#43 -- The Greatest Rangers of All Time -- Aaron Sele

After much delay, it is on to #43 on the list of the 50 Greatest Rangers of All Time...and this player was someone who was difficult for me to rank.  He spent just two years with the Rangers, placing him 49th among the top 50 in terms of service time with Texas.  He was someone I had a real hard time trying to figure out where to rank...in my initial drafts, I didn't even include him in the top 50, and it was only after a lengthy internal debate that I decided he warranted making the list.

A lot of folks will probably argue that I've ranked him too high by slotting him at #43, and there's some merit to that argument.  He was never a star in Texas - or anywhere else, for that matter, although he made two All-Star teams, and finished fifth (albeit a distant fifth) in the Cy Young balloting his final year in Texas.  His departure from the organization wasn't under the best of terms, and years later, folks were still arguing whether he had gotten too greedy as a free agent or if Doug Melvin blew it by not meeting his asking price.

But this player was a crucial part of two of the best Rangers teams ever, probably the best starting pitcher on two of the Rangers division championship clubs.  On a couple of clubs that were perpetually short on starting pitching, he was one of the few reliables, a guy the Rangers could count on to give them a solid outing, give them some innings and without worrying about having to get the bullpen up in the fourth.  

At the end of the day, I see him as a key contributor, one of the most valuable guys on two division winners, so even if his raw numbers aren't as great as some other guys, perhaps, he gets some bonus points for carrying the load in helping get the Rangers to the postseason.

And so #43 of the 50 Greatest Rangers of All Time is Aaron Sele.

Aaron Sele is a guy who has had a roller coaster career in baseball.  He entered professional baseball with a solid pedigree, being selected in the first round of the 1991 draft out of Washington State by the Boston Red Sox.  As was befitting for a college first-rounder who was considered fairly "polished" coming out, Sele debuted in 1991 in the high-A Florida State League, rather than rookie ball.  Pitching for Winter Haven, Sele struggled, throwing 69 innings in his first pro season, with a 4.96 ERA, and a 51/32 K/BB ratio.

Still, Sele showed enough to crack Boston's top 10 prospect list in the 1992 BA rankings, coming in at #3 behind Frankie Rodriguez and Jeff McNeely, and showed significant improvement in his return to A-ball.  Pitching for Lynchburg in the Carolina League (AA now, but high-A at the time), Sele tore through the competition, posting a 2.91 ERA in 20 games and earning a late-season promotion to New Britain, the BoSox's Eastern League AA affiliate.  Sele was hit pretty hard there, posting a 6.91 ERA in just 33 innings, but his peripherals stayed solid, and 1993 found him once again holding down the #3 spot amongst Red Sox prospects in the Baseball America rankings.

1993 was a breakout year for Sele...at age 23, despite his struggles at AA the previous year, the Red Sox started him off in the International League at Pawtucket, their AAA affiliate.  And Sele justified their faith in him, pitching lights out for Pawtucket, posting a 2.19 ERA in 14 games, striking out over 8 batters per 9 IP while walking barely 2 per 9, earning himself a promotion to the majors in late June.

Aaron Sele was called up to a Red Sox team that was struggling and in disarray.  Although the Red Sox had won the division as recently as 1990, Boston had finished the 1992 season dead last in the A.L. East, with a 73-89 record.  Roger Clemens and Frank Viola gave the Red Sox an outstanding pair of aces at the top of the rotation, and the team was second in the A.L. in ERA, but a disastrous offense had dragged the Red Sox down.  Only one Boston regular, Tom Brunansky, had a slugging percentage over .400 in 1992; Brunansky and Wade Boggs were the only regulars with an OBP of better than .350; and the team was almost comically slow, grounding into 117 double plays and stealing just 44 bases in 92 attempts on the season.  Despite playing in a park that favored hitters, the Red Sox were next to last in the American League in runs scored.

