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GRADING JON DANIELS by Sam Merten Print E-mail
by    Tue, Sep 12, 2006, 05:56 pm

jon_daniels.jpgIt has been nearly a year since Jon Daniels was named as the Rangers’ GM, the youngest in baseball history. For a guy who was an intern for the Rockies in 2001, saying he has been in the baseball fast lane would be an understatement. Daniels wasted no time getting his feet wet trading Alfonso Soriano in early December. He went on to sign one of the most coveted free agent pitchers in Kevin Millwood, and later landed the most coveted slugger at the trade deadline. Despite all the moves, the Rangers were sitting in a familiar place at the end of August – out of contention.

While it’s not fair to blame it all on Daniels, the facts are the facts. The AL West was there for the taking this year, and Texas failed to take control of the division while the A’s and the Angels struggled during the first half of the season. Daniels won’t have time to sulk this offseason, as this will be one of the most important winters in Rangers’ history. He faces many key decisions, including the future of manager Buck Showalter and whether or not to re-sign key free agents such as Carlos Lee, Vicente Padilla, Gary Matthews, Adam Eaton and others. Suggestions for Daniels’ next moves will come in my next blog, but now it’s time to break down his first year deal by deal.

On December 7, Daniels traded Alfonso Soriano to the Washington Nationals for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge, and pitcher Armando Galaragga. (Trade completed Dec. 13)

After arriving as the key piece in the Alex Rodriguez trade with the Yankees, Soriano went on to post a .280-28-91-18 season in 2004 and a .268-36-104-30 season in 2005 for Texas. While his numbers were impressive, his defense made him fall out of favor with Rangers’ fans as he committed a total of 44 errors at second base in two seasons in Texas. That, along with his poor plate discipline and the fact that he was entering his free-agent year, compelled Daniels to aggressively pursue a deal for Soriano during the winter meetings in Dallas.

Fans were left to scratch their heads when he pulled the trigger on a deal with the Nationals for a decent outfielder, a bench player, and a marginal pitching prospect. Was there not a better deal on the table? If not, then Daniels isn’t the only GM who made a mistake on Soriano as he has had an incredible season hitting .290-44-89-37. He has also played much better than expected in the outfield leading the majors in outfield assists with 19. Throw in a career-high 57 walks, and you have a legit MVP-caliber player.

The Rangers got a .222-15-44 season from Brad Wilkerson, who was touted as an on-base machine. His .306 OBP is pathetic and 116 strikeouts are too many for 95 games. Shoulder surgery has him out for the rest of the year, which is a blessing for Texas. Sledge was quickly moved along in a later deal to San Diego, and Galaragga was roughed up at Double-A Frisco with a 1-6 record and 5.49 ERA in nine starts.

Daniels earns a D on this move. It’s really hard to believe that this was the best deal out there, but even if it was, he didn’t HAVE to deal him. Sure, it was time to give Kinsler a shot at second base, but why didn’t Daniels force Soriano to the outfield? He was resistant to make the move in D.C., but he eventually did so and hasn’t made a peep about it all year.

On December 12, Daniels traded pitcher Ricardo Rodriguez to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Vicente Padilla. (Trade completed Dec. 19)

Phillies’ GM Pat Gillick began the offseason by claiming that the Phillies’ pitching wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs. That prediction may or may not come true as the Phillies are in the Wild Card hunt, but he certainly made his staff worse when he dealt Padilla for Rodriguez, who was later released by Philadelphia.

Next to Kevin Millwood, Padilla has easily been the Rangers’ second-best starter. He’s much more suited to be a third or fourth guy in the rotation, but anyway you look at it, his 13 wins and 138 K are a steal for a pitcher Texas gave up on and the Phillies quickly released. Daniels gets a solid A and a smiley face for this one.

On December 20, Daniels traded pitcher Chris Young, outfielder Terrmel Sledge, and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the San Diego Padres for pitcher Adam Eaton, reliever Akinori Otsuka, and catcher Ben Killian. (Trade completed Jan. 4)

For years the Rangers have tried to develop young pitching. After a strong rookie season last year, Highland Park’s Chris Young looked to be part of the rotation for years to come. The thought of trading a 27-year-old local boy seemed like impossibility. So when Daniels dealt Young along with former first-round pick Adrian Gonzalez to the Padres for a mediocre pitcher entering his free-agent year, a 34-year-old setup man, and a low-level prospect, Rangers’ nation collectively held their hands out screaming "huh?"

