August 31, 1992: The Rangers trade Ruben Sierra, Jeff Russell, Bobby Witt, and cash to the Oakland Athletics for Jose Canseco.
Following the arrival of former manager Bobby Valentine in 1985, the future of the Rangers appeared to be taking a turn for the better.
The club began to make some noise in the American League West thanks to a nice mix of older and younger talent, along with a renewed fire and determination that Valentine brought with him into the clubhouse.
Offensively, one leader of this resurgent group was Ruben Sierra – a compact, powerful switch-hitter from Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.
In November of 1982, the Rangers signed Sierra out of Liceo Interamericano Castro High School, where he was engulfed in baseball, basketball, and volleyball. He would debut with the Rangers in 1986 and post some commendable numbers in his rookie year, hitting .264 with 16 home runs and 55 runs batted in. That year, Sierra also set a club record in triples with 10 – good for second in the American League.
But the following year, the career of "El Caballo" really headed into orbit.
In 1987 at the age of 20, Sierra became the youngest player in baseball history to hit 30 homeruns in a season since Tony Conigliaro did it with the Boston Red Sox in 1965. He also drove in 109 runs that season and set a Rangers record with 69 extra-base hits. Three of his six years in Texas were 100 RBI seasons and in four of them, Sierra hit 20 or more homeruns.
A hard-throwing rigthander named Bobby Witt also joined the Rangers about the same time as Ruben Sierra. Witt pitched for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team and was the third player chosen in the nation in the 1985 free-agent draft. But after just 35 innings of work in the minor leagues, he found himself on the fast track to the majors and earned a spot in the starting rotation for the 1986 season.
In his first two seasons the raw flamethrower led the AL in both strikeouts per nine innings (9.93 and 10.07) and walks (143 and 140), and as a rookie uncorked a league-high 22 wild pitches. Witt was 19-19 over the two seasons, but his ERA was above 5.00, and he completed only one of his 56 starts.
The 1988 season started off horribly for Witt, who went 0-5 with an ERA above 7.00 before a demotion to the minors in early May. But Witt would return to the Rangers' rotation in July a different ptcher, throwing complete games in his first nine starts upon returning to the big leagues.
His best season would come in 1990, when he notched 17 wins (including 12 straight from late June to early September), finished with a 3.36 ERA and ranked second in the AL to teammate Nolan Ryan with 221 strikeouts.
One of Witt's partners in the rotation was Jeff Russell, who came to the Rangers via a trade with the Reds in the middle of the 1985 season. The righty helped add some more consistent pitching to the franchise, and was the Rangers lone All-Star representative at the 1988 Midsummer Classic. But following a slumping end to that season, the club decided to shift Russell to the bullpen the next year. The results paid off in a big way, as he went on lead the American League with 38 saves, make his second All-Star game, and finish 6th in Cy Young Award voting.
There was no doubt that Russell gave the Rangers their first formidable closer option since Jim Kern in the late 1970's, but he would soon find himself a chess piece in a trade that would send shock waves through Major League Baseball.
On August 31st, 1992, Oakland rightfielder Jose Canseco was pulled from the on-deck circle in the bottom of the first inning of that evening's contest between the Baltimore Orioles and Canseco's Athletics. Oakland general manager informed the other-worldly slugger that he'd just been dealt to the Rangers.
Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 miles to the east, Bobby Witt and Jeff Russell were both called in from the dugout in Kansas City and sent to the clubhouse where they were informed that they'd been sent to Oakland. Ruben Sierra, also part of the deal, was home in Texas at the time trying to recover from a nasty bout of the chicken pox.
For Oakland, the trade had to be done that very day. If not, they would risk having to leave their three newest players off the roster for postseason play. The A's were 27 games over .500 at the time, and had played 34 of their 131 games without Canseco, who was suffering from a bum shoulder.
The relationship between the outfielder and his former team had begun to sour as well.
A few weeks earlier, Canseco pulled himself from the fifth inning of a game against the Chicago White Sox citing tightness in his back as the problem. He dressed in the stadium and left before the game ended, bringing upon him a heap of criticism from teammates and A's management in the process.
The Rangers were in need of a shakeup too, after the dismissal of Valentine as manager a month earlier.
Ruben Sierra, who by this point had become a staple in right field, had already rejected a five-year contract worth approximately $25 million in what was his final year before becoming a free agent. He demanded an extension that would make him the highest paid player in baseball history at the time, but the Rangers weren't interested or ready to pay such a price. Bobby Witt was also about to become a free agent, and Texas wasn't planning on offering him a contract. Jeff Russell was the one player the Rangers were tentative on trading away, but had finally agreed to do so once a plan was put in order to make Matt Whiteside the closer for the remainder of the season. The team would acquire Tom Henke would become the team's closer the following year.
Since the deal came after the non-waiver trade deadline of July 31st, Oakland would have to get Canseco through revocable waivers before the wheels of the swap could be set in motion. Seven teams all had some kind of interest in him, including the Red Sox and Yankees who were both in the middle of regrettable seasons. The Rangers, however, faced little to no trouble sliding their players through waivers.
All three players performed admirably in their new location over the final weeks of the season.
Sierra would hit .277 with 17 runs batted in and three homers, and also led the A's with seven runs batted in during their appearance in the American League Championship Series. Witt bumped Kelly Downs from the rotation and went 1-1, posting a 3.41 earned run average in six starts. Jeff Russell pitched eight times out of the Oakland bullpen, winning two games and picking up saves in another two without allowing a run in 9 2/3 innings of work.
However, none of the players Oakland received would last much longer than two years with their new team.
Although Ruben Sierra would crack the 100 RBI with the A's in 1993, his .233 batting average certainly held him back from achieving much more. Oakland would deal him and a pitching prospect away to the New York Yankees midway through the 1995 season. Witt was an average pitcher, finishing one game under .500 during his time in the Bay Area while posting an earned run average above 4.50. Jeff Russell was solid in his role as set-up man for Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, but left following the season to sign on as closer for the Boston Red Sox.
The Rangers were 15 ½ games behind front running Oakland at the time Jose Canseco arrived in Texas. By the time the season ended, they were further back of first place then they were when the trade was made.
Canseco would hit just .233 with four homeruns in 22 games for the Rangers, and missed a good deal of time due to hamstring and back issues. The following year was no better for he or the Rangers, and was marred by two notable lowlights: The first of which came on May 26th when Canseco, attempting to run down a long fly ball in Cleveland, had a ball bounce off his head and over the wall for an unconventional homerun. Three days later at Fenway Park, Canseco pitched the final inning of a 15-1 whitewashing that was followed by a June visit to the doctor's office and a determination that he would need Tommy John elbow surgery.
In hindsight, the deal didn't pan out for either team. All four players would return to their original locales at least one other time in their careers, but with minimal success.
Shaping the Rangers #11: Jose Canseco
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