Giving Jon Daniels his Much Deserved Credit

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Jul 31, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels speaks to media before the game between the Rangers and the San Francisco Giants at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Rangers were absolutely abysmal last year, garnering the worst record in the AL, and in no way looking like a postseason team. Rangers GM Jon Daniels had two options, and neither looked like a winning situation. He could blow up the team and try to rebuild it over the course of a couple of years. Or he could risk it and try to make some moves to place themselves atop the competitive AL West. If you know anything about Jon Daniels, it’s that there wasn’t really a choice. Daniels doesn’t rebuild, he trusted his work and process, and he knew he had something with this bunch. So he stuck it out, made some minor moves, and boy has it paid off.

Many Rangers analysts, including myself, thought that once Nolan Ryan left, this organization was going to be in a world of hurt. He left in 2013 and the Rangers followed that up with an awfully forgettable season. So the pressure was on for Jon Daniels, he needed to prove himself, and he did all that and more with this seasons job.

To truly appreciate the job Daniels has done in building this franchise, you have to go a couple of years back.

November 20th, 2013 was the day, when the Detroit Tigers and the Texas Rangers made a blockbuster move. This move sent two of baseball’s premier players to different organizations, and it was the type of move that you rarely see today. Prince Fielder was headed to the Rangers, and Ian Kinsler was headed to Detroit. It was a risky move, but Daniels realized something. He had at the time a young stud in Jurickson Profar sitting behind Ian Kinsler, waiting to burst onto the MLB scene and make his name known. The Rangers had a hole, they needed a power bat, and he brought in a premier slugger, someone who theoretically should absolutely mash in the Rangers ballpark with the jet stream headed out to right center.

Things didn’t work out at all last year as planned, and many called this trade an absolute dud for the Rangers after just one year. Kinsler went on to be an All-Star in 2014, and Fielder didn’t even make it through May before he needed season ending neck surgery. Profar wasn’t working out either, as he needed surgery and still to this day hasn’t made it back to the big leagues. The Rangers were left with uncertainty at both second base and now first, and were seeing their previous second basemen turn in an All-star year.

Fast forward to 2015, times have changed now, and Daniels patience has paid dividends. Fielder is back to the player they thought they were getting, hitting .309 with 23 HRs and 96 RBIs. More importantly, he has brought a calming presence to the clubhouse, and showed constant professionalism to the younger guys.

What about that glaring hole at second base that Kinsler left, how is that going? It’s going exceptionally well for the Rangers, as Rougned Odor has stepped in incredibly nicely. The trademark to a good GM is depth and Daniels built that here. When Profar went down, most organizations don’t have the depth to have another rising prospect to fill right in. The Rangers aren’t most organizations, at least not under the Daniels regime, and the Rangers had their guy to fill right in.

Another big move that Jon Daniels made was going out and getting Shin Soo Choo, an on base machine from the left side of the dish. In 2013 he had an out of this world .423 OBP for the Cleveland Indians, a mark that is simply unheard of in this day in age. But he struggled in 2014 for the Rangers, not at all living up to the expectations that his big contract brought. Rangers fans were incredibly upset, and felt that they were spending their money in the wrong places.

Daniels faith never wavered in the Korean, and that faith is being repaid in 2015. Choo is getting on base at an impressive rate, tallying an on base percentage of .374 for the season. But those numbers don’t tell half the story; the real story is his numbers after the All-Star break. Since the All-Star break, Choo has a batting average of .343 and a OBP of .457! That is what Daniels saw, that is what he knew Choo could be in this Rangers lineup. He’s getting on base for the big boys behind him, just as Daniels drew it up a couple of years back.

Everyone knows that you can’t be a great GM by just attacking the free agent market, not for a relatively smaller market like the Rangers at least. So Daniels has built this team off of some unconventional ways. Daniels plucked speedster Delino DeShields from the Houston Astros in the rule 5 draft, a move that has absolutely paid huge dividends. When the Rangers got him, he looked to be nothing more than a guy to add some depth to this team. But Leonys Martin was terrible in 2015, opening the door for DeShields to get some playing time. He not only took the opportunity, but he ran with it and he hasn’t turned back since.

Then you have the waiver wire pick up of Shawn Tolleson back in 2013, a move that can’t be overlooked. Tolleson has been absolutely huge for the Rangers, converting 35 of his 37 save opportunities.

The quality that every great GM has is the ability to tweak his roster mid-season to get them over the hump. Daniels has pushed all the right buttons this season, understanding what his team needs and going out in getting it.

Daniels first act of in season brilliance was going out and getting someone who absolutely no MLB organization wanted, and that was former Ranger Josh Hamilton. Hamilton had absolutely trashed the Rangers fan base, leaving them for an AL West rival and telling the media that Arlington isn’t a baseball town. But he was becoming a problem for the Angels, and the Angels desperately wanted him out of there.

Daniels doesn’t care about any baggage, he knows that he has a manager in Jeff Banister who will take care of that. Daniels wants to win, and he knew that Hamilton could help him do that. So Daniels went out and got him, for almost nothing, and even has the Angels paying for most of his contract. So you can’t tell me Daniels didn’t have a little smirk when he saw his much questioned acquisition making all sorts of plays to lock up a postseason berth. Hamilton smashed a double, made a sensational catch to keep the Angels from a big inning, and drove in an insurance run to let the Rangers breathe easy. Hamilton has been a productive player for the Rangers all season, and Daniels was the only GM who saw that Hamilton had more left in him.

Daniels then accessed the situation at the trade deadline, and realized something that no one else in the MLB did. He had the utmost faith in his ball club, and realized that his club was just an ace away from making a serious run. So he went out and got the big fish at the deadline, a veteran left hander who has some serious post-season experience. Cole Hamels was a Ranger, in a move many believed was to set them up for a run in 2016, but won’t do much for them in 2015. But here the Rangers are, in the playoffs in 2015, and Hamels is a big reason why.

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Hamels was a big move, but people often forget that he wasn’t the only one who left Philadelphia with him. Jake Diekman came over and has given Banister a left-handed specialist, a flamethrower from the pen who is absolutely lethal against lefties. Daniels also blustered the bullpen with the addition of Sam Dyson, the new setup man. Dyson is another power arm that they got from the Marlins, and his 1.23 ERA as a Ranger has helped make this Rangers bullpen go from a weakness to a strength.

The trade deadline passes, and the Rangers look to be done making improvements to their team. But Daniels wasn’t satisfied; he knew he needed something else to propel this team to the finish line. Daniels went out and made another sneaky good move, bringing back fan favorite Mike Napoli. The Red Sox had no business keeping him, his knees were shot and the Red Sox were going nowhere. Daniels knew this, knew he would fit into the clubhouse because of his two-year stint with the Rangers, and got him for cheap. Since he has become a Ranger, he is hitting .306 with a OBP of .412, while slugging 5 HRs and 12 RBIs.

All these moves have led up to this, a postseason spot and a game away from becoming AL West champions. It’s been a journey for Jon Daniels, but he has been absolutely masterful with constructing this ball club. This team has gone from worst to first in the AL West, a division that certainly isn’t a slouch. We chronicled earlier in the year about how Jeff Banister deserves AL Manager of the year, but I think it is as clear that Daniels deserves AL GM of the year.

The Rangers are headed to the baseball playoffs for just the seventh time in franchise history, and Mr. Daniels and his front office are a major reason why.

Next: The Texas Rangers are Headed to the Postseason

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