There’s a saying in baseball that goes; “Sometimes, the best trades are the ones you don’t make.” The last few years, the Angels have been that team that has not been afraid to wheel and deal with young, cost controlled talent. Tony Reagins was quick to pull the trade rip cord. In 2008 it was for Mark Teixeira. In 2009 he sent three players to Tampa Bay for Scott Kazmir (vomit). In 2010 he traded for both Alberto Callaspo and Dan Haren, giving up promising young lefty Tyler Skaggs in the latter. And so far, Jerry Dipoto seems as though he is cut from a similar trade ilk, emptying what was left in the cupboards for Zack Greinke. However, Dipoto comes across at being a far better evaluator of talent than Carlton Banks, I mean, Tony Reagins was, judging by his “not quite blockbuster moves.” It is safe to say that the days of Bill Stoneman stock piling prospects like they were food for an impending nuclear holocaust are long gone.
Some of those trades did serve their purpose. Alberto Callaspo cost us Sean O’Sullivan and Will Smith. Neither of whom have gone on to light the world on fire, while Callaspo has been a steady presence for the team while being an acceptable stop gap until Kaleb Cowart is ready. Mark Teixeira helped to lead the Angels to their first and only 100 win season. He didn’t re-sign with the Angels, but his time here netted the team a draft pick, a draft pick that they used to pick Mike Trout. I’m not going to talk about the Kazmir trade, lest I want my nervous twitch to come back. And in hindsight, the Dan Haren trade is not as much of a win as some pundits originally thought. Haren was fantastic in 2011, but with the way his tenure in Anaheim ended, one wonders what having Tyler Skaggs on the farm would mean to the organization. Greinke? He was lights out down the stretch, but with no draft pick compensation for his off season signing with the Dodgers, I would rather have Jean Segura, John Hellweg and Ariel Pena on the farm.
The track record between both Reagins and Dipoto has the results split almost right down the middle. You win some. You lose some. But sometimes, hindsight makes you wish you could go back and pull the trigger on trades that never happened.
In 2007, the Marlins had another Giancarlo Stanton type player, except this player was heading into arbitration. That player, Miguel Cabrera. That same offseason, Alex Rodriguez had opted out of his contract and was heading back into free agency, trying to land a 10 year $300 million deal. As rumors swirled around both players, the Angels became one of the leading candidates to land one player or the other, except the smart money was on them landing Cabrera.
The 2007 Angels had had won the division after missing the playoffs in 2006, stamping their ticket as the class of the AL West. Dallas McPherson had played his last game for the Angels at the Major league level in 2006, Adam Kennedy had left via free agency and hot young prospect Howie Kendrick, who had made his big league debut in 2006, had taken over full time at second base. At third base, Chone Figgins had finally found a home after playing anywhere and everywhere he was asked to play. The Angels had a steady third basemen, but had not fielded a power hitter there since Troy Glaus had left after the 2004 season. Enter new GM, Tony Reagins.
The Tony Reagins that we would come to love and then subsequently hate, had been promoted to GM on October 16th of that year, but had not yet made his first impactful move regarding the big league roster. Three weeks into his tenure, the Cabrera rumors had gained traction after Jeffery Loria had announced at the GM meetings that Cabrera was available. By then, the rumor mill had kicked out these names as the possible players that would be involved; Brandon Wood, Nick Adenhart and one of Mike Napoli, Jeff Mathis and Hank Conger. Brandon Wood was ranked number 16 in Baseball America’s list of top prospects coming out of 2007. Nick Adenhart was number 24 and had just had a good, but not great, season at AA Arkansas. The Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis platoon saga had already begun and Hank Conger was a hard hitting prospect who had just finished his age 19 season. This was a veritable who’s who amongst Angels prospects, but the Marlins wanted one more player to be included.
That player was Howie Kendrick.
