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Grading Jon Daniels: Year 2 Print E-mail
by Sam Merten    Mon, Nov 19, 2007, 08:04 PM

jon_daniels5.jpgWhen Rangers’ owner Tom Hicks gave GM Jon Daniels a contract extension June 19 for the 2009 season, I ripped Hicks for rewarding Daniels despite no evidence to support the move. The Rangers were in last place with a 26-43 record, and Daniels was about to face important moves including dealing Mark Teixeira and Eric Gagne.

At the press conference, Hicks said Daniels was “going to get better every year.” While I still disagree with the timing of Hicks’ decision, Daniels rebounded from a rough first year when he traded away Alfonso Soriano for Brad Wilkerson and dealt Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez for Adam Eaton and Akinora Otsuka.

I gave Daniels a report card for his first season and he earned a C overall. As I said in that story, his second year as GM was going to include one of the most important winters in Rangers’ history. Daniels had to decide on the future of manager Buck Showalter and he had tough decisions to make regarding several free agents. In addition, the contracts of Michael Young and Mark Teixeira expiring after the 2008 season were issues that needed to be addressed.

Daniels faces another important offseason as he enters his third year as GM. Texas finished the season with a 75-87 record, which was good for last place and 19 games back in the West. After three-straight seasons in third place, falling back into last was not what this franchise needed.

A-Rod opting out of his contract netted the Rangers $21.3 million over the next three seasons, and losing the contracts of Mark Teixeira, Eric Gagne and Kenny Lofton should give Daniels significant payroll flexibility. The problem is the free-agent market isn’t loaded, especially with Carlos Zambrano, Mark Buehrle, Ichiro Suzuki and Eric Byrnes re-signing during the season. Daniels will have to be smart.

As I did last year, I’ll follow this up with some suggestions for Daniels. But for now, it’s time to break down Year 2 of Daniels’ regime as GM.

On Oct. 5, Daniels fired Buck Showalter.

After winning the division in 1999, the Rangers followed with three-consecutive seasons in the AL West cellar. Showalter took over in 2003 and led Texas to another last-place finish with a 71-91 record.

The next year, Showalter won the AL Manager of the Year Award after a surprising 89-73 season. The team finished in third place, but the 89 wins were good for the fourth most in the history of the franchise.

Showalter followed his ’04 success with disappointing seasons in ’05 (79-83) and ’06 (80-82) -- two more third-place finishes.

Showalter’s strict managerial style wasn’t a good fit for a young team trying to grow together. He was able to catch lightning in a bottle in ’04, but the next two seasons were filled with more downs than ups.

It was time for Showalter to go. Daniels did the right thing by getting him outta here. Grade: A

On Nov. 6, Daniels signed Ron Washington to a two-year contract with options for ’09 and ’10. On Aug. 30, Daniels exercised Washington’s 2009 contract option.

The hiring of Ron Washington was a mystery to me when it happened, and I still have a hard time understanding Daniels’ thinking on this one.

My main problem with how Daniels handled the managerial vacancy was he didn’t interview one candidate with previous managerial experience despite the availability of Bruce Bochy, Joe Girardi, Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella.

He then settled for Washington, who spent 11 years in Oakland, yet he wasn’t given the manager job there despite an opening after the firing of Ken Macha.

Washington’s first two months in Texas were a disaster as the team finished May with a 19-35 record. After the terrible start, Washington was able to lead the team to a 56-52 finish. However, Texas ended the year in last place and 19 games back of the Angels.

It was only his first year and Washington didn’t have the best roster to manage, but I was left unimpressed. When Daniels extended him through 2009, I was shocked. Why not see what he does in ’08 and then decide? What was the hurry?

By all accounts, Washington is a great guy and could turn into a great manager. I’ll be cheering for his success, but I can’t give Daniels any better than a C on this one. I’m still left wondering why Daniels didn’t interview someone with experience and why he exercised the option on his contract for ‘09.

On Nov. 21, Daniels signed Frank Catalanotto to a three-year, $13.5 million contract.

This was Daniels’ first dip into the free-agent market, signing Frank Catalanotto to split time at DH and the outfield. My initial reaction was, “I don’t get it.”

I’m still trying to figure it out.

Here’s what I don’t get. I said the Rangers should stay away from Mark DeRosa because he was likely to be overpaid after his breakout season with Texas. However, DeRosa wasn’t overpaid. In fact, he got a three-year, $13 million contract from the Cubs.

