiza went 21-9, 2.90, led the American League in strikeouts, and was runner-up in the Cy Young vote to Halladay.
But Loaiza was no longer Halladay's teammate. Toronto got two and a half mediocre seasons out of the Loaiza (25-28, 4.96) before he was reduced at age 31 to signing a minor league contract with the White Sox in 2003. While he was providing that career year to Chicago for a $500,000 base salary, the Blue Jays were looking back at having paid him over $11 million and getting very little other than an acute case of nausea over having traded Young to get him.
Toronto would later trade Lopez, Izturis, and Abernathy, too, in packages to get Steve Trachsel, Mark Guthrie, Jason Arnold, Luke Prokopec, and Chad Ricketts, none of whom contributed much of anything while in a Jays uniform. It was a bad series of moves for Gord Ash -- who is now Melvin's assistant GM in Milwaukee.
But Melvin's series of moves, which first made Loaiza a key contributor to the club's last two playoff teams, and then converted him into one of the greatest players the Rangers have ever had, rank among his finest in Texas.
Even if he underestimated Young almost as much as Toronto did at the time of the trade.
Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.