Shaping the Rangers #1: Michael Young
On July 18th, 2000, Esteban Loaiza was attempting to serve as an anchor in the back end of the Rangers' rotation.
Acquired from Pittsburgh two years earlier for marginally successful infielder Warren Morris and Todd Van Poppell, a local product, Loaiza came to Texas a pre-arbitration 26-year-old who had gone 27-28 and compiled a 4.63 ERA for some extremely bad Pirates clubs.
Over the next two years, Loaiza wasn't the epitome of perfection on the mound but had his moments.
In his second start after joining the Rangers, the hurler pitched a complete game and held the Blue jays to 4 hits and a run but finished on the wrong end of a 1-0 loss in Toronto. The 1999 season commenced with Loaiza in the bullpen, but he would return to the rotation in mid-July after a month and a half long stint on the disabled list and remained there throughout the Rangers' push to their last A.L. West title. Overall, he would compile a 9-5 record and an earned run average of just over 4.50 for the club.
The next February, the Rangers came to terms on a one-year deal with Loaiza, but as the season progressed, the defending division champion Rangers found themselves barely treading water by July. Their three division mates, the A's, Angels, and Mariners all left the team in the dust thanks to their own hot starts. For the first time in recent memory, the club was thrust into a selling mode as the trade deadline neared, and among the top candidates to be traded was Loaiza.
He was now 28, and with a brand new $2.68 million dollar deal, earning more money as a pitcher than he ever had before. But Loaiza had also begun clashing with former Rangers pitching coach Dick Bosman and, on more than one occasion, abandoned game plans and chose to go with his own selection of pitches instead. The Rangers had started to become weary of their middle reliever/spot starter and would have likely non-tendered him at the conclusion of the season anyway.
At the same time, over in the American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays were locked in a race with the Yankees and Red Sox for the top spot in the division. The Jays, who faced Loaiza twice following his trade to the Rangers in 1998, had privately expressed interest in the righthander after he shut their offense down in both games. The club also felt they could no longer count on the stylings of young pitcher Roy Halladay, who owned an earned run average of over 11 runs a game.
Toronto was also teeming with minor league prospects around the infield, including the likes of Cesar Izturis, Felipe Lopez, and second baseman Michael Young. There were pros and cons with each of the youngsters the Rangers had an eye on, but it was Young who stood out the most.
On July 19, 2000, the Rangers shipped the suddenly temperamental Esteban Loaiza to Toronto in exchange for Young and Darwin Cubillan, a reliever with a sharp fastball and decent split-finger pitch but a tendency to walk too many batters. He would be sent to Triple-A, while Young headed for Double-A Tulsa – but neither would stay there long.
Cubillan was called up a little under a month later and contributed a scoreless inning to an 11-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians. But he would be rocked over his next handful of outings and finished with a 10.70 ERA in just 13 outings with the Rangers. A year later, he would be headed back across the border, this time to Montreal.
But by now you know the tale of Michael Young would be a completely different one.
Young, who was named to the Double-A All-Star Game as a member of the Tennessee Smokies only a week before the trade, got off to an amazing start with Tulsa, collecting two hits in each of his first four games, and six of his first seven. In his 43 games for the Drillers, he collected multiple hits in 23 of them. As a result, the Rangers rewarded his phenomenal stretch with a five-day big-league stint at the end of the year.
As the year 2000 drew to a close, the Rangers came to terms with mega star Alex Rodriguez. By signing him, it brought an end to any necessary grooming for a future shortstop to replace the incumbent, Royce Clayton. Young returned to the minors to begin the following season, this time to Triple-A Oklahoma.
On the big league level, the Rangers brought in veteran infielder Randy Velarde to occupy the second base position. It proved to be a wise move for the club, who saw Velarde hit over .330 for the first two months of the season. But in a late May contest with the Devil Rays, the second baseman pulled a hamstring trying to leg out a routine grounder to short.
It was a big blow for Velarde, who missed almost two months dealing with the injury. But for Michael Young, you might say it was the best thing that could have happened.
That night, Young, batting second 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.
And he hasn't seen the minor leagues since.
Two years later, the final season of the Alex Rodriguez era in Arlington, Young cast aside any doubts about his lasting power in the major leagues and began stepping into the spotlight with the first of five consecutive 200 hit seasons for the longest-tenured Ranger on the ballclub. Even further than that, he became the face of the franchise – a title the Rangers certainly weren't expecting when they dealt for him almost eight years ago.
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