So the question quickly became if DeRosa could have been had for the same price, then why sign Catalanotto? DeRosa has much more versatility and would have been able to take over at third base when Hank Blalock was lost to injury. Sure, Catalanotto is left handed but so what? If Texas wanted a lefty to do that job, then why not David Dellucci? Dellucci was a positive influence in the clubhouse and signed for $11.5 million over three years in Cleveland.

DeRosa proved to be the best buy, hitting .293 with 10 homers and 72 RBI. Dellucci struggled, hitting just .230 with two home runs and 20 RBI in 56 games. Catalanotto battled injuries on his way to hitting .260 with 11 homers and 44 RBI in 103 games. He was brought in because he is typically a decent on-base percentage guy, but his .337 OBP was his lowest since 1999.

In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t affect the ’07 season much one way or the other. The best move would have been not to sign any of the three. Looking forward, it’s hard to see how any of them make sense for ’08 or ’09.

Therefore, I gotta give a D to Daniels because 1) the move shouldn’t have been made in the first place and 2) if you were going to spend that kind of money, I’d rather it be spent on someone that is either a super utility player like DeRosa or a great clubhouse presence like Dellucci.  

On Dec. 8, Daniels re-signed Vicente Padilla to a three-year, $33.5 million contract.

I urged Daniels to bring back Padilla and despite his poor performance this season (6-10, 5.76 ERA, 120.1 IP, 71 K), it was still a smart move.

Padilla was coming off a solid ’06 season where he won 15 games with a 4.50 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 200 innings. Pitching like that doesn’t come cheap. Just watch what Carlos Silva (13-14, 4.19 ERA, 202 IP, 89 K) will get this offseason. He’ll get a big deal because teams are so desperate for starting pitching.

Padilla is still only 30 years old and you gotta love his demeanor on the mound. I’m guessing he’ll bounce back with a couple solid seasons to finish out the contract. If not, it was simply a deal that had to be done. This team is desperate for pitching and can’t afford to let 15-game winners walk away. Daniels earns a B-plus on this one and only Padilla’s performance kept him from getting an A.

On Dec. 8, Daniels signed Marlon Byrd to a one-year, $550,000 contract.

It’s hard to give Daniels too much credit on this one. Sometimes GMs sign players with the slim hope that they can simply contribute at some point to the big-league club. This was the case when Daniels signed Byrd.

Byrd, previously a highly-regarded Phillies prospect and then a failure with the Washington Nationals, wasn’t guaranteed a spot on the Rangers when he signed. In fact, Byrd spent the beginning of the season at Triple-A Oklahoma, where he hit .358-6-32 in 44 games before getting called up May 26.

Byrd then hit .307 with 10 homers and 70 RBI in 109 games for Texas. Even though Daniels simply lucked out on this one, I’ll give him an A. Byrd was one of the very few bright spots in a bad season for the Rangers.

On Dec. 12, Daniels signed Kenny Lofton to a one-year, $6 million contract. On July 27, Daniels traded Lofton to Cleveland for Max Ramirez.

I absolutely love deals like this -- signing a solid veteran player for a reasonable amount for only one year. In this case, Daniels knew Texas had a need in center field and not only could Lofton fill that need, but if the Rangers were out of the race at the trade deadline, then he would be able to swap Lofton to a contender.

Before Lofton was dealt, he hit .303 with seven home runs and 21 stolen bases in 84 games. His defense could have been better, but for a 40-year-old player, I’d say he did pretty well.

So the trade deadline approached and Daniels put Lofton on the market, partly because Byrd emerged and mostly because his contract was up at the end of the season. He found a buyer and landed prospect Max Ramirez, who was obtained from the Braves for closer Bob Wickman at the deadline in 2006.

Ramirez finished the year in Class-A with a .304 average, 16 home runs and 82 RBI. You can get to know more about him in my story from when the deal was struck, but he is an intriguing prospect and should start the season at Double-A Frisco in 2008.

I’ll give Daniels an A for this move and say the same thing I said when he first made the trade.

No matter how good Ramirez turns out to be, Daniels deserves credit for getting a young player with some upside for a 40-year-old outfielder with an expiring contract.

As a side note, Lofton was a virtual non-factor for Cleveland, hitting .283-0-15-2 SB in 52 games with the Indians.

On Dec. 19, Daniels signed Eric Gagne to a one-year, $6 million contract. On July 31, Daniels traded Gagne and cash to Boston for Kason Gabbard, David Murphy and Engel Beltre.

Did I mention how much I love deals like this? Gagne was a little different as he was coming off a major injury, but the premise was still the same -- sign a veteran player to a reasonable one-year contract.

