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San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers make it to October because strong in July

ARLINGTON, Texas — The pressure is extreme. The stakes are high.

For the Rangers and Giants, it is certainly appropriate to say the legacies of two franchises are at stake.

Except we are not talking about the nerves of players on the field during the World Series this week. In this case, we are talking about the general managers who made the choices to reshape their rosters in the middle of the season.

Make no mistake, the Giants and Rangers are playing at the end of October because they were bold at the trading deadline in July.

In an era when owners are spending more than ever, when fans are playing amateur GM with their fantasy teams, when prospects have become the game's greatest commodity, the job of a general manager has never been scrutinized more.

Which merely highlights the risks taken by Texas GM Jon Daniels and San Francisco GM Brian Sabean at midseason. Each saw a roster capable of playing into the fall but needing tweaks to get there.

Which is why Texas' starting pitcher in Game 1 began the year in Philadelphia and the catcher started off in San Francisco. It is why none of San Francisco's 3, 4 or 5 hitters in three of the four games were in the Giants clubhouse when opening day rolled around.

Plenty of risks are involved in making midseason changes. There is the potential jump in payroll. The cost of sacrificing prospects in trades. The impact in a clubhouse that has bonded for several months.

"When you have a lot of changes, it takes everybody to buy into what you're doing," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "And as I've said before, it changed some roles with some of the players, and I've really admired how they've handled it. It's not easy when you have to check your ego aside and ask what's best for the club. And these guys did it with the changes that we made.

"It doesn't matter what you do as a manager. It's going to be up to the player, how he accepts it, his different role or new role."

The greatest fear, of course, is what you give away in a trade. Over the years, John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa and Scott Kazmir were traded as prospects in deadline deals.

Every GM understands that's a possibility, but he also knows it stings a little less if the deal helps put a team in the postseason.

And this is why the Rangers were willing to outbid New York when it came to acquiring Cliff Lee from Seattle at midseason. The Yankees thought they had a deal in place with the Mariners, but the Rangers were willing to sweeten the pot by adding first-base prospect Justin Smoak, along with three other young players.

Essentially, Daniels and Rangers president Nolan Ryan figured Lee could be the difference between a team that could contend for a division title and a team that could win in the postseason.

If the cost in prospects wasn't bad enough, the Rangers also had to assume the more than $4 million remaining in Lee's salary, a decision that had to be approved by commissioner Bud Selig because the team was in the middle of a sale in bankruptcy court.

The Rangers also added catcher Bengie Molina, first baseman Jorge Cantu and outfielder Jeff Francoeur during the summer.

"We had the bankruptcy, the auction, the change in ownership," Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "Our MVP is probably commissioner Selig. He allowed us to operate without a checkbook. He's kind of our unsung hero."

The Giants did not have a blockbuster deal on the level of Lee, but they did even more fiddling than Texas.

It began on the first of July when they took a gamble that 23-year-old catcher Buster Posey was ready to handle a young San Francisco pitching staff, and the Giants dealt Molina to Texas. The move brought a prospect and a bullpen arm, but more importantly, it allowed Posey to play every day. Pat Burrell was picked up from Tampa Bay's trash bin, and Mike Fontenot, Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez were also brought about during the season.

The biggest acquisition came after the trade deadline, when outfielder Cody Ross arrived in a waiver deal with the Marlins in August. Two months later, he was the National League Championship Series MVP.

"Good time to catch fire," Giants closer Brian Wilson joked while a few feet away from Ross on Tuesday. "Well-played, sir."

The Giants and Rangers were not the only teams to gamble in July. Philadelphia acquired Roy Oswalt and made it to Game 6 of the NLCS. The Yankees brought in Kerry Wood, Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns and came within two wins of the World Series.

In all cases, the concept is the same:

The chance to win in October is so precious, the opportunity should not be taken lightly.

Ryan made the World Series as a 22-year-old with the Mets in 1969 then waited more than 40 years for the moment to come again.

"The longer my career went on, the more I realized how unique it is to get into the World Series and how hard it is to get there," Ryan said. "My appreciation changed for being in that position."

San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers make it to October because strong in July 10/31/10 [Last modified: Sunday, October 31, 2010 10:52pm]
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