The 1993 Boston team Aaron Sele joined was better, but not by a whole lot.  Boston was 32-38 on June 23, 1993, when Sele made his debut, and to make matters worse, Sele was taking Roger Clemens' spot in the rotation.  Clemens had left his June 18 start with a strained groin, landing him on the disabled list and opening a spot for Sele.

So, stepping into a major league rotation barely two years after being drafted, replacing a future Hall of Famer, one of the best pitchers in the game, Aaron Sele made his debut against the Minnesota Twins, and was outstanding, striking out 8 and walking 2, giving up just a single unearned run in 7 innings before giving way to former Ranger Greg Harris, who pitched the final two innings to get the save.

Sele continued to impress the rest of his rookie season, sticking in the rotation even after Clemens' return, finishing the season with a 7-2 record in 18 starts, putting up a very impressive 2.74 ERA with a 171 ERA+, and finished third in the ROY balloting.  His stellar pitching was a significant factor in Boston's ability to overcome the Roger Clemens' injury problems and subsequent struggles, and post a respectable 80-82 record on the year.

The strike-shortened year of 1994 saw Sele return to the pack a little bit, while still performing quite well.  His ERA went up almost a full run, to 3.83, although that was still good enough for a 132 ERA+ for the season, and the Clemens/Sele tandem gave the Red Sox one of the better one-two combinations in the A.L.  The BoSox struggled to find reliable 4th and 5th starters all year, though, the offense continued to underwhelm, and when the season was cancelled, Boston was sitting in 4th in the new, re-aligned 5-team A.L. East.

Still, coming into the 1995 season, the future for Aaron Sele looked bright.  He was 25 years old, coming off two very good seasons with the Red Sox, and appeared to be poised to make the leap to stardom.  With Clemens and Sele, the Red Sox seemed to be set at the top of the rotation, positioned to ride their two top starters into the playoffs if they could just get enough talent around them.

And sure enough, 1995 ended up being a good year for Boston, with the Red Sox winning the A.L. East and facing off against Cleveland in the ALDS.  But for Aaron Sele, the 1995 season was the beginning of a three year stretch of misery that didn't end until he was traded to the Texas Rangers.

1995 started off well enough for Sele.  He went five shutout innings in Boston's season opener against the Twins, picking up a victory, then followed that up with three middling outings, two of them against the Yankees and one against the Tigers.  With the season getting to a late start because of the labor situation, and spring training being truncated, pitchers weren't working deep into games the first month of the season, so Sele's relatively short outings wouldn't have thrown up any flags.  

On May 17, 1995, Sele went 6 1/3 shutout innings against the Milwaukee Brewers, picking up a win that pushed him to 3-1 on the season.  That, unfortunately, would be Sele's last win of the year.  His next start, on May 23 at the Kingdome, Sele was awful, hitting two batters, giving up a pair of homers, and getting yanked after just 4 innings.  That outing would be Sele's last start in the majors in 1995, as arm problems shut him down.  Sele had several rehab starts in the minors, trying to work his way back, but ended up going under the knife and getting shut down for the season.

Sele was back in the rotation for the start of 1996, but he wasn't the same pitcher he was before the injury.  Sele's out pitch was always his curve - when healthy, he had one of the best curveballs in the majors - but he wasn't able to throw it for strikes, meaning that batters could sit on his underwhelming fastball.  Sele struggled with his control from the outset, walking 34 batters in 55 1/3 innings over the first two months of the season, and at the All-Star Break, he was sitting on a 5.99 ERA.

Sele improved in the second half of the season, and although he had another stint on the d.l. in August, his strong September (4.15 ERA over 5 starts) lowered his ERA on the season to 5.32, and offered encouragement that he'd bounce back to full strength in 1997.

Instead of bouncing back, though, 1997 saw Sele regress.  He started the year poorly, giving up 5 walks, a pair of homers and 4 runs in 5 innings against Seattle, and was never able to get on track all year.  Sele struggled all season long, recording an ugly 122/80 K/BB ratio and a 5.38 ERA on the season, good for just an 87 ERA+.  And perhaps more damning for a pitcher in Boston, there were questions being asked about Sele's makeup...fears that he wasn't tough enough to handle the pressure of pitching for the Red Sox.  