Gagne pitched surprisingly well for Texas, posting a 2.16 ERA and saving 16 games in 34 appearances. So with an expiring contract, he too was put on the trading block at the trade deadline.

The Red Sox, looking to bolster their bullpen and keep him from going to another AL contender, offered up Kason Gabbard, David Murphy and Engel Beltre for Gagne.

Gabbard was 4-0 with a 3.73 ERA in seven starts for Boston. Unfortunately, he was just 2-1 with a 5.58 ERA in eight starts for Texas, but he is a southpaw that likes to get ground-ball outs. He could fit in well at the bottom of the rotation or become a solid reliever.

Murphy kinda has “fourth outfielder” written all over him, but he played really well in 103 at-bats with the Rangers, hitting .340 with two homers and 14 RBI. I still think he’ll be a fourth outfielder, but it looks like he’ll be a really solid one.

The big unknown in this was Beltre. He’s so freggin’ young as he turned just 18 on Nov. 1. Beltre hit .310-4-15-3 SB in 22 games with the AZL Rangers in the rookie league, and he has been drawing comparisons to Barry Bonds.

Here is what David Srinivasan, who writes about the minors for ESPN.com, wrote about Beltre Sept. 20.

“As the scouts say, he's a player you can dream about. He's not even 18 yet, and scouts are already telling Baseball America that the kid compares favorably with Barry Bonds and Darryl Strawberry. That sounds insane, but there is some merit to it. Beltre has speed, power and a good throwing arm.”

“If his plate discipline comes around, he could become one of the top five or six prospects in the game.”

Like Lofton, Gagne was a non-factor as he posted a 6.75 ERA in 20 games after the trade and earned a loss in the postseason against Cleveland. But even had Gagne been awesome, Daniels gets another A on his report card for this move. Getting a decent left-handed pitcher, a quality fourth outfielder and a young prospect with huge potential for a player with an expiring contract was a coup for this organization.

On Dec. 23, Daniels traded John Danks, Nick Masset and Jacob Rasner to the Chicago White Sox for Brandon McCarthy and David Paisano.

I hated this trade from the beginning and no matter how good McCarthy or Danks end up being, I’ll always hate the premise of what Daniels did.

First of all, let’s look back to the winter of 2005 when Daniels just began as Rangers’ GM. There was rampant talk about the Marlins dealing their young ace, Josh Beckett, along with a salary dump, Mike Lowell. The Rangers were touted as the frontrunners with a package headed by Hank Blalock and prospects.

However, as the days wore on, Daniels balked at dealing John Danks, whom Florida really wanted in the deal along with Blalock. While Daniels was playing tough to get, Florida shopped Beckett and Lowell around and eventually found a fit with the Red Sox, obtaining Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez.

Looking back at it now, clearly the deal with Boston was much better. Sanchez threw a no-hitter in his rookie season and Ramirez has emerged as one of the best players in baseball. Yet if Daniels would have been willing to trade Danks, I think a deal would have been done before Boston was in the mix.

Clearly getting Beckett and Lowell would have been huge for this organization, but I’m not bringing it up to wonder what could have been. My point here is that Daniels held Danks in such high regard that he refused to part with him when Josh Beckett was on the table. Then, a little more than one year after the Beckett trade, he dealt Danks for Brandon McCarthy, who had accomplished NADA in the major leagues.

Daniels’ justification was that he felt McCarthy was ready for the rotation and Danks wasn’t, but Danks started the season in Chicago’s rotation. Danks struggled as he went 6-13 with a 5.50 ERA, 109 strikeouts and a 1.54 WHIP in 139 innings, but McCarthy battled injuries and went 5-10 with a 4.87 ERA, 59 strikeouts and a 1.56 WHIP in 101.2 innings.

As for the rest of the players in the deal, they struggled too. Nick Masset posted a 7.09 ERA and 1.98 WHIP for the White Sox and Jacob Rasner went 7-11 with a 6.83 ERA and 1.78 WHIP in 28 starts in the minors. David Paisano hit .203-3-20-20 SB in 88 minor-league games.

Time will tell if Danks or McCarthy is better long term. Personally, I think Danks will turn out to be pretty good. I’m not so sure about McCarthy.

I’m giving Daniels an F on this trade, but not because I believe Danks will be better. He earns it for dealing a prospect that he deemed too valuable to include in a trade for Josh Beckett for an unproven player who didn’t prove to be any more ready for the majors than Danks.

On Jan. 30, Daniels signed Sammy Sosa to a one-year, $500,000 contract.

When Daniels signed Sosa, how many people would have guessed he’d lead the team in home runs and drive in 92 runs? Not many. Certainly not me.

