Jon Daniels has spent the past few days fondly remembering the way things used to be way back when.
The year was 2009, and the Texas Rangers had just missed the playoffs. Barack Obama was a first-term president capable of avoiding a government shutdown. Tiger Woods was married. Hannah Montana hadn’t yet learned how to twerk.
Only four years, almost to the day, and four baseball seasons have passed, but it seems like a journey in the way-back machine is needed to recall the origins of the Rangers’ first run to the World Series and the decisions that guided them there.
Daniels, the Rangers’ general manager then and now, said on Thursday that he has found the path he wants the Rangers to take this off-season after hours of reflection and discussion.
The club’s championship roots are in scouting and development, smart baseball decisions by a group that is on the same page, and on-field personnel that strikes a balance between power and speed offensively.
“We’ve spent the last few days discussing where we go,” Daniels said. “We’re not satisfied. As we look at it, we’re going to try to get back to our roots, not that we really strayed very far from them but re-emphasize what we’re all about.”
“I look back at the off-season before 2010, and the meetings we had leading up to that and the thought processes. It was probably, collectively, some of our best work and led to our most exciting season or certainly the start of that run.”
Daniels wasn’t insinuating that the holes that need to be filled for 2014 will come from the minor leagues. The Rangers’ best players are still too far away from making a significant impact in the majors.
The Rangers will scour the open market, beginning with their own free agents, and will have a budget that is likely a tick below the estimated $128 million they spent this season.
Trades will be sought, though Daniels would prefer to keep the Rangers’ top prospects at the lower levels of the minors and give them a chance to develop into something besides trade bait.
That could mean seeing the names of veteran players included in trade talks, beginning with second baseman Ian Kinsler.
The planning for 2014 is still in its infancy. The Rangers have yet to contact all of their soon-to-be free agents and still haven’t held exit interviews with every player expected to return.
But the focus is going to be on the offense, which batted 11 points worse than the 2012 club, hit 24 fewer homers and scored 78 fewer runs.
“The pitching staff, on the whole, was outstanding,” Daniels said. “Offensively we came into it in spring training using the term, ‘We may be a bat light.’ At the end of the day, we were not the offensive club we needed to be.
“The best teams are balanced, which we’ve always been. That’s what we’re going to strive for. You want talented offensive players, and they come in a lot of shapes and sizes.”
Nelson Cruz and A.J. Pierzynski are the key free agents from the beleaguered lineup. With power high in demand but short in supply via free agency, the Rangers won’t be the only clubs contending for those players.
The Rangers’ first decision involving Cruz is whether to make him a qualifying offer.
If he declines an offer and signs elsewhere, the Rangers would receive draft-pick compensation. If he accepts the offer, he will receive a one-year contract for $14 million, a price tag he might not be able to fetch after serving a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.
“We haven’t made that decision formally,” Daniels said. “We’re going to need corner run production, and we’re going to need power. Obviously, Nellie’s been a source for the last few years.”
Daniels hopes to recapture the Rangers’ magic.
“Just making good baseball decisions, whether it’s a big trade, a small trade, the right free agent, knowing players, looking internally,” Daniels said. “We’re going to rely on our people to make good calls. That’s what we’re going to do.”