Only one general manager in the major leagues, the New York Yankees’ Brian Cashman, has been in his position with the same team longer than Jon Daniels.
Billy Beane, Brian Sabean and Kenny Williams with the Oakland A’s, San Francisco Giants and Chicago White Sox have graduated to loftier titles but still have a significant say on decisions.
Daniels, hired in October 2005, is the Texas Rangers’ top-ranking baseball official, and he is embarking on his 12th off-season. So, he has plenty of past winters to compare to the one he is facing.
The Rangers have five free agents and a pitcher with a club option, each of them significant contributors this year en route to a second straight American League West title. The Rangers have money to spend, and Daniels has pledged that the rotation will be better and that the Rangers will contend again in 2017.
But there are no guarantees that the Rangers will land their top targets, beginning with Ian Desmond. With a down free-agent pitching market and trades for starters likely to be as pricey as they were at the trade deadline, difference-making rotation help won’t come easily.
Daniels said that this is an important off-season for the Rangers, one of the most important of his tenure.
“How many times does a division winner with that many key players have that kind of turnover?” Daniels said as the Rangers continued their pro-scouting meetings at the Surprise Recreation Campus.
“We’ll end up adding to the group. We feel like the core of the team is here. We have to build it out.”
Daniels said the off-seasons after 2007 and 2014, when managers Ron Washington and Jeff Banister were hired, rate as the most important of Daniels’ previous 11, and he compared this off-season to the one that came after the 2012 season.
Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara were lost to free agency, though Colby Lewis was re-signed. Michael Young was traded as the Rangers had a 20-year-old Jurickson Profar they wanted to wedge into the mix. The Rangers missed out on rumored December deals for Justin Upton and Zack Greinke.
A year earlier, C.J. Wilson was lost via free agency, but Yu Darvish was signed. Closer Neftali Feliz was transitioned to the rotation, and free agent Joe Nathan was signed to be the closer.
The Rangers could potentially see nearly half of their season-ending batting order — free agents Desmond, Carlos Gomez, Carlos Beltran and Mitch Moreland — and two members of the season-opening rotation — free agent Lewis and Derek Holland, if his option isn’t picked up — with other teams in 2017.
It seems unlikely that the Rangers will swing and miss on all six players. It seems just as unlikely that they will retain all six, which will require players already in the organization or a few lower-tier free agents to make significant contributions.
Outside of Desmond, the Rangers likely won’t be involved at the top of the free-agent position-player market, which is headed by outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
“Banny’s of the mind-set that whatever 60 guys we go to spring training with and whatever 25 guys we leave here with, he expects to win,” Daniels said. “That’s going to be the mentality of the club.”
Daniels feels good about the internal options, mainly Profar, Delino DeShields, Ryan Rua and Joey Gallo. DeShields, for instance, has been an everyday player and started all five playoff games in 2015.
They aren’t simply players being brought up straight from Double A. They have talent and some level of experience, they work cheap and would give the Rangers a good balance of young players to go with the veteran core.
“That mix is so important, and that’s what we strive for every year,” Daniels said. “If you continually bring back veteran guys, you can get old in a hurry. You’ve got to have that balance.”
It’s part of what rates as one of the most important off-seasons of Daniels’ career.