FanPost

This Day in Baseball and Rangers History for February 6

* 17 days until the Feb 23, 2024, spring training season opener with KC
* 51 days until the Mar 28, 2024, regular season opener against the Cubs

Today there is only Rangers history: (1) Nolan Ryan became President of the Texas Rangers on Feb 5, 2008, and there's a thumbnail of Ryan's historical management and ownership interests in the Rangers; and (2) today is the third anniversary of the Elvis Andrus - Khris Gavis trade that brought Jonah Heim to Texas, so there's a thumbnail profile of Jonah Heim.


February 6, 2008
Nolan Ryan Became President of the Texas Rangers
A Thumbnail of Ryan's Historical Management and Ownership in the Rangers


Nolan Ryan, of course, pitched for Texas from 1989-93, and was elected to the National Baseball HoF on the first ballot in 1999, becoming the first Hall-of-Famer to wear a Texas cap on his HoF plaque. Following retirement, in 2000, Ryan started the MiL Round Rock Express of the AA Texas League and then the AAA Pacific League, and after making that operation a success, worked as a Special Assistant to the GM of the Astros from 2004-07.

On Feb 6, 2008, owner Tom Hicks announced that Ryan had been made President of the Texas Rangers. Ryan became involved in on-field decisions for Texas, pushing for an approach to pitching that favored starters pitching deep into games. The Ranger's team pitching improved markedly in 2009, although it is debatable as to how much Ryan contributed to that improvement.

By 2009-10, Hicks' financial issues had led to MLB oversight and a sale of the team, The sale was initially made on January 23, 2010, to a group led by Chuck Greenberg and Ryan, although that sale became legally complicated when Hicks' creditors objected, and the sale eventually required a protective bankruptcy filing with MLB's blessing in order to complete. On August 12, 2010, the Rangers were formally sold for $593MM to Rangers Baseball Express, LLC, a group again involving Greenberg and Ryan, along with Ray Davis and Bob R. Simpson, on the recommendation and with the support of Commissioner Bud Selig. Land around the Ballpark was sold under a separate contract. Ryan remained President of the club, and Greenberg initially became CEO.

Ryan and JD were the FO constants during the Rangers 2010 WS run. After the season, tensions developed over day-to-day baseball-operations management between Greenberg and Ryan. Davis and Simpson sided with Ryan, leading to Greenberg's forced resignation as CEO on Mar 11, 2011. At that point, Ryan became CEO and managing partner of the Rangers.

Ryan and JD again oversaw the Rangers 2011 WS run, and the leadership initially appeared to be quite successful. But the 2012 Texas WC loss was a disappointment. JD was elevated to President of Baseball Operations after the season in 2012, and Ryan apparently also lost control of Business Operations. The play-in loss at the end of the 2013 season was yet another disappointment for the Rangers.

On May 17, 2013, Ryan's son, Reid Ryan, had been named President of Business Operations for the Astros, and on Oct 31, 2013, Ryan resigned from the Rangers, and ultimately sold his interest in the club. On Feb 11, 2014, Ryan rejoined the Astros as an Executive Adviser to owner Jim Crane, GM Jeff Luhnow and Ryan's son. Approximately 5 years later, the Astros demoted Reid Ryan after the 2019 World Series, and Nolan Ryan chose not to return to the Astros FO for 2020.

The affiliation of Ryan's MiL Round Rock Express (RRE) franchise followed Ryan's affiliations with the Astros and the Rangers. From 2005-2010, RRE was the Astros AAA MiL club. In 2011, after the Astros contract had expired, RRE became the AAA affiliate of the Rangers. After the end of that contract, on Sep 20, 2018, RRE entered into a 4-year contract with the Astros. But in MLB's reorganization of the MiLs after the 2020 season, the Astros dropped their affiliation with RRE. RRE was subsequently re-affiliated with the Rangers in 2021 and re-organized as part of the Triple-A West League, which regained its prior name as the Pacific Coast League in 2022.

Nolan Ryan's "nickname" (more of a trade name) when he was pitching, was the "Nolan Ryan Express". And Ryan has left the Rangers with a few "Express" names here and there to remember him by.