This was a risky move, and his 21 homers did lead the Rangers and his 92 RBI were second only to Michael Young. Sosa also joined Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays as the only players to hit 600 home runs. He managed just a .252 average and struck out 112 times in 412 at-bats, but for 500k, he was a steal.

I’ll give Daniels an A-minus on this one. He loses some points for not finding a taker for Sosa at the trade deadline. Someone had to at least have been willing to trade some equipment for this guy. Right?

On March 2, Daniels signed Michael Young to a five-year, $80 million contract extension.

When Daniels inked Young to this extension, I was happy Young was going to be kept. With Teixeira’s contract expiring at the end of ’08, I wondered if it would hurt the Rangers chances of keeping Tex here. However, I thought the money seemed appropriate and my opinion of keeping Teixeira changed as the season progressed.

I’ll talk more about Tex in a second. As for Young, even though he struggled at the beginning of the season and didn’t hit for power all year, he still hit .315 with nine homers, 94 RBI and 13 steals. Young also posted his fifth-straight season with more than 200 hits and his fourth-straight season with more than 90 RBI.

What was especially savvy by Daniels was his ability to keep Young’s price low for 2008 at only $4 million. Usually when extensions like this are signed, the player makes the team forfeit any options, such as the team’s $4 million option on Young for the upcoming season. However, Daniels was able to get the extension started in 2009, and it ends in 2013 when Young will be about to turn 37.

This gives Texas an All-Star shortstop for the next six years and with the departure of Teixeira, it kept the other big-name player in Arlington. A smart, proactive move by Daniels. Grade: A

On June 7 and 8, Daniels took part in the 2007 MLB draft.

With the 17th pick in the MLB draft, Daniels selected Irving’s Blake Beavan. Beavan is a 6-foot-7, 210-pound pitcher with a mid-90’s fastball and a devastating slider.

Daniels had a difficult time deciding between Beavan and Michael Main, a Florida high school pitcher and outfielder. Main throws a 97-mph fastball with a hard-breaking curveball and ranks 70 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale as a runner. Amazingly, Main was available when the Rangers’ second pick of the first round (24 overall) came up. Main struck out 34 batters in 28 innings in the minors and went 8-for-30 as a hitter in the Rookie-level Arizona League.

Beavan and Main were tremendous picks, especially since both were likely to be gone when Daniels drafted them. However, Daniels had a hard time letting Tennessee’s Julio Borbon pass by with that 24th pick. Borbon, a potential top-of-the-order hitter who makes sharp contact and changes games with his speed, would have been a great pick too. Daniels lucked out again as Borbon was still on the board when the Rangers’ first supplemental pick (35 overall) came up.

I could keep going, but you get the picture. Daniels had a great draft. The only concern was that second-rounder Matt West, a third baseman from Bellaire, Texas, was suspended 50 games for violating MLB's performance-enhancing drugs testing program.

Not much Daniels and his staff could have done better in the draft. Yet another A.

The Rangers have the 11th pick in next year’s draft in case you’re wondering.

On July 31, Daniels traded Ron Mahay and Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Elvis Andrus, Beau Jones and Neftali Feliz.

On May 30, the Rangers were swept by the Red Sox to put them at 18-32. I said it was time to trade Mark Teixeira because it didn’t seem like the Rangers were going to be able to come to an agreement with his agent, Scott Boras, before his contract expired.

I acknowledged Tex was a franchise player, but I thought trading him before the deadline would bring the most in return. I included 10 teams that would be interested in Teixeira and looked at possible prospects I would have wanted in return.

Then on July 12, I wrote an open letter to Daniels. Teixeira made some disrespectful comments in an interview during his rehab in Frisco, and I outlined five reasons why he needed to be traded by the deadline. I urged Daniels to get the best possible deal for Tex to move the franchise in the right direction.

Daniels answered my plea (albeit unknowingly I’m sure), dealing Teixeira and Ron Mahay to Atlanta for a terrific package of prospects. I went into detail in my analysis of the deal after it was completed, and I loved the players he received.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Matt Harrison were both players I expressed interest in when I listed Atlanta as a potential suitor. Salty is a young, switch-hitting catcher who hit .251 with seven homers and 21 RBI in 46 games with Texas after hitting .284 with four homers and 12 RBI in 47 games with Atlanta. Harrison is a left-handed pitcher with potential to be a fixture in the rotation.

Shortstop Elvis Andrus is one of the most highly-regarded athletes in the minors, and hard-throwing righty Neftali Feliz could develop into a closer. Beau Jones is another southpaw and was the Braves’ first-round pick in 2005.