With Sele having come off one season lost to injury and two disappointing seasons, and with Sele due a raise through arbitration in the 1997-98 offseason, the BoSox decided that it was time to cut bait with their one-time #2 starter.  In November of 1997, Boston packaged Sele with two former Rangers - reliever Mark Brandenburg and catcher Bill Haselman - and sent him to Texas for Jim Leyritz and Damon Buford.

At the time, this was viewed as a pretty good deal for the Rangers...Leyritz had been acquired for Ken Hill during the 1997 season, when it appeared that Pudge Rodriguez was on the way out and the Rangers would need a new catcher.  When Pudge was re-signed, Leyritz became an expensive spare part, and shuffling him off to Boston was no big loss for Texas.  Sele, it was thought, could slide into the back of the rotation and work on reclaiming his once-promising future, away from the negativity in Boston, where he was viewed as a headcase who had worn out his welcome.  I don't recall the deal being that widely judged as a steal, though Keith Law ripped the BoSox for making the deal at BP, although in the USA Today, Boston g.m. Dan Duquette was praised for adding the leadership and defense Leyritz provided...

In any case, Aaron Sele hit the ground running in Texas.  Sele got the start in the second game of the season for the Rangers, against the Chicago White Sox at TBIA, and got the win in a shaky-but-decent 5 inning outing, giving up 4 runs (2 earned) in five innings, giving up a homer to Mike Cameron (who has always crushed the ball at TBIA) before turning the game over to Roger Pavlik, who picked up a 4 inning save.  The real story of that game, though, was the Rangers scoring a whopping 20 runs off of ChiSox starter Mike Sirotka and four reliever, with Juan Gonzalez, Pudge Rodriguez, Kevin Elster, Mike Simms, and Lee Stevens all homering.

That victory, though, got Sele off on the right foot with the Rangers, and set the stage for a remarkable early-season run.  Sele's second start of the season, also against the ChiSox, was a three-hit complete-game shutout in an 11-0 Rangers victory.  Sele's third start, at Tiger Stadium, saw him give up 2 runs in 8 innings to the Tigers, while the Rangers scored 11 runs on 19 hits to give Sele his third straight win.  

The Ranger bats finally slowed down in Sele's fourth start as a Ranger...they could only touch the D-Rays' Russ Springer for 4 runs in the April 21 game against Tampa at TBIA.  But that was more than enough, as Sele threw a masterful 10 strikeout, 4 hit, 1 walk shutout, his second complete game shutout in four starts as a Ranger.  His follow up outing, against the Royals at Kaufmann Stadium, was shaky - 4 runs allowed in 5 innings, allowing 8 hits and 4 walks - but the Rangers hitters mashed again, chasing Royal starter Chris Haney early and carrying the Rangers to an 11-4 victory against Kansas City.

Remarkably, after 5 starts as a Ranger, Aaron Sele was 5-0 with a 2.00 ERA, with the Rangers averaging over 11 runs per game in support...and that 11-4 victory on April 26 gave the Rangers a 15-7 record, and a 3 game lead over second place Anaheim.

Obviously, a streak like that couldn't be sustained, and Sele lost his next two outings, against Boston and Cleveland, before bouncing back with wins against those same two teams immediately thereafter.  The Cleveland game, his 9th start as a Ranger, was particularly noteworthy...on the road, facing Bartolo Colon, the ace for a potent Indian team that would ultimately reach the ALCS, Sele threw 8 shutout innings, striking out 9, walking 2, and allowing just 4 singles and a Travis Fryman double before turning the lead over the John Wetteland for the 9th.  Colon was almost as masterful, allowing just a lone run when Kevin Elster singled home Will Clark, but that one run held up in a 1-0 victory for the Rangers.  That win got the Rangers to 10 over, at 26-16, and gave them a 4.5 game lead over Anaheim in the West.  

