Rangers' Daniels keeps cool under pressure
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- A fundamental sense of calm and optimism inhabits the Texas Rangers.
This is not the result of wearing rose-colored sunglasses. It is the product of achievement and an abiding mutual trust among the members of the club. And it starts at the top of the baseball side of the organization with Jon Daniels, president of baseball operations and general manager.
"The bar has been set internally very high," Daniels said Saturday at Surprise Stadium in an interview with MLB.com. "External expectations don't mean anything, because they can't be any higher than our own."
That attitude extends, as it should, to the playing field. When Rangers manager Ron Washington is asked what he likes best about his club this spring, he responds:
"The confidence they've shown in going about their business. They haven't let adversity affect how they go about their business. That's our strength right there. Having bad days out there, the mood hasn't gone down. Each day we continue go to work, and we're getting better. Every day we're getting a little better."
The Rangers, of course, won the American League pennant in 2010 and '11. With that accomplishment as a standard, the last two years were in the near-miss category. Still, Texas is one of only two clubs that won 90 or more games in each of the last four seasons, the other being Tampa Bay.
What's up next for this organization? The Rangers signed Shin-Soo Choo, one of baseball's leading on-base-percentage players, to lead off for them, and traded Ian Kinsler, a focal point of the franchise, for a big-time run producer in Prince Fielder.
Those were dramatic additions, but that wasn't the complete organizational focus. The Rangers, under Daniels' direction, built a substantial Minor League system. They're not leaving that process behind.
"The approach we took this winter," Daniels said, "was we're not looking to fix any one thing. Let's get back to what we're good at: scouting, development, communication and just get better, period.
"We've traded a lot of young players over the last four to five years, for good reasons. At the same time, with the change in the amateur-acquisition system, with the change in the economics, we decided this winter we're going to develop these guys to be Rangers. We put a lot of emphasis on our player-development side, changed the leadership there a little bit. That's not to say we'll never trade a young player again, but we want to fill our own needs internally."
It has not all been smooth sailing for Daniels and the Rangers. The departure of an iconic figure, Nolan Ryan, from the front office following a promotion for Daniels left some people with the impression that Daniels had engineered that departure. It may not have been the correct impression, but it took hold in some quarters.
"It does no good to get into a total rehash, but that stuff with Nolan, it was just inaccurate," Daniels said. "That's the bottom line."
Kinsler has taken some long-distance shots at Daniels, including a small bout of name-calling. Daniels did not return fire, saying merely that under the circumstances, trading Kinsler had been a good idea.
Daniels generally leaves people with the impression that he is calm and in control. This probably occurs because he actually is calm and in control.
"You hear people in leadership positions say that when there's blame to go around, you take it," Daniels said, "and when there's credit to go around, you make sure everyone gets an appropriate share.
"Listen, there are times when things get to you, good or bad. You try to process it, talk to the people whose opinions you value, take a deep breath, go out front and do what we need to do. I'm human, it affects you, of course, but I also think there's a real benefit to being even-keel and maybe more deliberate in your decision making. It allows people to count on you."
At 36, Daniels is beginning his ninth season as general manager. This is the kind of thing that can happen only when somebody became the youngest GM in the history of the game. One way or another, the Rangers have had considerable stability among their baseball-management personnel.
"Our group has been together for a while, and that stability and that ability to speak your mind and say how you feel, I think that's really helped," Daniels said.
The GM also appreciates the support that Rangers co-chairmen Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, have supplied.
"They've shared the vision, they've been committed to what we're doing and they've allowed us to go on," Daniels said.
"They have been willing to invest. People see the [Yu] Darvish investment, the Fielder investment, the Choo investment, the investment in [Adrian] Beltre. They've also invested in the amateur markets, they've invested in building our scouting infrastructure. You have to have good people, but you have to be willing to compensate them, let them travel, give them benefits. Those things cost money. They take resources. Ownership seems to have a big-picture vision of what they want to do. The money they've put into the ballpark to upgrade it. I think that's a big part of our success."
This is an organization that has created for itself a chance to win. There are no guarantees. There will be times when a rotation staple like Derek Holland trips over his dog on a stairway, injures his knee and is out for maybe half the season. This isn't about perfection. This is about having a genuine chance to win on an annual basis. The Rangers have that. So, yes, they have earned legitimate optimism.
"I think it comes from the idea that there are no shortcuts. It comes from hard work and good decisions, good people," Daniels said. "That's what we can lean on. I believe in the people, the process, the plan we've got in place. You know it's not going to be easy, but at the end, we believe we're going to get it done."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.