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'88 Meetings magical week in Rangers' history

In a matter of days, Grieve acquired Franco and Palmeiro and signed Ryan
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

ARLINGTON -- Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is determined to do something to improve a 78-84 team at the Winter Meetings next week, and isn't opposed to the big deals, including signing another front-line starting pitcher.

But he has much work to do to generate the same amount of excitement and headlines as what happened 29 years ago in Atlanta.

ARLINGTON -- Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is determined to do something to improve a 78-84 team at the Winter Meetings next week, and isn't opposed to the big deals, including signing another front-line starting pitcher.

But he has much work to do to generate the same amount of excitement and headlines as what happened 29 years ago in Atlanta.

Hot Stove Tracker

The 1988 Winter Meetings transformed the Rangers forever. In a matter of a few days, former general manager Tom Grieve traded for first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and second baseman Julio Franco and signed free-agent pitcher Nolan Ryan.

It was a magical week in Rangers' history and one worth remembering going into this year's Winter Meetings.

"I think the baseball moves we made, we analyzed the team, we wanted better hitters," Grieve said. "Julio Franco and Rafael Palmeiro were good hitters who could hit good pitching and that could make us a better team. What transformed the franchise in the eyes of our fans and the eyes of the fans around the country happened when we signed Nolan Ryan."

The Rangers were heading into their fifth year of rebuilding under Grieve, scouting director Sandy Johnson and manager Bobby Valentine. A tremendous infusion of young talent -- Ruben Sierra, Pete Incaviglia, Bobby Witt, Jose Guzman, Kevin Brown, Steve Buechele and others -- had made the Rangers competitive again.

But the youth movement had stalled out. It was time for some drastic moves to accelerate the process. The Rangers wanted two good hitters to fill out a young lineup -- and one more starting pitcher.

Video: Sullivan on the Rangers' 1988 Winter Meetings

They had spoken to the Yankees about Don Mattingly and the Red Sox about Wade Boggs. But Grieve had also spoken extensively to the Cubs about Palmeiro and the Indians about Franco. Progress had been made before everybody reached Atlanta. The Cubs wanted closer Mitch Williams and the rebuilding Indians needed their own infusion of talent.

"It seemed like there was some common ground," Grieve said. "Going in I felt there was some solid groundwork laid to lead to that."

The trades got done. Palmeiro and pitcher Jamie Moyer came from the Cubs in a nine-player swap that sent Williams to Chicago, and Franco was acquired from the Indians for second baseman Jerry Browne, outfielder Oddibe McDowell and popular first baseman Pete O'Brien.

Grieve then turned his attention to Ryan, who had spent the past nine years pitching for the Astros and was getting ready to turn 42. Everybody thought Ryan would pitch one or two more years and then retire. But the Astros made the mistake of asking him to take a pay cut.

Ryan refused, and the bidding was on.

"I had talked to [Ryan's agent] Dick Moss," Grieve said. "I knew Nolan wasn't going back to Houston and we were the frontrunners because we were the closest team to Houston, and I knew [owner] Eddie Chiles was on board. We were optimistic. I wasn't going to put all our eggs in one basket, but we were optimistic we were going to be able to do some things, and it all came together."

The Rangers signed Ryan to a one-year deal and he stayed for five. In 1989, he made 32 starts, pitched 239 1/3 innings and was 16-10 with a 3.20 ERA and 301 strikeouts.

"People thought it was a publicity stunt," Grieve said. "There was definitely some PR value to it. But John Young was our National League scout and he said Nolan was still one of the five best pitchers in the National League. The bottom line was Nolan Ryan won 16 games and struck out 300 batters. The pitching he provided was the biggest PR of them all."

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

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