Nolan Ryan (BR Bullpen)
Maury Brown, Texas Rangers Voluntary Bankruptcy (Biz of BB 2010)
Brad Townshend, Exclusive: Owner Ray Davis opens up (DMN 2015) (paywall)
Nolan Ryan (Wikipedia)
Tom Hicks (Wikipedia)
Round Rock Express (Wikipedia)
Texas Rangers: Franchise Timeline, 2000s (MLB.com)
Texas Rangers: Franchise Timeline, 2010s (MLB.com)


February 6, 2021
Texas Acquired Jonah Heim in the Elvis Andrus Trade with Oakland
Jonah Heim Thumbnail Profile
(28 years-old: Arb1 $3.05MM; 3 waiver opts)

On Feb 6, the Rangers and Oakland made a 5-player trade, with the centerpieces being two former star players who had seen better days: Texas sent Elvis Andrus to Oakland after 12 seasons in Texas, in return for Khris Davis. The two teams also traded young catchers: the Rangers received Jonah Heim (along with Dane Acker), while Oakland received Aramis Garcia. At the top, it was a salary dump and a way to move a burdensome contract. The younger players drew virtually no attention in the sports media. Fortunately, AJM gave LSBers a bit more insight into the under-the-radar catcher trade --

"Meanwhile, there appears to be enthusiasm for Jonah Heim, who is a big switch hitting catcher. Someone noted that big guys, catchers, and switch hitters all seem to take longer to develop, and Heim checks all three boxes, so there’s some thought there’s more potentially in there to come. He appears to have the inside track to share catching duties with Jose Trevino to start the season (sorry, all you Drew Butera fans), while Sam Huff starts the year either in Frisco or Round Rock." [LSB below]

Jonah Heim grew up in Buffalo, NY. His high school only played about 20 outdoor baseball games in a season, because of the climate, but in his junior year, Heim batted .470 and picked off 12 base-runners in high school league play, earning him invitations to play in several national exhibition games, where he caught the attention of professional scouts. Heim's high school apparently retired his number 6 after he was drafted.

BA had profiled Heim for the 2013 draft as follows -- "Scouts like his athleticism and ability behind the plate. ... He has average raw power with loft and will probably be not better than a fringe-average hitter. Scouts love his work ethic, but questions about his bat mean he won’t go higher than the sixth round." Baltimore, however, drafted Heim out of high school in the 4th round, 129th overall. Heim was initially assigned to the Orioles rookie-league, but he struggled miserably in the transition from high school to professional ball. The Baltimore organization, however, was apparently unconcerned, attributing it in part to Heim's extremely limited playing time in high school. By 2015, Heim began the 2015 season with much-improved offensive metrics, batting .258 with 10 extra-base hits and 16 RBI in 36 games in AA, before going on the IL with a foot injury in May, from which he did not return until Sep 1. The Orioles sent Heim to the Frederick Keys developmental league in 2016, a move which Heim apparently credits with significantly helping his offensive development.

On Aug 1, 2016, the Orioles traded Heim to the Rays for a needed ML utility man. The Rays kept Heim in A-AA ball, then traded him to Oakland on Dec 19, 2017, Heim spent 2018-19 working his way through the Oakland A-AAA MiLs. On Nov 1, 2019, Oakland protectively added Heim to the 40-man roster. With the cancellation of MiL baseball in 2020, Heim began the shortened season at an alternative training site as a member of the Oakland taxi squad, which at least gave him the opportunity to work with ML pitchers during BP sessions and batting practice. On Aug 24, Oakland promoted Heim to the active roster as their backup catcher. Heim's first ML start, and the game in which he got his first ML hit, was in Oakland's Aug 25,2020, 10-3 win over Texas. Heim appeared in only 13 ML games, and batted only .211, in 2020. Heim was named to the Athletics postseason roster, but he did not appear in any playoff games. Heim canceled his plans to play in the DR that winter, due to the COVID-19 situation.

