Jon Daniels: Losing stinks, but Rangers had some positives in 2018
Their spring homes are separated by 9.6 miles, and last season on the field they were separated by one game.
The Texas Rangers went 67-95 in 2018, and the San Diego Padres finished at 66-96.
That probably didn’t make the cut for the Cornell University alumni newsletter.
Cornell is where Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and Padres GM A.J. Preller became friends, fraternity brothers and roommates. Daniels added Preller to the Rangers’ front office early in what is now a long reign as GM.
But as close as their teams were last season, not in a good way, and as close as the GMs have been, the state of their franchises is not close.
Preller is diving head-first into the Padres’ competitive window to win, though it might not be fully open just yet. The Rangers’ window is shut, latched and boarded, and there’s no clarity when it will open.
That’s why Manny Machado will be joining the Padres on a 10-year contract worth $300 million, and why the Rangers didn’t even post for the Machado sweepstakes and likely will stay out of the Bryce Harper sweepstakes.
The trick for the Rangers, as it is for the Padres and was for the Houston Astros and others who have taken the rebuilding path, is to know when the competitive window is on the verge of opening.
“It’s all different with each team and each organization,” Preller said. “That’s a big part of evaluating, knowing when your window is going to open up, who to potentially look at in your system, who you can count on in your system, who can be impact guys in your system.
“That’s a huge part of it, nailing that. You have to do a good job of that to figure out to understand when it’s time to go out and make major acquisitions.”
Daniels said during spring training that the timing wasn’t right for the Rangers to spend lavishly. Realistically, the Rangers think they might be two more seasons away from the window opening, and the young core they’re focusing on now would be closer to free agency in 2021.
Their best move might be to sign Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo to contract extension that buy out a year or two of their free agency and allow them to be part of the next wave of talent from the minors.
But sometimes the right deal comes along, like the Josh Hamilton-Edinson Volquez trade late in 2007, and a team strikes. The investment there was minimal financially, though it came with the risk of trading away a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher for a player with a long drug history.
It’s safe to say that one worked out, but there are never any guarantees in player acquisitions. That includes trades, the draft and international signings that the Rangers have latched onto in the first year of their rebuild.
The problem holding the Rangers back is that most of their best prospects will play this season at Double A or lower. As such there’s a lack of quality depth and risk that much of the wave will crash before reaching the big-league shore.
The lack of depth concerns Daniels for the 2019 club. Prospects move up when they’re ready, not because there’s a need at a higher level, and the best of the best in the Rangers’ system (Hans Crouse, Cole Winn, Bubba Thompson, Leody Taveras) will be at High A or lower.
Triple A Nashville will have some pitching prospects there, beginning with right-hander Jonathan Hernandez and left-hander Taylor Hearn. Lefty Joe Palumbo is another candidate to be in the Triple A rotation.
“It’s where you think you are competitively and what you need,” Daniels said. “There are some things that only come along once in a while. We felt like Josh was going to make a big level of impact.
“But the biggest lesson I’ve learned is properly evaluate who you are as a club and striking from that standpoint when it makes sense.”
The Padres, though, haven’t just made one splash. They also struck last off-season with the addition of first baseman Eric Hosmer. The Rangers didn’t make only the Hamilton move, adding Vladimir Guerrero and Cliff Lee in 2010, and Adrian Beltre and Yu Darvish to keep the window open.
“I learned from my time in Texas,” Preller said. “JD was able to piece it together. He didn’t wait for this magical moment in 2010 when all these guys were going to go out and spend on one free-agent class. You look back on it at the time, he was able to get a Nelson Cruz at the right point, a Josh Hamilton at the right point, and a Cliff Lee at the trade deadline.
“That’s what the good programs do. You don’t look and in one year add eight pieces that miraculously take your team to the top. You add guys as you get going with the foundation being in the farm system. That’s what we’re going through here.”
The Rangers will be at some point. They just can’t pinpoint when yet.
“We have starting pitching prospects that are close, and some guys we like that are close, but we need more,” Daniels said. “I’m concern about our depth from a short-term standpoint. It’s not a secret. That plays a big role in determining, at least for us, when the time is right.”