Now before you convince me that Otsuka saved the season for Texas, I’ll beg to differ. Yes, he has had a terrific year saving 31 games and posting a 2.06 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, but the emergence of Otsuka along with Jonathan Papelbon, J.J. Putz, and Chris Ray shows that closers aren’t as hard to find as they used to be. I’ll also disagree with those who would say that any evaluation on Eaton is unfair because of his injury. The fact is that Eaton did have finger problems last year and needed finger surgery before the season even began. The Padres were desperate to deal Eaton because he had fallen out of favor with manager Bruce Bochy, and he’s been shaky in his return from the DL going 5-4 with a 4.93 ERA.

Young is having a strong sophomore campaign posting a 3.71 ERA with 141 K in 152.2 IP. He’s also making a measly $500,000 this season and will earn $600,000 next year. Adrian Gonzalez has played excellent defense and his .287-21-65 numbers are very good considering he plays in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. Terrmel Sledge’s minor league stats are misleading. His .311-24-73 season in Triple-A looks solid, but at 29 years old, Sledge’s days as a prospect are over.

I’m tempted to give Daniels a failing grade on this one based on the rule that you don’t trade a good young pitcher for anything short of an ace. However, Otsuka has been very good and allowed him to trade Francisco Cordero in a deal that turned out well for Texas. Daniels scores a C-minus for this one.

On December 29, Daniels signed pitcher Kevin Millwood to a five-year contract worth $60 million.

millwood_kevin_vt.jpgIn an offseason that offered little in the way of starting pitching, Millwood was clearly the best available. He had just led the AL in ERA (2.86), and had two 18-win seasons under his belt (1999, 2002). Despite the organization’s recent nightmare that was Chan Ho Park and his contract, Daniels was aggressive and inked him to a high-dollar multiyear deal. Millwood has been just about as good as anyone would have expected so far, winning 14 games with a 4.49 ERA and 129 K in 184.1 IP.

One can only imagine how his numbers would look if he didn’t pitch at Ameriquest Field, a place where few pitchers succeed. He is 6-6 at home with a 5.38 ERA, as opposed to 8-3 with a 3.64 ERA on the road. When you look at the next two biggest signings of starters last year, A.J. Burnett (five years, $55 million, 7-6 record, 4.22 ERA) and Jarrod Washburn (four years, $35.5 million, 8-13 record, 4.49 ERA), you see that Millwood was the right choice. A risky move, but one that had to be done to get some pitching here. Good job Daniels, chalk up another A.

On March 31, Daniels traded pitcher Juan Dominguez to the Oakland Athletics for pitchers John Koronka and John Rheinecker.

Dominguez was a headache with his poor attitude and inconsistent pitching, and Daniels set his sights on getting him out of the organization before the season began. Not only was he able to dump Dominguez just before the season opener, but he acquired two young lefties in return. Both Koronka (7-7, 5.69 ERA, 125 IP, 61 K) and Rheinecker (4-5, 5.94 ERA, 66.2 IP, 23 K) were given early looks in the rotation with poor results. However, Dominguez was equally disappointing (5-10, 5.85 ERA, 87.2 IP, 48 K) in Triple-A. Despite the struggles of both pitchers, Daniels deserves credit for trading someone that few teams wanted for two young pitchers. He would have easily earned another A for this one had at least one of them provided some consistency and stayed in the rotation, but he still gets a B for a nice effort.

On April 1, Daniels traded outfielder David Dellucci to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Robinson Tejeda and outfielder Jake Blalock.

In a recent interview with talk show host Norm Hitzges (also a blogger for Dallas Blog), Rangers’ owner Tom Hicks said, "We need to be mentally tougher. I think we missed David Dellucci this year. I think that leadership in the clubhouse part is really important, and we didn't have that after he left."

With that said, the Rangers had a logjam in the outfield at the beginning of the season. When you are offered a 24-year-old pitcher who has had success in the big leagues (4-3, 3.57 ERA in 2005) for a role player in the last year of his contract, you do the deal. Now Tejeda has certainly had his ups and downs this year (4-3, 5.82 ERA), but he may prove more valuable if he is taken out of the rotation and turned into a 7th - or 8th - inning guy next year. Did the Rangers miss Dellucci (.292-12-36) and his leadership? Perhaps, but something tells me he wouldn’t have made the difference. The only way the Rangers are going to get better is to continue to acquire pitching. Another nice job here by Daniels, and another B for his report card.

On May 11, Daniels traded pitcher John Hudgins and outfielder Vincent Sinisi to the Padres for outfielder Freddy Guzman and pitcher Cesar Rojas.