Teixeira went on to hit .317-17-56 after the trade and Mahay also was very good, posting a 2.25 ERA in 30 appearances. However, the deal didn’t give the Braves the boost they were looking for and they finished third in the East.

Now Mahay is a free agent and Teixeira will be free after the 2008 season. After giving up all those prospects and likely letting Andruw Jones walk away, the pressure will be on to keep him in Atlanta.

However, let’s take a look at things. Jason Giambi has a $5 million buyout on his $23 million option for 2009 in New York. The Yankees will be looking for a first baseman and Tex will be the best one out there. I’m guessing Scott Boras won’t let Teixeira sign without testing the market, likely leaving the Braves with nothing after dealing all that talent.

No matter how good any of the prospects turn out to be, this was an awesome deal by Daniels. First, he got rid of someone who wore out his welcome in Texas and was clearly not going to sign here long term. Second, he got five good prospects in the deal, increasing the chances that one or two could turn out to be quality major leaguers. Lastly, he dealt at the right time.

Some people may have argued that holding onto Teixeira and dealing him this offseason could have got the Rangers a better deal. At the trade deadline, you deal only with teams looking to make a push for the playoffs. In the offseason, seemingly everyone could have interest. However, what those people tend to forget is that the market becomes saturated with everyone else’s players on the market.

For example, Johan Santana and Miguel Cabrera are just some of the big names reported to be available via trade. This significantly reduces the value of other players. There is no way Daniels could have repeated the same kind of deal for Tex this offseason or even at the ’08 deadline. The timing of the move was key.

In the most important move of his second season, I’m happy to give Daniels an A-plus.

Extra Credit: Daniels doesn’t sign Barry Zito and lets free agents Carlos Lee, Gary Matthews and Adam Eaton sign elsewhere.

The Rangers were heavily involved in the bidding for Barry Zito, offering as much as $102 million over six years. Texas backed out when the Giants made an even more ridiculous offer of $126 million over seven seasons.

Surely no one could have guessed Zito would have the worst season of his career with an 11-13 record, 4.53 ERA and 1.35 WHIP while pitching in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. One can only imagine how ugly things would have been had he been pitching in the American League with half his games in Arlington.

Daniels also let Carlos Lee sign with the Astros for six years and $100 million, Gary Matthews sign with the Angels for five years and $50 million and Adam Eaton sign with the Phillies for three years and $24.5 million.

Lee had a great season, hitting .303-32-119-10 SB and winning a Silver Slugger. Matthews had a mediocre season (.252-18-72-18 SB) and began the year caught up in HGH controversy. Eaton was downright terrible, going 10-10 with a 6.29 ERA and 1.63 WHIP in Philly.

Daniels deserves credit for knowing when to stop with Zito. He refused to go crazy and simply bid whatever it took to bring Zito here. There are some pitchers that warrant that kind of frenzy, but Zito isn’t one of them.

Daniels also deserves credit for letting three big free agents walk away. He could have felt pressure to sign Lee because he dealt Cordero to bring him here and could have felt even more pressure to sign Eaton because he dealt Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez to bring him here, but he didn’t let that cloud his judgment.

Sure, Lee had a great season in Houston, but he’s a bad defender and I’m not sure that contract will be looking good in a few years. Daniels also could have felt a lot of pressure to bring back Matthews because his departure would leave a hole in center field. Yet Daniels knew investing $50 million in a guy who came outta nowhere with a career year was a risky investment.

So here’s to you, Jon. An A for your extra credit.

Final Grades:

Daniels ended up with one A-plus, seven A's, an A-minus, a B-plus, a C, a D and an F. Final grade: B-plus.

I’m impressed. I figured I’d be calling for Daniels’ head at the end of the year, but he really improved from his first season as GM. There’s plenty of work to be done and with payroll flexibility and a farm system full of prospects, I expect Daniels to kick off his third year with a bang when the GM meetings get going Dec. 3-6 in Nashville.

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written by HSH , November 21, 2007

Nice work Sam. I would have lowered his final grade just a bit to a C because he still doesn't seem to be implementing an overall strategy for building a team that can compete over a 2 or 3 year period, but he's definitely growing into the job and getting better. Thank goodness.

As to flaking out on the Beckett/Lowell trade, as a long-standing member of Red Sox Nation, I give him an A . He handed us the cornerstones of a great team.

Great to read a baseball fan.



...
written by Darrell Jordan , November 21, 2007

Very well done. You were fair and quite thorough. We'll see if he is building a team that will be able to compete with the best in two or three years. I certainly hope so.



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