Most LSBers know the rest of the story. In Texas, Heim got to work with a new set of hitting coaches and with Bobby Wilson on developing his defense and pitch-framing, as well as a team that was enthusiastic about his future. After his slog through his first 3 teams, Heim's career exploded in Texas. The switch-hitting Heim played the 2021 season as the backup to, or platooning with, Jose Trevino. Heim hit his first ML HR on Apr 6, 2021. On July 31, Heim hit HRs from each side of the plate against the Mariners, one of which was his first career walk-off HR. The next day, on Aug 1, Heim hit another walk-off HR against Seattle, to become the first player in Rangers history, and the first rookie in MLB history, to record walk-off home runs in two straight games.

By 2022, Heim was clearly going to be the starting catcher. On Apr 2, Texas traded Jose Trevino to NYY (where Trevino would win a Gold Glove). On Apr 14, 2022, Heim hit his first ML grand slam against Shohei Ohtani in a 10-5 Rangers win over LAA (the first, and to date only, grand slam Ohtani has given up in his ML career). Heim played a career-high 127 games in 2022, but seemed a fatigued by the end of the season, leading to speculation as to his durability. In 2023, Heim was voted to the All-Star Game. Heim went on the IL with a sprained tendon in his wrist on July 28, and there was concern that he'd need season-ending surgery. But Heim returned in less than 3 weeks, missing only 14 games, while giving a rejuvenated Mitch Garver a chance to shine offensively in his absence. Heim, however, was limited to LH batting on his return, and started only 37 of the Rangers last 46 games. Heim's overall offensive output dropped off after the injury, but came back in Sep, particularly in key spots -- Heim hit .389 with RISP in Sep. Heim's season average with RISP was .375, and ranked 6th in the MLs, 2nd on the Rangers behind Corey Seager's .385. In 2023, Heim played 131 total regular-season games, and started 123 of them, and he played every game for Texas during the WS run. After the 2023 season, Heim was elected Second-Team All-MLB Catcher.

After the 2023 season, Heim also won an AL Gold Glove Award, becoming the third Texas Gold-Glove catcher, joining Jim Sundberg and Pudge Rodriguez. Heim stated in an interview that his defense became a major focus for him after arriving in Texas, crediting Bobby Wilson. In 2023, Heim threw out 27.5% (a career-high 22) of the base-runners who tried to steal, second only in the MLs to Gabriel Moreno of the Diamondbacks. In 2023, Heim also had 10 catcher-framing runs (third-best in the MLs), and led AL catchers in fielding runs above average (per FanGraphs) with 22.8.

Year ... G ...... AB .... BA .... OBP .. SLG ... OPS .. OPS+ .. bWAR .. oWAR .. dWAR .. Fld% . CS%
2021 ... 82 ... 265 .. ..196 .. .239 ... .358 ... .598 ..... 62 ...... -0.1 ....... -0.2 ...... 0.6 ..... .995 ... 23%
2022 .. 127 ... 406 .. .227 .. .298 .. .399 ... .697 ..... 96 ........ 2.5 ........ 2.2 ....... 1.1 ...... .997 ... 19%
2023 .. 131 ... 267 ... .258 ... .317 .. .438 ... .755 ..... 103 ...... 2.9 ........ 2.6 ....... 1.0 ..... .998 ... 29%
Post .... 17 ..... 66 ... .212 ... .268 .. .348 ... .616 ............ (14 H, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 5 R, 1 SB)

Heim has been solidly above LgFld% for catchers for 2022-23. He was at League Caught Stealing % for catchers in 2021, well below in 2022, but well above in 2023, despite last year's rule changes.

Jonah Heim (BR)
Texas Rangers 2024 Payroll (Spotrac)
Jonah Heim (Wikipedia)
Evan Grant, Time for Jonah Heim (DMN 2023) (paywall)
Shawn McFarland, Rangers’ playoff road brings Jonah Heim back (DMN 2023) (paywall)
Matthew Postins, Gold Glove Always Goal of Texas Rangers Catcher (SI 2024)
Stephen Hawkins, Rangers deal Andrus to A’s for DH Davis (AP 2021)
AJM, A few thoughts on the Elvis/Davis trade (LSB 2021)