Hudgins is certainly not a top-level pitching prospect, but he did manage to put together a strong year in the minors combining for a 6-5 record, 3.63 ERA, 76.2 IP, and 78 K. Sinisi was a disaster (.270-7-64), and Rojas pitched in only two games. The Rangers interest here was in speedster Freddy Guzman (.279-3-28-42) knowing that Gary Matthews was headed into free agency this winter. Guzman certainly does have impressive speed and is an above-average defender in center field, but it is hard to see him as anything other than a solid bench player. It’s hard to project how successful Hudgins will be, but an organization looking for pitching shouldn’t be in the business of trading it. Daniels gets a C for this one.

On May 31, Daniels traded first baseman/outfielder Phil Nevin and cash to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Jerry Hairston.

Nevin was acquired in a swap of salary nightmares when he was traded by San Diego for Chan Ho Park. He was as disappointing here as he was for the Padres, so when the Cubs were looking for a replacement for Derrek Lee, a deal was struck for Hairston, who happens to be best friends with Gary Matthews. Perhaps Hairston’s presence helped Matthews make the All-Star team, but if so, he has contributed absolutely nothing else. With the Cubs, Hairston was terrible (.207-0-4 in 82 AB), and he has done nothing more here (.200-0-6 in 80 AB). Meanwhile, Nevin played well for Chicago (.274-12-33) and was later traded to the Twins. If Daniels couldn’t get anything better than Hairston, he should have just held on to Nevin and tried to deal him closer to the trade deadline. Daniels gets an F for this one.

On July 28, Daniels traded relievers Francisco Cordero and Julian Cordero and outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielders Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz.

Daniels was as busy as anyone at the trade deadline, and made the first big splash landing Carlos Lee. Lee has been somewhat disappointing as his numbers here (.306-4-20 in 157 AB) have been a far cry from those he posted for the Brewers (.286-28-81 in 388 AB). Francisco Cordero lost the job as Rangers’ closer early in the season (April 27) and had some struggles as a setup man. Of course he has done the opposite in Milwaukee, taking the closer’s job from Derrick Turnbow, saving 11 games and posting a microscopic 0.54 ERA. Judging by this alone, the deal didn’t work out so well for Texas. However, the key part of the deal is landing outfielder Nelson Cruz who had a terrific year in Triple-A (.302-20-73-17), and has looked impressive at times in the big leagues (.203-4-13 in 59 AB) recently hitting two homers against Oakland. Daniels also unloaded Nix (.299-1-16 with MIL), who had not been able to stay healthy or consistent, and Mench (.218-1-14 with MIL), who was never going to live up to the expectations for him. Even if Daniels is unable to resign Lee, he took a chance to improve his team short term, even though it hasn’t worked out. He also helped the team long term by getting Cruz and unloaded some organizational dead weight. Daniels gets an A-minus here.

On July 31, Daniels traded reliever Jesse Chavez to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Kip Wells.

Trading for Houston native and Baylor graduate Kip Wells was risky, as he was having a poor and injury-riddled year for Pittsburgh. Even though Wells sprained his left foot after only two starts and is done for the year, Chavez wasn’t much to part with for a veteran starter who could have helped fill a hole in the rotation. It would have been nice to get at least a few more starts from Wells, but again, you have to give Daniels points for trying. Grade: B.

On July 31, Daniels traded reliever Jose Diaz to the Kansas City Royals for designated hitter Matt Stairs.

Jose Diaz has been less than effective (2-3, 5.40 ERA) since joining the Royals’ Triple-A club, but that isn’t the point here. Why in the world would you trade anyone for a player like Stairs (.205-2-9 since joining TEX), who is simply taking at bats from other players? This one was a fairly insignificant deal and Stairs will be gone to free agency, but I fail to see the logic on this one. Grade: F.

On August 30, Daniels traded catcher Mike Nickeas to the New York Mets for outfielder Victor Diaz.

Nickeas (.259-2-24) and Diaz (.230-8-40) aren’t likely to become much of anything for either team, as this was an exchange of mid-level prospects. However, Diaz has shown some interesting power potential (.292-24-94 in Triple-A in 2004) and could be a power bat off the bench for the Rangers next year. Again, not a very significant deal in the grand scheme of things. Grade: B.

Final Grades:

Daniels ended up with two As, an A-minus, four Bs, a C, a C-minus, a D, and two Fs. Final grade: C.

I’ll leave you with a statement Daniels told the Dallas Morning News.

"There's a lot I'm proud of this year, but at the end of the day, I take accountability if we come up short of our goals."

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