Sele followed that up with a 7-3, complete game victory over Glendon Rusch and the Royals, which put him at 8-2 for the season, with a 2.57 ERA in 10 Ranger starts.

Unfortunately, both Sele and the Rangers fell into slumps as June hit.  Sele got chased in the fourth inning of his next start, against the Baltimore Orioles, and picked up his third loss of the season in a 6-3 Ranger defeat.  That led to an awful June, which Sele kicked off by giving up 10 runs in 4+ innings at Oakland.  Incredibly, Sele didn't take the loss in that game...the Rangers had gotten 9 runs off Oakland starter Blake Stein, and were up 12-6 when Sele went out to start the fifth.  But after loading the bases with none out, Sele gave up a grand slam homer to Rickey Henderson, leading Johnny Oates to go to the pen in a game that the Rangers would ultimately win, 16-10.  

Sele posted a 7.01 ERA in June, as the Rangers began to slide, going 3-9 over a 12 game stretch in mid-June (including a 2-5 record against the Angels), allowing Anaheim to pass them in the A.L. West race.  But Sele came up big in two huge starts in July, that allowed the Rangers to stay hot on the Angels' tails.

On July 4, 1998, at home against the Seattle Mariners, the Rangers were looking like a team on the way down.  They had lost 6 in a row - including an ugly 7-0 loss recorded by Sele in his last start - and were losing ground in the A.L. West to the Anaheim Angels.  The Rangers were at TBIA, facing Jamie Moyer - whom they could never seem to get to - and a sellout crowd of 46,067 was waiting anxiously, to see if the Rangers could somehow break this freefall.  

The 46K in attendance were lured largely by the post-game fireworks show, but the Rangers bats started with the fireworks early, knocking out Moyer with a three run first, and getting to Mariner reliever Bob Wells for three more in the second and fourth innings, with some help from Russ Davis, who had three errors on the game.  Sele, meanwhile, was back in a groove, pitching six shutout innings before turning it over to the bullpen.  Not only did the Rangers break the six game losing streak, but the combination of the Ranger win and the Anaheim loss brought the Rangers back within 2.5 games of first place.  The next night saw another Ranger win and another Angel loss, sending the Rangers into the All-Star break just a game and a half back of Anaheim.

Sele was named to the A.L. All-Star team, but didn't pitch, which was probably to the Rangers' advantage, as it allowed them to bring him back to pitch on July 11 against the Oakland A's.  The Rangers had won the first two games of the series, putting them just a half-game back of Anaheim coming into play, with Sele matched up once again with A's starter Blake Stein.

This game was a complete reversal from the Sele/Stein matchup a month earlier...both starters pitched extremely well, with Sele allowing just two runs in 7 2/3 IP, on a 2-RBI single by Matt Stairs in the third that drove home Rickey Henderson and Bip Roberts.  Stein was even better, though, shutting out the Rangers through seven before turning it over to the pen.

It appeared that, despite Sele's outstanding effort, he was going to be tagged for the loss, and the Rangers were going to fall another half-game back of Anaheim, who played later that evening at Seattle.  Instead, the Rangers made one of the most remarkable comebacks of the season.

Mike Fetters came in to close out the game for the A's, and retired Juan Gonzalez to lead off the inning on a flyout to left.  Rusty Greer singled, and then Pudge walked, to put two on with one out, and Lee Stevens coming up.

Stevens hit what could have been a game-ending double-play ball to first baseman Brian Lesher, who was in the game because he had pinch-run for Jason Giambi in the bottom of the 8th.  Lesher booted it, loading up the bases for Kevin Elster.  Elster lined out to Miguel Tejada at shortstop, setting up a bases-loaded, two-out situation for Luis Alicea.

