December 8, 2005: Rangers trade Alfonso Soriano to the Washington Nationals for Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge, and minor leaguer Armando Galarraga.
In 2004, Former Rangers second baseman Alfonso Soriano played a pivotal role in the club’s run for its first entry into the postseason in five years.
Although his power had disappeared slightly from his 30+ homerun seasons during the second baseman’s final two years in New York, Soriano paced the Rangers with a delightful combination of power and speed. With him in the lineup, the Rangers started the season much better than anticipated. He also was one of a team record five players to make the All-Star team, and won MVP honors in part for his three-run homer off Houston’s Roger Clemens in the first inning of that years Mid-Summer Classic.
Thanks to Soriano’s juicing-up of the Rangers offense, the team made a run for the playoffs and came within two games of first place Los Angeles with under a week to go. But the infielder suffered an injury that seemed to hamper the club down the stretch and the Rangers couldn’t find the extra push it needed to get over the hump and make the postseason, winding up in third place.
The following year turned out to be an even better one for Soriano, who would club 36 homeruns, drive in over 100 runs, and also lead the team with 43 doubles. The Rangers put together a superb month of May winning 18 ballgames, but stumbled over the summer months en route to a 79-83 record and still another 3rd place finish.
But in the weeks and months that followed the season, the Rangers underwent two substantial changes.
The first happened just two days after the book was closed on the 2005 season. General Manager John Hart stepped down, relinquishing his duties to then 28-year old Jon Daniels to become the youngest GM in baseball history.
Without question, Hart experienced some success during his time with the Rangers. During his tenure with the team, he brought aboard Buck Showalter who led the club to the brink of the playoffs in 2004 and won Manager of the Year honors. But the bad seemed to outnumber the good, most notably the signing of pitcher Chan Ho Park who made just 68 starts over 3 ½ injury plagued seasons with the Rangers.
Hart was also the man who pulled the trigger on the trade of Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees for Soriano, and a little under two years later, the second baseman was on the move again.
It began when talk surfaced involving the Rangers possibly moving Soriano to the left field during the 2005 season. The infielder was never sure handed with his glove, committing 61 errors over his first three full years in the majors, so a move to the outfield would have seemed like a reasonable solution.
But Soriano would have none of it.
Over the off-season, he repeatedly told media he would stay at second base – a role that caused Michael Young to shift from his natural position to shortstop upon Soriano’s arrival in 2004. But waiting in the wings to play second base was Ian Kinsler, a budding young second baseman who only recently shifted from shortstop himself.
After coming to the realization that convincing Soriano to shift positions was a futile effort, the trade winds quickly blew through Arlington. In early December, Daniels and Washington General Manager Jim Bowden reached a deal to send Alfonso Soriano to the Nationals.
That Rangers would receive three players in return for the services of Soriano, one of whom never appeared in a game in a Texas uniform. That player was Terrmel Sledge, who would be included as part of a package to acquire Adam Eaton from the San Diego Padres only a month later.
Also included was Armando Galarraga, a young pitcher the Rangers showed great interest in despite his past run-in with Tommy John surgery. The righty also featured a hard sinking fastball that many in the organization believed would make him a perfect fit for Rangers Ballpark.
The cornerstone of the 3-for-1 deal, however, was outfielder Brad Wilkerson.
Advertised as a line drive hitter with a versatile glove on defensive, Wilkerson scuffled through his first full professional season of ball with Double-A Harrisburg in the Eastern League. He managed only a .235 average through 135 games in 1999, but rebounded in a big way the following year hitting well over .300 before a promotion to Ottawa.
A year later, Wilkerson would make his big league debut with the Montreal Expos and appeared in 38 games as the team’s left fielder. But the lefty would divide time over the next three seasons in all three outfield positions, as well as first base. In 2002, the flexible Wilkerson even managed to finish second in National League Rookie of the Year voting
Undoubtedly, his best season occurred in 2004 (the last season in Montreal Expos history) when Wilkerson turned on the power and clubbed 32 homers. Wilkerson also became the only player in franchise history to hit for the cycle twice in one season.
But he was also quite adept at another baseball feat: Striking out.
Not counting his first season in the major leagues (when Wilkerson still managed to strikeout 41 times in only 117 plate appearances), the outfielder/first baseman averaged a whopping 156 strikeouts over three full seasons with the Expos.
Still, strikeouts or not, the Rangers were undeterred and believed Wilkerson would be a perfect player to receive in return for Alfonso Soriano when they pulled the trigger on that early December deal. But as history would show, they couldn’t have been more wrong. In his final season with the Montreal/Washington franchise, shoulder problems hindered his ability to play the field and swing the bat. The Rangers were aware of this malfeasance when they made the trade, and examined him before agreeing to the deal.
Wilkerson arrived at Spring Training in Surprise the following year ready to become a big contributor to the Rangers’ lineup, but tweaked his shoulder again towards the end of camp. A cortisone shot got him through the first half of the season and the All-Star break, but barely. Although he hit 15 homers through early August, Wilkerson fanned 116 times in 320 at-bats before he would succumb to a nagging pain in the shoulder and opt to undergo season ending surgery.
For many, the deal was already viewed as a complete and utter wash on behalf of the Rangers. But Wilkerson was back for more in 2007 and so were his injuries.
Last year he missed over three weeks with an injured hamstring, and despite a three home run game on last July 3rd, his season was once again a wash. Though his power numbers were respectable enough (20 home runs, 62 RBI), his batting average never ventured out of the low .200’s he was relegated to part-time duties towards the conclusion of the season.
Fans never saw the same player Wilkerson was in the National League. And now, with the trade of Armando Galarraga to the Tigers earlier this week, gone is the last component of what will remain a sore spot in the minds of Rangers fans for years to come.