Daniels Gets More Jack
Last week, the Texas Rangers signed general manager Jon Daniels to a one-year extension through 2009 for approximately $650,000. The 29-year-old Daniels became the youngest GM in MLB history when he inked a three-year contract for $1.35 million in October 2005 after John Hart resigned.
Less than eight years ago, Daniels, fresh out of Cornell, was looking for an entry-level position at the winter meetings. He went to work for the parent of Dunkin' Donuts before landing an internship with the Colorado Rockies in 2001. Hart hired Daniels as assistant of baseball operations for the Rangers in 2002 and promoted him to director of baseball operations in 2003 and assistant GM in 2004 after Grady Fuson left the organization.
Daniels seemed like a curious choice when owner Tom Hicks made him the franchise's third GM since winning the American League West in 1999. But the extension is even harder to fathom given the current state of the Rangers. My first reaction to this news was none other than "why?" What has Daniels accomplished that warranted such an extension at this time? Was Hicks afraid that his boy wonder might get a better offer elsewhere?
I realize that Hicks is hopeful of creating a measure of stability within the ranks of management. But is Daniels the right guy to lead Texas out of its current depths of despair?
Let's take a look at the facts in this case. At 30-45, Texas has the third-worst record in baseball. The club is mired in last place in the AL West, 18 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Angels. No team is further behind in the standings than the Rangers.
TEAM W L PCT Red Sox 48 26 .649 Angels 49 27 .645 Tigers 45 29 .608 Indians 43 31 .581 Diamondbacks 44 32 .579 Brewers 43 32 .573 Padres 42 32 .568 Mets 41 32 .562 Dodgers 42 33 .560 Mariners 39 33 .542 A's 39 35 .527 Twins 38 35 .521 Phillies 39 36 .520 Rockies 38 37 .507 Braves 38 38 .500 Blue Jays 37 37 .500 Yankees 36 37 .493 Marlins 36 40 .474 Cubs 35 39 .473 Cardinals 33 39 .458 Devil Rays 33 40 .452 Giants 32 42 .432 Orioles 32 43 .427 Nationals 32 43 .427 Astros 32 43 .427 Pirates 31 44 .413 White Sox 29 42 .408 Rangers 30 45 .400 Royals 30 46 .395 Reds 29 47 .382
Daniels has made more than a dozen significant personnel decisions as the GM, including several free agent signings, six trades, and hiring Ron Washington as manager in November 2006.
12/12/05: Acq'd V. Padilla from PHI for a player to be named later. 12/13/05: Acq'd B. Wilkerson, T. Sledge and A. Galarraga from WAS for A. Soriano. 12/29/05: Signed free agent K. Millwood to a 5-yr contract for $60M. 01/04/06: Acq'd A. Eaton, A. Otsuka and B. Killian from SD for C. Young, A. Gonzalez and T. Sledge. 04/01/06: Acq'd R. Tejeda and J. Blalock from PHI for D. Dellucci. 07/28/06: Acq'd C. Lee and N. Cruz from MIL for F. Cordero, K. Mench, L. Nix and J. Cordero. 11/06/06: Hired R. Washington as manager. 11/21/06: Signed free agent F. Catalanotto to a 3-yr, $13M contract with a club option for 2010. 12/09/06: Signed V. Padilla to a 3-yr, $33.75M contract with a club option for 2010. 12/12/06: Signed free agent K. Lofton to a 1-yr, $6M contract. 12/19/06: Signed free agent E. Gagne to a 1-yr, $6M contract. 12/23/06: Acq'd B. McCarthy and D. Paisano from CWS for J. Danks, N. Masset and J. Rasner. 01/30/07: Signed free agent S. Sosa to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. 03/01/07: Signed M. Young to a 5-yr, $80M extension through 2013.
Some of those transactions have been worse than others, but I find it hard to categorize any of them as an unequivocal success. At this point, the best move appears to be signing Eric Gagne to a one-year deal for $6 million plus performance and award bonuses. However, Gagne (2-0, 1.29 ERA with 7 SV in 21 IP) has been on and off the disabled list during the first three months of the season. His value isn't necessarily as a closer for Texas as much as it might be as a bargaining chip in July. Nonetheless, Gagne has a no-trade clause that allows him to veto a deal to 12 teams.
