Long-term approach suits Daniels, Rangers

Long-term approach suits Daniels, Rangers

ARLINGTON -- On Tuesday morning, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels dropped his son Lincoln and his daughter Harper off at school. He drove through Starbucks to get a cup of coffee.

He also made it clear, while running these errands, that winning the 2010 American League West division title is not enough.

"No, it's not," Daniels said. "Obviously, it's a dramatic step in the right direction, something a lot of us, including me, haven't accomplished. In a few years, I'm sure I'll look back and have a lot of pride.

"But the thought of that being our greatest accomplishment, that would be disappointing. I think [manager Ron Washington] and the staff and the players would agree. On Saturday, we celebrated, but the next day, we regrouped and refocused. Now, the goal is to get 11 more wins. That's the right attitude."

Maybe that's why Daniels has, he said, had trouble sleeping this week and needed that jolt of Starbucks in the morning.

"There is still a lot of work to be done," Daniels said.

An amazing amount of work has already been done by a general manager who was the youngest ever in his profession when he was handed the job by then-owner Tom Hicks back in 2005. There was an ill-advised attempt at an immediate quick fix, but the Rangers' division championship is the result of an organization that has, uncharacteristically, focused on a long-term goal and, for once, did not allow itself to get sidetracked by unrealistic, media-driven dreams of immediate glory.

As much as Daniels has tried to infuse the Rangers with talent, he has doggedly tried to rebuild a championship organization, surrounding himself with knowledgeable and talented baseball people who could help drive the club in the right direction.

"When we mapped our plan and strategy a few years ago, the two things that excited me were, of course, winning, but a close second was building this thing with a great group of people," Daniels said. "We haven't accomplished anything yet, but this is still a sign [of] what I knew all along -- that we have a great group of people -- and it's a sign to the industry [that] that's the case. That was the fun part, working with these people day in and day out."

how they were acquired
Here's how each Rangers player currently on the roster was acquired:
Player Pos. Acquired Year Former team
Michael Young 3B Trade 2000 Blue Jays
C.J. Wilson LHP Draft 2001 Loyola
Ian Kinsler 2B Draft 2003 U of Missouri
Scott Feldman RHP Draft 2003 San Mateo JC
Frank Francisco RHP Trade 2003 White Sox
Taylor Teagarden C Draft 2005 U of Texas
Michael Kirkman LHP Draft 2005 High School
Alexi Ogando RHP Rule 5 2005 Athletics
Chris Davis 1B Draft 2006 Navarro JC
Derek Holland LHP Draft 2006 Wallace JC
Nelson Cruz OF Trade 2006 Brewers
Julio Borbon OF Draft 2007 U of Tennessee
Tommy Hunter OF Draft 2007 U of Alabama
Mitch Moreland 1B Draft 2007 Miss. State
David Murphy OF Trade 2007 Red Sox
Elvis Andrus SS Trade 2007 Braves
Neftali Feliz RHP Trade 2007 Braves
Matt Harrison LHP Trade 2007 Braves
Josh Hamilton OF Trade 2007 Reds
Dustin Nippert RHP Trade 2008 D-backs
Pedro Strop RHP Free agent 2008 Rockies
Esteban German IF Free agent 2009 Royals
Darren O'Day RHP Waivers 2009 Mets
Clay Rapada LHP Trade 2009 Tigers
Rich Harden RHP Free agent 2009 Cubs
Darren Oliver LHP Free agent 2009 Angels
Vladimir Guerrero OF Free agent 2010 Angels
Colby Lewis OF Free agent 2010 Hiroshima
Matt Treanor C Trade 2010 Brewers
Andres Blanco IF Trade 2010 Cubs
Bengie Molina C Trade 2010 Giants
Cliff Lee LHP Trade 2010 Mariners
Jorge Cantu IF Trade 2010 Marlins
Cristian Guzman IF Trade 2010 Nationals
Jeff Francoeur OF Trade 2010 Mets
The pivotal moment was early in the 2007 season. When the history of the Rangers is written, 2007 will go down as one of the most important in franchise annals. For as bleak as it looked in June, when they were 19 games under .500, that's when the Rangers finally adopted the long-term rebuilding plan that would ultimately bring them back to the top.

"We talked about it before the '07 season, what we would do if things didn't work out competitively, that we might have to do an about-face," Daniels said. "When we struggled, we sat down and said piecemealing this thing together [isn't] going to work. So how are we going to do this long-term; how are we going to compete and beat the powerhouses in the American League? We might not have the financial resources to do that.

"We need a more efficient strategy. What are we good at? We're good at finding young talent and developing it. We started getting excited doing it. It energized the whole group. We had a clear vision of what we were going to do and how we were going to do it."

