The first round of managerial interviews in October 2018 didn’t produce the kind of candidate the Texas Rangers wanted. So, just when many thought the process was finished, the Rangers seemingly started over.
More candidates were interviewed, including two in Arizona during their pro-scouting meetings. The World Series would be decided before the Rangers were ready to make their most critical decision of the off-season.
There’s a reason for that: The candidate they would hire was coaching in the World Series, but they hired him as quickly as they could.
Chris Woodward became Rangers manager one year ago, Nov. 3, 2018. He came in oozing positivity, process and analytics, and was the same after 162 games as he was on his first day on the job.
The Rangers, though, are not the same on the one-year anniversary of Woodward’s hiring. They are better.
“We’ve come pretty far, just trying to make everything consistent from the top down,” Woodward said. “I feel like we’re doing a really good job of trying to accomplish that and hiring the right people.”
The messaging never changed through the season, which was one of Woodward’s goals. He constantly stressed improvement, but not as a drill sergeant would, and his positive tone was regularly noted by players.
It wasn’t just Woodward but his entire coaching staff.
Players might not have trusted Woodward, the assistants and the new data to start the season, but most seemed to have been converted into believers by the end.
“He’s so positive, but not in like a blowing-smoke, sugar-coated kind of way,” Daniels said. “He’s looks at things as an opportunity to get better. He’s consistent in that manner.”
Joey Gallo and Mike Minor took off from Opening Day. Lance Lynn made an early adjustment that stuck. Chris Martin found more velocity and became a trade chip. Jose Leclerc found his way after a troubling first month.
More work needs to be done with some players, notably Rougned Odor, Ronald Guzman, Nomar Mazara and Delino DeShields. But they were on the same page or turning to it as the season wound down.
“By the end of the year, I felt like the questions that were being asked in our daily hitters meetings or the information that guys were seeking out, it was awesome,” Daniels said.
Woodward deserves much of the credit as the centerpiece of what essentially was an overhaul to the way the Rangers looked at baseball.
Before the hire was made, the Rangers were committed to improving on the analytics and research and development fronts. They started pouring money into those areas and made a bevy of behind-the-scene hires designed to catch them up to the rest of the league.
Two new hires to the front office were made along similar lines.
“There was a ton of effort put into getting people on the same page and putting systems in place, and that never stops,” Daniels said.
The Rangers spoke briefly with Woodward, then the Los Angeles Dodgers’ third-base coach, early in the managerial search. They did so again on the first off day of the World Series, hanging up with the vibe that he might be their guy.
He came to Arlington in late October after the Dodgers were beaten by the Boston Red Sox, and that was it.
“Once he was fully in the process, he became the front-runner,” Daniels said. “We’d interviewed a half-dozen people before we talked to Chris. Once we talked to him, it became clear.”
Woodward was introduced as manager Nov. 5, dined that night in Dallas with seven players, and headed the next day to the general managers meetings near San Diego.
He didn’t slow down much, traveling back and forth from his home in the Phoenix area to check in on players as they went through their off-season programs and were introduced to data and information for the first time.
“There was a lot that went on from when I got the job, to hiring a staff, to implementing things at the beginning of the year,” Woodward said. “The growth that happened at the end of the year was pretty significant.
The Rangers enter the off-season with a better idea what each player brings and where they need to improve. That alone puts them ahead of last year and leaves them in a position to be more specific with each player.
The No. 1 goal is to start reducing strikeouts, and Woodward believes that will happen because players understand what is expect of them after a season of figuring out their process at the plate.
Pitchers will improve with experience, but also with execution.
“We’re at a better spot today to positively affect a number of players than we were a year ago,” Daniels said. “We still have some questions to answer, clearly, but in several cases we have a much clearer picture. “
Woodward, hired a year ago, led the charge.
“He’s got such a motor to keep pushing on the things he and we deem important,” Daniels said. “The constant challenging our players and holding them to high standards and teaching and explaining why. He never backs off.”