When general manager Jon Daniels recently affirmed that the Texas Rangers would not be pursuing southpaw John Rheinecker after they removed the injury-beset reliever from their 40-man roster back on October 1st (thus granting him free agency and making him eligible to sign with whomever he wishes), it closed the book on a once-controversial trade that was, at the time of its consummation, widely perceived as a potentially ruinous swap for Texas.
That three-way deal, completed and announced less than 72 hours before the first pitch of the 2006 season was tossed by Opening Day starter Kevin Millwood, expelled the Rangers' probable No. 5 starter from the picture after he spent six-plus years toiling within the organization's ranks, and was comprised of the following moving parts:
Chicago Cubs traded John Koronka and cash to Texas Rangers as part of three-team trade in which Oakland Athletics sent John Rheinecker to Texas Rangers; Oakland Athletics sent Freddie Bynum to Chicago Cubs; and Texas Rangers sent Juan Dominguez to Oakland Athletics.
I would quietly submit that few trades that ultimately turn out to be as largely irrelevant as this one was initially generate the kind of commotion that this one did. Dominguez's remarkable inherent talent and tantalizing flashes of success -- the hype machine was really kicked into high gear during the span of one month late in the 2005 season, when Dominguez notched six quality starts in seven tries and posted a 3.00 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 40 innings -- had long been overshadowed by maddening, well-publicized lapses in his off-the-field concentration and dependability, and it was because of that apparent immaturity that the Rangers only very grudgingly named him their fifth starter when Adam Eaton succumbed to the effects of an injured tendon in his right middle finger during his final start of the spring, knocking him out of action for nearly four months.
Alas, Daniels pulled the trigger on the deal that brought the 25-year-old Koronka and the 26-year-old Rheinecker (and an undisclosed sum of cash from the Windy City) to Texas less than 24 hours after proclaiming that a trade was "unlikely," essentially placing the Rangers on the losing end of the deal in terms of pure talent attained from the outset. Oh, the uproar that ensued.
With the power of 20/20 hindsight firmly in our corner, we can now perform a Scott Lucas-ian dissection of one of the more surprising trades of Jon Daniels' tenure in Texas and determine (or at least attempt to determine) just how much value each team involved in the three-way trade individually derived from their acquisition(s), using WARP1 (Wins Above Replacement Level) and The Hardball Times' version of Bill James' Win Shares:
In the interest of brevity, I've combined Koronka and Rheinecker's contributions underneath a single heading; it should also be noted that three win shares are equivalent to one team win, according to James' metric. It's an imperfect method of player evaluation, but it's satisfactory for what we're hoping to accomplish here.
Koronka admirably filled the role of fifth starter in 2006 -- for a while. After riding his low-90s heater, above-average change-up and decent control to a 3.55 ERA through May 3rd, a 4.06 ERA through May 26th and a 4.63 ERA through July 9th (and all this in spite of not being able to strike anybody out), the unstable peripheral foundation upon which his success had been built began to crumble, and after three abhorrent starts in five tries, he was banished to Triple-A Oklahoma for the remainder of the year.
Two equally uninspiring spot starts in May 2007 denoted the end of the line for Koronka in Texas, and he was designated for assignment on July 1st, 2007, claimed off waivers by the Indians, inked to a minor league deal by the Rockies after declaring his post-season free agency, and then finally granted his release in June 2008 so that he could join the Orix Buffaloes of NPB's Pacific League. His 2009 plans are not immediately known.
Two separate stints in the Rangers starting rotation -- one in 2006, and one in 2007 -- for Rheinecker were punctuated by alternating periods of brilliance and ineptitude, and the Rangers finally made the keen determination that his murderous tendencies against left-handed batters would serve him well as a situational reliever. Unfortunately, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and May 2008 arthroscopic shoulder surgery knocked him out of the Rangers' plans, and it appears that his career in Texas has finally drawn to a close.
Bynum exhibited the positional flexibility one normally associates with the 25th man on a team's active roster, playing all three outfield positions and second base for Chicago in 2006 while hitting a respectable .257/.308/.456 and swiping eight bases in 12 attempts. Ironically, the 66-96 Cubs undoubtedly could have measurably benefited from Koronka's services -- only Carlos Zambrano (214 IP), Greg Maddux (136.1 IP) and Sean Marshall (125.2 IP) logged triple-digit inning totals for a pitching staff that was decimated by injuries and ineffectiveness.
Fortunately for Chicago, the Orioles were so enamored by Bynum that they shipped right-hander Kevin Hart to the Cubs in exchange for his services in December 2006; Hart was tabbed by industry publication Baseball America as the Cubs' 10th-best prospect going into the 2008 season, and assuming that the cutter-employing 26-year-old manages to carve out a Kameron Loe-like niche on Chicago's pitching staff, the Cubs will eventually win the Chicago-Oakland-Texas deal in terms of total big league output. Bynum has done absolutely nothing since.
And what of Juan Dominguez, who was by far the biggest name included in the original deal? The ending to this story doesn't appear to be a happy one: after being assigned to Oakland's Triple-A affiliate, Sacramento, to begin the 2006 season, Dominguez went on to record the worst single-season performance of his professional career, posting a miserable 5.83 ERA and 1.63 WHIP in 88 innings as his once-enticing peripherals quickly deteriorated into mediocrity.
Shelved in July as the result of a season-ending ankle injury, Dominguez was released after the 2006 season, and did resurface for Saraperos de Saltillo of the Mexican League in 2007, though that doesn't conceal the regrettable truth that he has not pitched stateside, either in the minor league or independent league circuits, in two and a half years. Not lookin' good.
All in all, the Rangers have come out approximately two to three wins ahead of Chicago and a bit more than that ahead of Oakland -- not a negligible sum, of course, but hardly significant. What Kevin Hart does over the next several years will likely push the Cubs ahead in both departments, but then there's no such thing as a sure thing in baseball, sports, or life in general.
Just ask Juan Dominguez.