Daniels has made three trades that have left a lot to be desired, most notably the one that sent RHP Chris Young, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, and OF Termel Sledge to San Diego in exchange for RHP Adam Eaton, RHP Akinori Otsuka and C Billy Killian. Eaton (7-4, 5.12 ERA in 65 IP in 2006) turned out to be a one-year rental while Young (18-8, 3.00 ERA in 270 IP in 2006-07) has become one of the top pitchers in the National League and Gonzalez (.298/.359/.504 with 38 HR in 867 AB in 2006-07) has developed into the premier hitter scouts expected of him when the Florida Marlins selected the San Diego native #1 overall in the June 2000 draft. Moreover, Young and Gonzalez are both young and cheap — the type of players Daniels and the Rangers should be building around rather than trading.
While Michael Young may be the face of the franchise, did it really make sense to give the 30-year-old shortstop an extension for his age 32-36 seasons at a cost of $16M per? Young wasn't eligible to test the free agent waters until after the 2008 campaign. Make no mistake about it, Young is a productive player but the majority of his value rests in his batting average and defensive position. Young will earn his new contract if he continues to hit .310-.330 while playing a decent shortstop, but how valuable will he be if his average slips to .275-.295 as his power declines, especially if he winds up at a less desirable position on the Defensive Spectrum?
Running the Rangers is not an easy job. After finishing atop the AL West in 1998-1999, the Rangers fell to last place in 2000, winning 24 fewer games than the previous season. Hicks tried to buy success when he signed Alex Rodriguez and Chan Ho Park (and others) in 2001-02. Team payroll soared to over $100 million, yet the club remained in the cellar through 2003. Hicks then unloaded A-Rod's contract on the New York Yankees while agreeing to absorb about $7 million per year (out of $25M). The opening day payroll dropped to $55 million in 2004-05 and has rebounded to approximately $68 million the past two seasons.
One of Daniels' first orders of business is to decide what to do with Mark Teixeira, who will be become a free agent after the 2008 season. Teixeira is represented by Scott Boras and the agent rarely, if ever, allows teams to buy out free agent years. As a result, Daniels has two options: (1) keep Teixeira for one more year and either sign him to a longer-term deal or get a first-round draft pick as compensation when he becomes a free agent or (2) trade Teixeira before July 31, 2008. Teams that figure to have an interest in the 27-year-old slugging first baseman include the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, Tigers, and perhaps his hometown Orioles.
Most importantly, Daniels needs to find a way to rebuild a starting rotation that is the worst in the majors. The aggregate ERA is 6.70, more than one run higher than any other rotation and over two runs above the league average. The starters may challenge the dubious record set by the Detroit Tigers in 1996, the worst in the Retrosheet era (1957-present). High-priced starters Kevin Millwood (3-8, 6.72 ERA in 65.1 IP) and Vicente Padilla (4-6, 6.78 ERA in 80.2 IP) have been major disappointments, spending time on the DL and pitching poorly when "healthy." Brandon McCarthy (4-4, 5.50 ERA in 54.2 IP) hasn't lived up to his promise and has spent time on the shelf as well. Kameron Loe (3-6, 6.37, 76.2) and Robinson Tejada (5-7, 6.60, 76.2) aren't long-term answers to the club's pitching woes.
Eric Hurley, 21, and Kasey Kiker, 19, provide some hope for the future. Hurley (7-2, 3.26 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 2.81 K/BB in AA) is a year away from reaching the bigs and Kiker (2-2, 3.09 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 2.88 K/BB in Low A) is more of a 2010 and beyond type prospect. In the meantime, the overhyped DVD combo of John Danks, Edinson Volquez, and Thomas Diamond has been dismantled with Danks now with the Chicago White Sox, Volquez trying to regain his form in High A and AA, and Diamond out of action following elbow-ligament replacement surgery in March.
Daniels, who has beefed up the scouting and development area, held the first organization-wide meeting of coaches, scouts and administrators in years shortly after he was hired. Daniels, scouting director Ron Hopkins, Scott Servais (farm director), and Thad Levine (baseball operations) made a statement by choosing teenage pitchers Blake Beavan, Michael Main, and Neil Ramirez in the first and supplemental rounds of the most recent draft. Main, Mr. Baseball in Florida for 2007 and the Gatorade Naional Player of the Year when he went 12-1 with a 1.02 ERA, signed last week. Coming to terms with Beavan, Main's teammate on the USA Baseball Junior National team at the IBAF World Junior Championships in Cuba last September, may be more problematic.
Although it remains to be seen whether Daniels is the right man for the job, his contract extension gives him job security through 2009 while empowering the youngest GM in the game to make more deals, perhaps as soon as next month. A turnaround won't take place overnight, and Daniels' success (or lack thereof) is unlikely to be measured in terms of wins and losses until after his current deal expires.