The process that brought Greg Porter to the Wingnuts and gave them what many in the organization feel is their best lineup in five seasons came with plenty of hassle and several near-misses.
Porter was the end point, allowing Wichita to eventually group him with John Rodriguez and C.J. Ziegler and give the Wingnuts a dangerous middle-third of the lineup. The starting point happened when Ziegler and two other Wingnuts left for the Mexican League in June, and in the middle were several failed attempts to replace them.
"Everything happens for a reason," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "Getting a guy like Porter, I guess it was meant to be."
The Porter trade happened about a month after Ziegler, second baseman Jake Kahaulelio and reliever James Hoyt departed for Mexico. Before then, the Wignuts were close to acquiring other players who could have provided timely relief.
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Wichita was the recipient of a seemingly friendly offer from St. Paul in July, when it appeared the Saints were falling out of the American Association North Division race. According to Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper, St. Paul offered Wichita at least one of its best players with the condition that they would be returned to the Saints at the end of the season.
The trade was close to coming together when it all fell apart. The Saints went on a five-game winning streak and called off the trade. It helped the Saints — they’re four games out of the final playoff spot — but it hampered the Wingnuts, who had to put other potential transactions on hold and who didn’t wind up with the player or players they thought would be coming to Wichita.
Not long after that, the Wingnuts all but locked up the acquisition of Joash Brodin, a slugger from the Frontier Leauge. Brodin was on his layover between a flight from Canada and one to Wichita, when he opted to pass on the Wingnuts and sign with Long Island of the Atlantic League.
Plan C didn’t work, either. The Wingnuts and Sioux Falls agreed on a trade that would send former University of Kansas outfielder and Gus Milner to Wichita. The Wingnuts became worried when Milner wasn’t communicating with them, but he finally returned their calls only to inform them of his retirement.
"I’m pretty positive about everything," Hooper said. "It stinks at the time that it’s happening, but I kept telling my staff that something good is going to happen. Somebody is going to pop up … something is going to work out for us."
The non-executed trades didn’t deter the Wingnuts. Instead of waiting for the Mexican League players to return, they upgraded while Ziegler, Kahaulelio and Hoyt were gone. Wichita added Jessie Mier and Wilson Batista in addition to Porter, giving them a postseason-ready lineup.
"What a lineup," Hooper said. "It’s probably the best one I’ve written out, writing that thing down every day. Top to bottom, if you look at the whole picture, the experience is off the charts."
Viva Mexico — The stories about American Association players spending time in the Mexican League often involve those players suffering through miserable experiences, sometimes narrowly avoiding violence.
Ziegler had a different experience. While his performance wasn’t up to the standard he set in Wichita, his return wasn’t marked with complaints about his time in Mexico. In addition to earning a much larger salary, Ziegler said he was treated well.
"Where we were at was actually really nice," Ziegler said. "We stayed at a Hilton, at a resort, so we weren’t complaining at all."
Any apprehension was eased by friendship; Ziegler said he, Hoyt and Kahaulelio spent a lot of time together while they played for Tabasco. That wasn’t the case for Wichita closer Josh Dew, who had few American teammates with Monclava.
"That would be pretty tough," Ziegler said. "You’d be by yourself the whole time and you’d be lonely. Down there, in a different country, that’d be pretty tough."
He’ll be back — Wilberto Ortiz performed well in 17 games for the Wingnuts, but he found himself in a roster crunch when Wichita activated pitcher Dumas Garcia from the disabled list on Friday.
Ortiz was traded to Lincoln, where he’ll play shortstop for the rest of the season. His rights will be dealt back to the Wingnuts at the end of the season. That means he’ll essentially be traded for himself, not an uncommon practice for American Association teams looking to work around the salary cap.
"It’s a good situation for him, getting to play every day and we’ll get him back at the end of the season," Hooper said. "I’m always thinking about the guys and what I can do that’s best for their career."