Jon Daniels ultimately is likely to be remembered in baseball as the guy who completely changed the way people think of the Texas Rangers. As legacies go, that's about as good as it gets in professional sports.In the 34 seasons before he took over as general manager, the Rangers had
Jon Daniels ultimately is likely to be remembered in baseball as the guy who completely changed the way people think of the Texas Rangers. As legacies go, that's about as good as it gets in professional sports.
In the 34 seasons before he took over as general manager, the Rangers had been to the postseason just three times and won exactly one playoff game.
Now they make it look routine. This season's American League West championship is the franchise's fifth playoff appearance in the last seven years, beginning vs. the Wild Card Game winner in Game 1 of the ALDS (Thursday on TBS, 4:30 p.m. ET/3:30 CT). Only the St. Louis Cardinals have been to the postseason as often.
And after all that success, after those back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010-11 and all the rest, this season might be Daniels' finest hour.
• Postseason schedule | Gear
:: ALDS: Wild Card winner vs. Rangers coverage ::
The 2016 Rangers are a testament to his judgment and aggressiveness and to his never-ending search for ways to get better. This season, the Rangers are a near-perfect blend of youth and experience and of homegrown players and those from the outside Daniels and his staff saw as being perfect fits.
This isn't the team Daniels thought he would have, and it's significantly different from the one that lost a deciding Game 5 of an American League Division Series against the Toronto Blue Jays last fall.
The Rangers still have third baseman Adrián Beltré, shortstop Elvis Andrus, left-hander Cole Hamels and others, but a lot of the other faces have changed.
Here's how Daniels did it:
1. He signed free-agent shortstop Ian Desmond at the beginning of Spring Training. At the time, it wasn't clear where Desmond would fit. In Daniels' mind, though, it was simple.
Here was a cornerstone-type player available at a relatively affordable price of $7 million. All Desmond did was hit .285, score 105 runs and make the American League All-Star Team.
"He had other options," Daniels said. "He believed in our group."
- He took a chance on a pair of unproven relievers: 32-year-old Tony Barnette and 30-year-old reliever Matt Bush. Barnette had spent six seasons in Japan. Bush had never thrown a pitch in the Majors and had spent time in prison along with troubled Minor League stints with the Padres and Rays. Both pitchers ended up being valuable pieces of a bullpen that was one of baseball's best during the last weeks of the regular season.
3. Daniels got nice contributions from two of his best homegrown players, both of whom began the season in the Minors. Outfielder Nomar Mazara may win the American League Rookie of the Year Award with 20 home runs and 64 RBIs. And infielder Jurickson Profar hit .323 in his first 37 games before cooling off in the second half.
• Get official postseason gear
4. At the non-waiver Trade Deadline, Daniels hoped to address the holes in his starting rotation created by Yu Darvish recovering from Tommy John surgery and injuries to Derek Holland and Colby Lewis.
Daniels tried, too, talking to the White Sox about Chris Sale and the Rays about Jake Odorizzi. He never got comfortable with the asking prices, so he decided to do what the great general managers sometimes do.
He made trades to strengthen the Rangers at catcher (Jonathan Lucroy), designated hitter (Carlos Beltrán) and reliever (Jeremy Jeffress). When the Astros released Carlos Gómez in August, Daniels signed him, too.
"We felt we had a good team that had a chance to win, as it was constituted then," Daniels said. "But there were some opportunities out there that we felt like we could take advantage of, improve our chances."
In Lucroy, Beltran and Gomez, the Rangers got 25 doubles, 26 home runs and 84 RBIs in 461 at-bats. They might have won the AL West without any of them, but they probably wouldn't have opened up a 10 1/2-game lead in early September.
"[It's] just the ability of our scouting and development system to produce players," Daniels said. "You're talking about guys from all over. Every which way you could acquire a player, you've got major contributors on this club."
The Rangers were extraordinary on a lot of levels. Some of what they did seems almost magical -- sporting a 36-11 record in one-run games and eight wins when trailing after eight innings.
Now, though, the Rangers have Darvish back and pitching at a high level to line up behind Hamels in the postseason rotation. Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who played only 48 games, is ready to contribute during the postseason.
Thanks to a 95-57 record, tops in the American League, the Rangers will have home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Their 53-28 record at Globe Life Park was tied with the Dodgers and Indians for second-best home record in the Majors.
After last season's bitter Game 5 ALDS loss to the Blue Jays, this coming after taking a 2-0 lead in the series, the Rangers are a confident group. They've been on the postseason stage enough to feel comfortable in the bright lights and understand that playoff baseball is different.
On Monday, Daniels paused for a moment to appreciate how far the Rangers have come. "This year, for me, it's really a sense of pride -- unbelievable pride," he said.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U.