The Statesman Interview: Jon Daniels, Rangers president and GM


Jon Daniels is just two years older than third baseman Adrian Beltre and starting pitcher Colby Lewis, but the Texas Rangers general manager still qualifies as a grizzled veteran in his line of work.

Only three major league GMs have longer tenures than Daniels, 38, who’s starting his 11th year in the role for the Rangers. More than 60 general managers have come and gone since Daniels became the youngest one in major league history.

Daniels built an organization that made the franchise’s first trips to the World Series in 2010 and 2011, reeled off four straight seasons of 90-plus wins, crashed and burned in 2014, and then rebounded last year to win the American League West and earn the club’s fourth playoff trip in his tenure.

(Check out our Rangers season preview and Rangers scouting report online by clicking these links.)

Now the soft-spoken man everyone calls JD — one of 11 Ivy League alums running a major league franchise — and his club head into a new season as one of the AL favorites. The Rangers’ depth is such that their Triple-A club, the Round Rock Express, is likely to field its most talented team in franchise history.

The American-Statesman caught up with Daniels at spring training.

What excites you about this team?

There’s legitimate competition everywhere you look, whether it’s the fifth starter spot or the utility infielder or extra outfielder. I love the chemistry. There’s a really good vibe. We feel we’re in a good spot. I think that bodes well both in the big leagues and in the first line of defense at Round Rock.

How do you compare these Rangers to the ones who entered the 2010 season?

From a long-term perspective, I see similarities. In ’08-09, the B Team that came on in the sixth inning of spring training games had Chris Davis, Mitch Moreland, Justin Smoak, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz — talented guys like that. We have a similar feel now with Nomar Mazara, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo, Jurickson Profar, Lewis Brinson, Drew Robinson, James Jones — that crew coming up. In each case, we had a largely veteran starting lineup already in place. The question becomes: How do you blend those two together?

Were there fewer questions to answer in camp than usual?

Just a couple spots on the bench, one in the rotation, and figuring out how we match up in the bullpen. I like that. There’ve been years where we had to determine all five starting pitchers, right?

How do you rate your rotation and the prospect of having two aces with Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish?

On paper, it’s the most talented group we’ve had, but outside of Cole, all these guys have had some kind of physical ailment in the last 18 months. They have to prove they’re healthy.

How enthused are you about Darvish’s comeback from Tommy John surgery?

Publicly, we want to temper it; privately, we’re very excited. He’s one of the best pitchers in the world, and I’m of the mindset that when the elite come back from this particular surgery, it doesn’t take a long time to return to the top level. It’s already been 12 months, and most guys are pitching by then. We’re being pretty cautious and will give it two more months.

Why did you tweak a pretty dependable bullpen?

To count on the same three or four guys two or three years in a row is asking a lot. You need to round up other options, have winning pieces ready to roll. We held on to young guys like Keone Kela, Luke Jackson and Andrew Faulkner and added Tom Wilhelmsen and Tony Barnette.

Does the perception of the Rangers as a one-dimensional bashing team bother you?

That’s not who we are. We have guys who can hit it out of the park but nobody likely to hit 40 homers. We topped out at 23 last year. In building the club, we took a 1 through 9 approach and didn’t load up in the middle.

Ian Desmond was a curious signing, wasn’t he, since you’re converting a shortstop to left field?

He’s a tremendous fit. Right-handed power, athletic, aggressive. He brings leadership and character. There was skepticism at first, reporters asking, ‘Do you think he’s going to be OK in left field?’ No, he’ll be a plus defender. He’s even playing center field.

Complete this sentence. The Rangers will contend if …

First, our starting pitching stays healthy. Second, our young players continue to develop. Third, we produce in the middle of the (batting) order — that’s going to be critical.”

There’s a pretty good team over in Houston, isn’t there?

No doubt. We’re built a little differently, but both clubs, Astros and Rangers, believe they’re good now and will be good for a period of time. That’s the fun part.

Do you sense the emotion in the Lone Star Series ratcheting up?

For the first time since the late ’90s, both teams are good at the same time, only now we’re in the same division and play 19 times. It’s a three-hour drive, and now you see more fans showing up at the other’s park. It was great theater last year, and the atmosphere should only get better.

Did you pay attention to the Astros’ offseason moves?

Yes and no. We monitored the Astros and all the teams in the division, but we didn’t change our plan. It’s not like when the Yankees and Red Sox used to go back and forth, answering each other’s moves.

Can a rivalry push your team to a better place?

Growing up in New York, I was a big Knicks fan. Yet I always laughed when they talked about a Knicks-Bulls rivalry. It was the prime of Michael Jordan’s career. They had (Scottie) Pippen, (Dennis) Rodman, (Horace) Grant, Phil Jackson. The Knicks were Patrick Ewing and basically tried to mug teams. I always thought, ‘That’s not a rivalry; in a rivalry the other team has to win occasionally.’ That’s what’s fun about MLB in Texas right now. Both teams are pretty stacked.

Speaking of stacked, shouldn’t Express fans be in for a treat?

This should be as good a position-player club as we’ve ever had, maybe at any level, but certainly at the upper levels. Gallo, Profar, Mazara, and there are others.

At the upper levels, how do you balance development vs. winning?

Scouts bring in premium athletes, and coaches hammer home a championship mindset. In years when we don’t have as much talent and sign a lot of six-year free agents, then it becomes more of a decision, but there’s a lot of homegrown talent in Round Rock this year with a couple of veteran guys sprinkled in. I’m proud of what we’ve got going on with the farm system. I’ll put ours up against anybody.

How important is the Central Texas market to the Rangers?

It’s become a battleground, especially with both the Rangers and Astros rising. Ultimately, baseball in Texas will be well served by whichever hat you’re buying, but this has been a big market for us for the last seven, eight years since we’ve been good. We want to continue that way and put the best product on the field that we can. I’m confident it will continue in that regard.

What are your interests off the field?

My kids. I don’t have a ton of hobbies. I am a New York Giants football fan. We go every year when the Giants come to town. It was a good game last season until the final 45 seconds. My son plays baseball, and the girls do gymnastics. We like to be outdoors, spend time at a lake not far from the house.

Did you have a job in your previous life?

I worked for a company in business development that was trying to co-brand Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin-Robbins and a sandwich they called Pogos. The idea didn’t pan out, but it’s where I met my wife, Robyn.

What drew you into baseball?

I loved the game and was always interested in the transaction aspects and how teams were built. Yet I never pictured it would become my career. One thing kept leading to another.

How do you view your accomplishments with the Rangers?

My job is to keep the team a few steps ahead of the curve and never short-circuit this thing and step back where we were before. Over the last seven years, we’ve played beyond 162 games five times. That’s an achievement. Yet we’ve still got to make that final jump.



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