And Alicea drove a Mike Fetters pitch deep into the right-centerfield gap, bringing home all three runners and giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead.  Alicea eventually came around to score an insurance run on a Rickey Henderson error, John Wetteland shut the door in the 9th, and the Rangers came away with the 4-2 victory, putting them in a tie for first place.  And when Anaheim lost to Seattle later that night, the Rangers had reclaimed a half-game lead in the A.L. West.

This game, incidentally, is particularly memorable to me because my brother and I had to miss the end of the game to go to a wedding reception-type-thing at the Austin Children's Museum for my boss's stepdaughter.  Afterwards, a group of us were hitting 6th Street, and I saw the highlights on one of the bar TVs that was showing SportsCenter.  I was stunned.  My brother was in the bathroom at the time, and really, really drunk (shocking, I know).  He came back, saw there were baseball highlights on the bar TV, and said to me, "The Rangers lost, huh?"  I told him what happened, and he stood there, shook his head, and then said, "F------ Alicea, man."  He then went out back of the bar and passed out.

In my mind, that game started off a big run by the Rangers that sealed the division.  In reality, though, the Rangers lost 12 of their next 18, and were only saved from oblivion by Anaheim playing even worse...the Angels were 9-18 in the month of July, and entered the month of August up just one game on the Rangers.

The Rangers continued to hang tough, though, and Sele bounced back in August, going 4-2 with a 4.61 ERA after a difficult July (1-3, 5.46 ERA).  And down the stretch, Sele came up huge, when the Rangers really needed him.

When play began on August 20, 1998, the Rangers had lost three in a row, were a game and a half back of Anaheim, and were facing the Cleveland Indians at home.  Once again, Sele came up big against the Indians, limiting them to one run over an 8 inning stretch, and picking up a 3-1 victory, which kept the Rangers within a game and a half.  This kicked off a 6 game stretch where, during a tight playoff race with the Angels, Aaron Sele went 5-0, and never allowed more than 3 runs in a single game.  

Time and again, Sele came up big.  On August 29, with the Rangers 3 games back and having just blown a 7-4 lead the night before against the ChiSox to lose 8-7, Sele got knocked around early, giving up 3 in the top of the first.  But he settled down, shut out the ChiSox the rest of the way, Pudge Rodriguez hit a three run homer off of Mike Sirotka in the 6th, and the Rangers picked up a 5-3 come-from-behind victory to get them back within 2 games of first.  

And on September 24, Sele went six innings to pick up the win in a 9-3 Rangers victory over the Seattle Mariners that clinched the Rangers at least a tie for first in the A.L. West, giving them their second ever post-season appearance.

Of course, the 1998 post-season was short and unhappy, with Sele pitching the finale against the Yanks, going five shutout innings before allowing homers to Bernie Williams and Shane Spencer, and ultimately picking up the loss in a 4-0 Yankee victory.

Still, the 1998 season was a very good one for Aaron Sele.  He posted a 4.23 ERA and a 114 ERA+, a very solid performance for a guy who had been struggling to find his pre-surgery form the previous three years.  His 6.7 WARP3 was a career high, and he had harnessed the power of his curve ball once again.  He had been expected to be the Rangers #4 guy, but after Darren Oliver and John Burkett struggled, he had stepped up and carried the load for the Rangers at the top of their rotation.  It was, all in all, a very good season for Sele.

The 1999 season began with higher expectations, both for the team and for Sele.  He and Rick Helling were expected to be the anchors for the Rangers staff...the departure of Todd Stottlemyer and struggles of John Burkett had left a void at the top of the rotation, and new acquisitions Mark Clark and Mike Morgan were not expected to be anything more than innings guys.  If the Rangers were going to succeed, they needed another good season from Sele.

Just like in 1998, Sele started the second game of the season, and just like in 1998, he picked up a win, this time with a 6-0 win against Justin Thompson and the Detroit Tigers.  He followed that up with a solid outing in his second start, a 6-3 victory against Anaheim, before the wheels started coming off.

