Shaping the Rangers: #13 Young/Gonzalez

Lone Star Dugout continues its look at the 20 biggest transactions in Texas Rangers history with a look at the 2006 trade of Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez.

January 6, 2006: Rangers trade Adrian Gonzalez, Chris Young, and Terrmel Sledge to the San Diego Padres for Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka, and minor leaguer Billy Killian.

When the 2004 major league baseball season was getting underway, the Rangers found themselves proud owners of two prized possessions.

One of which was a pitcher who had the mind and craftiness of Greg Maddux along with the intimidation and fire (not to mention height) of Randy Johnson. The other was the first pick in the draft just four years earlier who came with an enormous amount of defensive prowess and a impressive looking swing at the plate. Both of whom arrived on the baseball landscape via the same year's draft.

But in what seemed like an instant, both were suddenly gone.

One of these two future stars was Chris Young, who as a 6 foot 10 inch tall teenager was one the tallest members of both the Highland Park High School baseball and basketball teams. His studious nature and hard work in the classroom were rewarded when Young was accepted into Princeton University in the fall of 1999.

Once there, the awards and accolades quickly began piling up.

In his freshman year, Young was named the unanimous Ivy League Rookie of the Year in both baseball and basketball, becoming the first male in league history to accomplish that feat in two sports. On the diamond, Young led both his team and the league with a 2.38 ERA, allowed only nine runs in 34 innings, and allowed just one homerun against 150 batters. As a sophomore, Young was the Ivy League's leading pitcher with a 1.82 ERA and was a first-team All-Ivy League baseball selection. The hardwood accolades were just a numerous, with Young winning Ivy League Rookie of the Week awards nine times and was named Ivy League Player of the Year and a freshman All-America by Basketball Weekly.

The majors came calling in the form of the Pittsburgh Pirates during the 2000 amateur draft, but Young would not sign with the club until he gained assurances he would be able to complete his college education. Still, his career as an athlete did not entirely get put on hold, and Young played Class-A minor league ball for the Hickory Crawdads while he completed classwork – including writing a college thesis paper on the impact of Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier and its effects on society.

Meanwhile,a player named Adrian Gonzalez was still two or three years away from making acquaintances with his future teammate.

The mystique and wonder surrounding Gonzalez grew from the moment he was drafted by the Florida Marlins in 2000, becoming the first high school infielder to go number one in the amateur draft since Alex Rodriguez did so in 1993. That year, the first baseman was one of nine out of the first ten picks to have agreed to predraft deals. Although he was originally projected to be a mid-first-rounder, Gonzalez easily outplayed most of the first-rounders in the draft.

Gonzalez was blessed to come from good baseball lineage. While his family lived in Tijuana, his father David was a star first baseman for the Mexican national team. His brother Edgar also has bounced around professional baseball, including a swing through the Rangers organization following his selection in the Rule 5 draft in 2004.

Gonzalez arrived in the minors drawing raves about his pure hitting approach and sweet lefthanded stroke, but some wondered if his wiry frame would lead to issues with his power. However, those fears began to fade away following a 17 homerun, 103 RBI campaign in 2001 with Single-A Kane County, followed by another 17 homeruns the following year with Double-A Portland. During that time, Gonzalez also developed a knack of smoking balls into the gap, hitting 37 and 34 doubles in consecutive years.

His stock took a blow following the 2002 season when Gonzalez opted to have off-season surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right wrist. The operation seemed to throw a wrench into his swing, and his power numbers began dropping off the following year. But with Derek Lee blocking the way to the majors in Florida, the Marlins decided to make Gonzalez expendable and used him as the centerpiece of a three-prospect package to acquire closer Ugueth Urbina from the Rangers in July of 2003. The change of scenery failed to improve on his power numbers however, and Gonzalez saw his homerun total slip the following year to just five at Double- and Triple-A.

Chris Young also switched locales towards the end of 2002.

