SURPRISE, Ariz. (105.3 THE FAN) – It was Jon Daniels who orchestrated the Mark Teixeira heist. It was Jon Daniels who hired Ron Washington. It was Jon Daniels who traded for Josh Hamilton. It was Jon Daniels who assembled a baseball operations staff of savvy scouts and who so stockpiled the Texas Rangers that Baseball America ranked their farm system No. 1 just two years after gauging it No. 27.\
And he did it all before Nolan Ryan returned to Arlington in 2008.
So it is Jon Daniels – not the iconic Big Tex – whom Rangers’ ownership will select and move into the future with should the current front-office hiccup not be calmed.
“We’ve seen Nolan win one of these battles with Chuck Greenberg,” a Rangers’ source said Wednesday afternoon. “But this one he’s going to lose. If it’s one or the other, the Rangers are prepared to hitch their wagon to JD.”
The story of Rangers’ spring training here in the desert isn’t the departures of Josh Hamilton and Michael Young, the arrival of Lance Berkman or the mohawk of 20-year-old phenom Jurickson Profar. It is, undoubtedly, the realignment of the front-office flow chart which could result in the 66-year-old Ryan feeling squeezed, and voluntarily walking away from the Rangers.
“I can’t imagine the Rangers without Nolan Ryan,” says outfielder David Murphy. “Just wouldn’t seem right.”
But counters CBS Sports national baseball writer Jon Heyman, “Daniels is one of the best – if not the best – GMs in baseball. I realize Nolan is national treasure and a local hero, but the Rangers just can’t afford to lose Daniels.”
On a glorious Wednesday in Arizona Daniels zipped through the morning clubhouse and Ryan later took his customary seat in the front row at Surprise Stadium, where he watched Robbie Ross start and Esteban Yan finish and Berkman homer in between. The Rangers beat the Cubs and signed Derek Lowe and … oh, who are we kidding? There is nothing ho-hum, much less harmonious, about this March madness.
But make sure this much is clear: Ryan is not being forced out.
“I still report to Nolan, yes,” Daniels told 105.3 The Fan on Tuesday. “I think he’ll be here in his same role at the end of spring training and the end of the season. Of course I do. I don’t want him to leave.”
Owner Bob Simpson, who teams with Ray Davis as the two major voices of controlling interest, says it would be a tragedy if Ryan departs the franchise. But here’s the genesis of the drama that could land Daniels in power and Ryan in retirement.
The Ryan-Daniels relationship has always been as clunky as comfortable. The kid was educated at Cornell; the legend in the clubhouse. But it worked, and the end result were key personnel moves like trading for Cliff Lee and acquiring Yu Darvish and the Rangers peaked with consecutive World Series appearances in 2010-11.
It was then, just a month after coming within one strike of beating the St. Louis Cardinals for the championship, that the foundation begin to wobble. Player development director Scott Servais took a job with the Anaheim Angels. Daniels, of course, assumed the position would be filled from within by promoting one in his stable of talented baseball people, like, perhaps, assistant GM Thad Levine. Ryan, of course, as the team’s President and CEO, assumed he would be allowed to fill the position with his preference.
And the winner was … Ryan, who hired Tim Purpura. The Rangers’ new farm director just so happened to have been the Houston Astros’ GM at a time when Ryan was a special assistant and owned two Astros’ farm teams. He was Nolan’s guy. As later were Jackie Moore and Mike Maddux as new additions to the Rangers’ coaching staff.
It was a power play by Ryan, whose ego may be even bigger than his legend. While he was putting his individual stamp on the organization’s personnel, Daniels was feeling emasculated. He and his prior work was being engulfed by Ryan’s 10-gallon hero. And just like that, the top-ranked staff he put together was feeling road-blocked by his boss.
Two years later the solution was to give Daniels more power in the form of a promotion to president of baseball operations. In the same press release, Rick George was elevated to president of business operations. And, though still atop the flow chart, Ryan’s power was diminished, if not altogether neutered.
Though the source indicated that Ryan signed off on the moves in November, the reality of his dilution of power troubled him when the news was disseminated to the public last week. Ryan hasn’t spoken publicly, but privately he’s telling confidants that he’s the victim, a sympathetic figure being unceremoniously and unjustly stripped of power.
Truth? Ryan still wants to prove he’s got his Hall-of-Fame fastball. But he’s not fully invested, unflinchingly engaged or directly involved in the Rangers’ day-to-day baseball decisions. Like Daniels has been, since 2005.
Immediately upon hearing Ryan’s unhappiness, however, Daniels sought him out to nip the conflict in the bud.
“To me there’s no tension,” Daniels said.
I get it, he’s Nolan Ryan. 7 no-hitters. 300 wins. 5,000 strikeouts. There are two bobblehead nights at Rangers Ballpark this season: Yu Darvish and, yep, Nolan. Fair or not to Daniels, it’s Ryan who gets credit for resurrecting the Rangers into winners. And his bloodied headlock of Robin Ventura remains, to most fans, one of the greatest moments in franchise history.
Nolan Ryan is the Big Tex of the State Fair. He’s iconic and cool and the face of the place. But, um, he’s not a ride or a fried food or really anything more tangible than the guy who sits next to George Dubya Bush. A larger-than-life mascot, if you will.
Ryan has three years left on his contract but he just might walk away as the sour grapes loser of a tug-of-war with a younger, brighter baseball mind.
Make no mistake, Ryan can remain CEO of the Texas Rangers. But he’ll do it with weakened authority and without veto power on Jon Daniels’ baseball moves.
Or, once unthinkable, Ryan can leave the Texas Rangers.
Legends are nice to have in your baseball organization. But superior general managers are even more valuable.
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