Kendrick had made his debut in 2006 putting up a .285/.314/.416 slash line and splitting his time between first base, second base and third base. Howie had been sold to Angels fans as a future batting champion after he put up a ridiculous .367/.406/.614 line across A+ and AA in 2005 which included a video game-esque .384/.421/.638 in A+. Then, in 2007, he put up a .322/.347/.450 line. Of all the prospects the Marlins had been speculated to want from the Angels, Kendrick was the only one the Angels didn’t have a safety net for. They had Erick Aybar who had also been called up in 2006 and played three games at second base. But, when combined with his total minor league appearances at that position, it brought his total number of games at second base to a whopping five games. They also had Maicer Izturis who had hit .289/.349/.405 in 102 games in 2007. But, durability issues had already started to show with Izturis. Kendrick was no longer the “second baseman of the future,” he was the second baseman of right now. He had so far made the front office look very smart for moving him quickly through the system.
These were the players that the Marlins wanted. Our number one prospect, number two prospect, number four prospect if Hank Conger was included and our everyday second baseman. The Angels balked, and the Tigers swooped in and landed Cabrera sending Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, catcher Mike Rabelo and minor league pitchers Eulogio De La Cruz, Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop to the Marlins. In return for the haul, the Marlins threw Dontrelle Willis into the deal as well. Angels fans breathed a collective sigh of relief, grateful that our young GM didn’t trade off so many of our top prospects. We still had Wood, who was going to be an All Star. We still had Adenhart who was going to be huge cog in the starting rotation. We still had Mathis and Napoli (Mathis hadn’t sufficiently proven how terrible he was with the bat at that time). We still had our catcher of the future in Hank Conger. And we still had future batting champion Howie Kendrick.
Five-plus years later, hindsight hates us. Howie Kendrick holds a career .292/.328/.428 slash line. A good line, but he has yet to challenge for a batting title and has played average at best defense since becoming a major league regular. Hank Conger has gotten abbreviated stints with the big league team, but injuries throughout his minor league career have left his future as an everyday catcher doubtful. Nick Adenhart’s life was tragically cut short thanks Andrew Gallo, never giving us a chance to see him fulfill the promise that was kept in that right arm. Jeff Mathis made a career out of making Mario Mendoza look good. Mike Napoli has since been traded and has punished Angels pitching ever since. And Brandon Wood fell on his back faster than a liquored up Prom Queen. All the while, Miguel Cabrera has put up .323/.401/.579 line since becoming a Tiger.
How would this have affected the Angels going forward? They won the division again in 2008, but what would the lineup have looked like with Teixeira and Cabrera in the middle of it to go along with Vladimir Guerrero? Sean Rodriguez wasn’t on any prospect lists, but he could’ve taken over the second base job, which could’ve kept Scott Kazmir off of the Angels roster. It’s possible that a trade for Alberto Callaspo never happens, what with Cabrera holding down third base, which could’ve turned Will Smith into a lefty reliever, or even a league average starter at the back end of the rotation. Nick Adenhart might still be alive. Cabrera could have ended up becoming our first basemen, which in turn would’ve meant that Mark Trumbo would have had no room on the roster, Kendrys Morales might not have had his coming out party in 2009 and the Teixeira trade might have not happened in 2008 since we would have had no room for him. But don’t worry, Mike Trout was ranked behind only Stephen Strasburg on the Angels draft board in 2009, chances are we still would have gotten him. Howie Kendrick went on to hit .306/.333/.421 in 2008. A drop in production from his 2007 campaign, which were numbers he hasn’t approached since.
In the five years since the trade, lots of baseball movement has gone down. It’s feasible to believe that Albert Pujols may not have become an Angel, and the same goes for Josh Hamilton. This one move five years ago would have reverberated to the present day. We can’t be 100% sure as to what would have transpired since. In hindsight though, this trade now looks like a slam dunk. The Angels missed out on a player that threatens to take home the Triple Crown every single year by hanging on to prospects because of their potential. Since then, the front office’s philosophy has changed and they are no longer afraid to part with a prospect (or three) for a proven Major League talent. But I pose this question to you. Would you have pulled the trigger on this trade? Or, would you have stuck with Brandon Wood’s and Nick Adenhart’s potential to go along with Howie Kendrick who, up to this point, was delivering on his promise? Knowing what I know now, this move is a no brainer. But at the time, parting with future perennial All Star’s would’ve been a hard sell, even for Billy Mays. “Sometimes, the best trades are the ones you don’t make.” And sometimes, you wish you had Delorean with a flux capacitor so you could back in time to change history.