Sele got shelled in his third start of the season, giving up 6 runs in 4 innings while picking up a loss against Oakland.  After another decent outing against Minnesota - he gave up just 1 run, but allowed 10 baserunners in 5 2/3 innings - he went into an awful slump, going 1-3 with an 8.28 ERA in the month of May, and entering June with an ERA of 5.98.  

The team was winning, though - his lone victory in May, on May 28, gave the Rangers a 2.5 game lead in the West - and Sele seemed to settle down as the weather warmed up, giving up just 2 runs in four of his first five June starts, with the only aberration being an ugly 4 IP, 7 run loss at home against Colorado.  

Just when it seemed he was back on track, though, the wheels came off again, as over the his next 7 starts, Sele gave up at least 5 runs in 6 of those 7 games, driving his ERA back up to 5.65 by early August.  The Rangers kept scoring runs for him, though - Sele was 4-1 over that 7 game stretch - and kept extending their lead in the West, making it easier for the Rangers to show patience with him.

Sele did settle down, pitching well over the last couple of months of the season, and not giving up 5 runs in a game again until his final start of the season, a meaningless outing against Seattle where he gave up 6 runs in 5 innings well after the Rangers had already clinched the division.  Sele hadn't quite matched his 1998 performance - his WARP3 of 6.3 and ERA+ of 105 were both slightly lower than in 1999 - but he still managed to finish 5th in the A.L. Cy Young voting that season.

Unfortunately, as Rangers fans know, the 1999 postseason was no better than the 1998 postseason.  Aaron Sele got the start against the Yankees in the ALDS opener, on the strength of his strong finish to the season, but once again, he gave up four runs and the Rangers got shut out.  And once again, the Rangers ended up going three and out, getting swept by the Yankees and knocked out of the playoffs after just one round.

And sadly, that was Aaron Sele's last outing for the Rangers.  Sele was a free agent after the 1999 season, and negotiations were contentious, with Doug Melvin reportedly offering Sele a 4 year, $28 million deal, and Sele supposedly asking for 4 years, $32 million.  Eventually, Melvin gave up on Sele and instead signed Kenny Rogers to a 3 year, $22.5 million deal to take his place.  Reports at the time indicated that Sele's agent, upon learning of the Rogers deal, tried to re-open negotiations with Melvin, only to be informed that the Rangers offer was no longer on the table, and Sele would have to look elsewhere for employment.

After supposedly reaching an agreement with the Baltimore Orioles on a 4 year deal worth $29 million, Sele saw that offered yanked off the table by owner Peter Angelos, for reasons that were never quite clear.  Sele then signed a 2 year, $15 million deal with his hometown team, the Seattle Mariners, giving them two solid seasons in 2000 and 2001, with the Mariners making the playoffs each year.

Sele's career began to fall apart after the 2001 season, however.  After becoming a free agent, and engaging in talks with, among others, new Rangers g.m. John Hart, Sele signed a three year, $24 million deal with the Anaheim Angels, a deal that rapidly became an albatross for the Angels.  Sele struggled to stay healthy with the Angels, never logging more than 160 innings in a season with them, posting ERA+s of 89, 74, and 91, and failing to make the post-season roster of the Angels' 2002 championship team.  Sele went back to Seattle in 2005, but didn't pitch well and was released.  Sele then came back to Texas, signing a minor league deal in August and getting two starts for Oklahoma before requesting his release.  Sele has signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers this offseason, and will go to camp with Los Angeles trying to win a spot on their staff.

As I said in the intro, Aaron Sele was a very hard player for me to rank.  He had only two seasons for the Rangers, and unlike the only other player with so little time in a Ranger uniform to make my top 50 list, he didn't have a great career overall.  He was a solid pitcher for several years, nothing more.

Still, the fact that he was such an important part of two of the Rangers' three division-winning teams ended up carrying the day for me.  Maybe he didn't pitch quite as well as we might have hoped, particularly in the post-season for Texas, and maybe he didn't leave on the best of terms.  But he was a very good pitcher when he was here, on two very good teams.  And I think that's worth something.

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