Texas Rangers

Rangers GM Jon Daniels finally says about his team what most everyone else has known

Jon Daniels avoids the word like it is oncoming traffic, but the GM of the Texas Rangers finally admits, “A lot of the things we are doing is rebuilding.”

Best to own these things rather than to rely on a handful of synonyms, such as his preferred descriptor, “transitioning.”

“The reason I don’t like it is because it’s an excuse,” he said in his office on Monday morning in Surprise. “I don’t have a label for it. What I don’t want to communicate either internally or externally is that we are kicking the can down the road; that we are creating an environment where there is no sense of urgency to improve.”

Daniels, 41, is entering his 14th season as the general manager of the Rangers.

“That is insane,” he said.

Agreed. Not many people in his chair last this long. Whatever you think of his abilities as a GM, the man has staying power.

From the front office structure down to the lowest level of A ball, the Rangers are in a full rebuild. That much isn’t the surprise. The shocker is that the same man has been granted the chance to rebuild the same organization twice in his tenure.

“Not too many people get to build twice in one place. I don’t take that for granted,” he said. “Not too many organizations get to build it twice in the same spot. Guys move on and do it somewhere else. It’s pretty unique.”

Star-Telegram: You basically re-made your entire front office in the last 12 months. Why?

Jon Daniels: Yeah, we did. Go back to May of last year and a handful of us had this big white board where we wrote down everything we do, and everything we want to do or need to do. Every function. Some mundane. Some high end. Not what we are doing today but what we feel like we need to do moving forward.

How are we structured today, and then, like a utopian state, and we’re an expansion franchise that doesn’t have to play for three years, how would we structure it? We have changed since 2006-’07, but not dramatically. Not like this. We are not an expansion franchise and it’s not like when Colorado, and Arizona or Miami and they formed three years before they fielded a team.

How do we move towards that with our current structure and what we want to add and keep?

What caused you to do that?

It was not one thing. It was trying to be realistic and open-minded and take a critical view of ourselves. I think you need to do that on a regular basis. When you are building, your focus is long term. It’s a process, and what you want this to look like for five, 10, 15 years. And then you boil it down, and something I wish we would have done differently, when you are winning, the challenge is not to change that mindset.

In some instances, you push some chips in, when you have a chance to win. When you have a chance to win, you have to go. It’s hard. You can’t take it for granted. At the same time I don’t think you change your long-term process and mindset.

Did you change that?

I think so. You focus on what’s in front of you, especially when it’s your first time (winning). Even if Adam Eaton was the best pitcher in the game it was not the right time for us to make that trade (the team traded for pitcher Eaton in 2006); our big league club wasn’t ready for it. It was a one-off move. Even if Adam had been healthy, we were not one piece away.

The second lesson is even when it’s go-time, you have to stay focused in a lot of areas. That’s how you avoid the peaks and valleys and you stay consistent and competitive and good for an extended period.

When you were winning, did you lose sight of the five and six years down the road?

Uhhh ... in some ways, yeah. Not so much ... we were focused on scouting and development and the value of young players. We never lost that. We traded some of them. In the end, you need to innovate and stay on top of cutting edge and looking for competitive advantages; that’s an area we could have done better.

Were you behind?

Yeah, in some areas.

You have mentioned that you had to be better in research and development. Is it related to player development?

That’s where I felt like, on the player development side, the industry has made such enormous gains in the last few years. I don’t think 29 other teams were ahead of us, but I think five or six clubs clearly were. You see it in the standings. Those clubs have made huge strides and gains. That’s an area we can improve on. Some of the things on R&D side we have done well, but the gains in that area are so fast and furious you have to stay on top of it.

Every team that wins eventually goes through a lull.

Except the Patriots.

You don’t have Tom Brady. How long can this last before you start seeing some real gains to prove that what you are doing is right?

We have talked about a timeline internally, and I don’t totally want to lay it out. ... The time line piece for me? We sat here in 2007, and we thought 2011. Or 2012. In 2009, we won 87 games and if there was a second wild-card I think we would have won the second wild-card. In 2010, we go to the World Series.

I don’t see a ton of value in laying out a timeline when the best laid plans are ... I don’t want to suggest that no sense of urgency like we have time. I want our people to be pushing.

After you signed Shin Soo Choo to a seven-year contract in 2013, you said we have to make sure your minor leaguers are developing and can replace the older veterans so you can sustain a good club. Did you do that effectively?

Not enough. Not well enough, no. Some areas, yes. Some of it is, you look at the rankings of different publications (of prospects). Baseball America has us 25th and Baseball Prospectus has us ninth. My sense is we are somewhere in between. Here today, are we self sufficient to replace all of our pieces? No, we’re not. We will be. I think we have some pitchers who are ready to step in this year. Some outfielders the year after that.

A lot of our talent is young. I think there is such a discrepancy between those rankings, is they are young. They are high-end talent and that creates a lot of variability. Their potential outcomes are pretty broad.

You have made no major contract additions for several years now. Has that been a JD decision or an organizational decision?

Two things, the lesson we talked about before; it has to be the right time and the right fit where the club is at. I really have not felt like it’s been the right time.

You have been in a job most people don’t last this long. How would you say you have done?

I would say there are a lot of things I am proud of, and a lot of things I want to get better at. You ask me in Oct. 2005, you can go to the World Series a couple of times and postseason X times, would that be a success? I would have said yes. Absolutely. Are we satisfied? No.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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