After turning down a contract offer from the NBA's Sacramento Kings, the Pirates sent Young and minor league pitcher Jon Searles to the Montreal Expos for another pitcher, Matt Herges. He began the 2003 season on the disabled list, but was lights out once healthy. In eight starts, he would wind up with a 5-2 record and miniscule 1.62 earned run average. With a .150 opposing batting average, Young managed to hold his opponents helpless for most of his Single-A season.

Once June rolled around, Young was promoted again – this time to the Eastern League and the Double-A Harrisburg Senators. He posted a strong month of July that saw him go undefeated and post a 3.03 earned run average, helping him finish the year with a 4-4 record and a 4.01 ERA in 15 starts. But the following April, he was on the move again.

Young joined the Rangers on April 3, 2004 along with utilityman Josh McKinley for catching bust Einar Diaz and minor leaguer Justin Echols. From that point on, Young would place himself on the fast tracks to the majors.

Frisco was the first stop for Young, where he went 6-5 with a 4.48 ERA in 18 starts. Then in late July, Young joined Adrian Gonzalez at Triple-A Oklahoma.

Things were defiantly starting to get interesting for both players.

Young spent only a brief time with the Redhawks in late July and August and was perfect, going 3-0 with a 1.48 ERA. He racked up 34 strikeouts and walked only nine, all while holding the opposition to a .189 batting average. Then, after only a month in Triple-A, Young found himself headed to Arlington.

His major league debut came in a game against the Twins on August 24th. Young pitched reasonably enough for his first time in a big league uniform, allowing three runs on four hits over five and two-thirds innings of work, and was saved from a loss when the Rangers scrapped back from an early deficit to win on a walk-off hit. Overall, he would go 3-2 the rest of the way with a 4.41 ERA, and was offered a three year contract extension by the club in November.

That same year, Adrian Gonzalez would finish second on the Redhawks with 139 hits and showed signs of breaking out of his power slump by knocking out 12 homeruns. Unfortunately for him, Mark Teixeira stood in the way of his path to the big leagues at first base and the Rangers weren't ready to place the 22 year-old as a full-time designated hitter. After a surprise inclusion on the Opening Day roster in 2005, the Rangers tinkered with playing Gonzalez in right field, but the club still struggled to find room in the lineup for Gonzalez on a regular basis. As a result, he was forced to spend more time in the minors (84 games) than he did with the Rangers (43).

Chris Young's 2005 was one filled with eye-opening statistics: He ranked in the top five among qualifying Major League rookies in strikeouts, wins, ERA, starts, and innings pitched. Young also tied Rangers rookie club records in wins. But the Rangers still weren't satisfied with the rest of their pitching arsenal, and felt compelled to do something about it.

Six days into the new year, Jon Daniels and San Diego GM Kevin Towers collaborated on a trade that would send Young and Gonzalez as part of a packaged deal to the Padres that would bring the Rangers two seasoned veterans in return in Akinori Otsuka and Adam Eaton. The righty Eaton had grown increasingly annoyed with the poor communication between he and his former club over a possible contract extension and was in search of a new team. He found it with the Rangers, who believed that a strained middle finger in the previous season wouldn't continue to be an issue for him.

But they were terribly wrong.

While Otsuka proved to be a viable asset, first as a set-up man followed by a shift to the closer role after the departure of Francisco Cordero, Eaton and the Rangers faced a bowlful of problems before the season even began. On March 29th of 2006, in his final start of spring training, Eaton was forced to leave prematurely with pain in the middle finger of his throwing hand.

It was a strained tendon, almost the exact same injury that had ended his season the year before.

The injury sent the Rangers into scramble mode, and ended up finding what turned out to be an adequate replacement in John Koronka following another trade with the Chicago Cubs. But on the flipside, the other two main components of the trade proved to be much more valuable to their new team.

Chris Young would lower his earned run average to 3.46 in 2006 and Gonzalez, who gained full-time status at first following season ending surgery to Ryan Klesko, grew by leaps and bounds at his new home ballpark in San Diego. Both players continue to turn heads and find themselves among the most valuable commodities in the National League.

The Rangers, meanwhile, are left with virtually nothing to show for what many fans will agree ranks among the most heart-breaking trades in Texas Rangers history.

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