So Mark Teixeira was traded to the Braves for five players, including shortstop Elvis Andrus and pitchers Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz, and pitcher Eric Gagne was dealt to the Red Sox for three players, including David Murphy. Outfielder Julio Borbon and pitcher Tommy Hunter were among five first-round picks in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, while Mitch Moreland was taken in the 17th round.

But one Draft and two trades do not complete a rebuilding program, and the Rangers stayed focused. Certainly trading pitcher Edinson Volquez for outfielder Josh Hamilton at the end of 2007 was important, but so were minor moves made over the years, such as claiming pitcher Darren O'Day off waivers, picking up pitcher Dustin Nippert, infielder Andres Blanco and catcher Matt Treanor for almost nothing, drafting Derek Holland in the 22nd round in 2006, having Nelson Cruz thrown in on a trade with the Brewers for Carlos Lee and getting pitcher Alexi Ogando in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft.

Don't forget there was also talent before Daniels took over. Doug Melvin traded for Michael Young, John Hart traded for Frank Francisco, and Ian Kinsler and Scott Feldman were drafted under scouting director Grady Fuson's watch. And though you may not recognize his name, Tim Hallgren was the Rangers' scouting director for one year in 2001, drafting not just Teixeira, but C.J. Wilson as well.

The Rangers have not been major players in the free-agent market since 2007, but they scored big with Vladimir Guerrero, did well with Darren Oliver and look pretty smart for giving Colby Lewis a two-year deal out of Japan this winter.

Mix it all together, and the Rangers went into this season believing that it was time, that they could win 92 games and compete for the division title.

"We just felt the talent of this group was to the point where we could compete," Daniels said. "We got our feet wet last year winning 87 games and being in it until the last couple of weeks. We felt if we could keep our best players on the field, we had a chance. We had a pitching staff that could keep us in games. That's been a major issue for this franchise, and we felt good from that standpoint."

Daniels also felt strongly about his manager. Washington entered his fourth season as the Rangers' manager and, without a contract extension, was clearly on the hot seat. Some even predicted he wouldn't make it out of Spring Training, after the revelation of a positive drug test.

But Daniels stood behind his choice of manager every step of the way, though he declines to use the word "vindication," now that the division title has been won.

"I stood behind him because I felt he was the right guy for the job," Daniels said. "I felt he was the guy who would give us our best chance to lead the team to where we wanted to be. He's been through a lot, but he has been the same guy every day. He consistently bought into the young players and trusted the scouts.

"I'm not sure how many managers could keep the team focused while the club went through bankruptcy. To his credit, [though] people outside the organization have a hard time believing it, it had zero impact on the organization. He didn't talk about it, and the players followed [suit]. It was not an issue. The guys weren't distracted. To me, it started with the manager, because it could have taken on a life of its own."

If there were any doubts about Washington's status, they began to ease when the Rangers moved into first place in May and then dissipated altogether when they took control of the division with an 11-game winning streak in June.

At that point, the Rangers knew they were dealing with a winning hand and were going to do everything they could to see it through. Needs were identified, and a No. 1 starter was at the top of the list. The Rangers wanted Cliff Lee.

"We just looked at it that we may have a chance of winning our division without making the move," Daniels said. "But winning the division wasn't our goal. We felt this was a chance to win in October. It hurt giving up those guys. We gave up multiple big leaguers, but the competition was significant and he was the guy we wanted."

On July 9, the Rangers acquired Lee for four players, including former first-round picks Justin Smoak and Blake Beavan. The Rangers, though, did not stop with Lee.

They had already acquired catcher Bengie Molina from the Giants, and, at the July 31 Trade Deadline, they landed right-handed-hitting first baseman Jorge Cantu and infielder Cristian Guzman. On Aug. 31, they traded for outfielder Jeff Francoeur. In the five deals, they traded 11 players, though they acquired three Minor Leaguers back when they sent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Red Sox on July 31.

Molina, Cantu and Francoeur all figure prominently on the Rangers post-season roster.

"I think, in general, deadline deals are a crapshoot," Daniels said. "Not many make a big impact. What we realized was outside of Cliff Lee, we were not going to get a dominating player, but we could buoy up the club's veteran depth. Once we pushed our chips in with Cliff Lee, we decided to see how many small needs we could fill. It didn't make sense to address the big one, and not address the small ones as well."

Are they done? No. There is still the matter of the post-season roster to determine, and decisions still to be made there.

It is the next step for a general manager whose first move when handed the job on Oct. 4, 2005, was to take his dog for a walk at four o'clock in the morning and think about the enormous task in front of him.

If he had known what would ultimately be accomplished, he might have slept better that night. Then again, it hasn't helped much this week.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.