Daniels 'excited to learn' in new role with Rays

November 18th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- Since joining the Rays last week as a senior advisor in their baseball operations department, Jon Daniels has fielded a lot of questions. What drew the longtime Rangers executive to the job? Why Tampa Bay? Does he want to run a front office again?

One of the most frequently asked questions makes Daniels chuckle: How can he help the Rays?

“I'm looking at it the other way. I'm excited to learn,” Daniels said in a phone interview. “My guess is there's going to be a handful of moments -- more than a handful of moments -- where I'm face-palming, thinking, 'Why didn't I think of that? Why were we operating that way?' But that's the humility that comes with it. Honestly, I'm excited about that part.”

Daniels spent 21 years with the Rangers. Before starting with the Rays, he hadn’t experienced a first day at a new workplace in more than two decades. He’s enjoyed meeting new people, learning new terminology and gaining insight on Tampa Bay’s decision-making process.

“Honestly, it's fun to be nervous again,” Daniels said. “They obviously have a good thing going on. … My goal is just to sit back and listen a lot, maybe ask some questions. If I can help along the way, I will.”

The Rays are eager to learn from Daniels, 45, who spent 17 seasons running Texas’ baseball operations department. Rather than getting involved in specific roster-building or player development decisions, he is expected to serve as a sounding board for president of baseball operations Erik Neander, general manager Peter Bendix and a respected but relatively inexperienced front office.

“I'm at a unique point in my career where, by virtue of starting at such a young age, I'm still relatively young -- but my aspirations are not such that I'm looking to climb an organization,” Daniels said. “I just want to be helpful. I want to be useful. Fulfillment for me, success for me in this role, is if I can help others advance their careers. If I can do that in some small way, then that's really what I'm looking to do.”

Daniels long admired the Rays from afar, praising the team’s “unbelievable success” despite limited resources, their “remarkable” pitching development and the way they remain ahead of the curve in many areas. One thing that’s stood out from inside the organization?

“It's just this unbelievable people-oriented culture that, in my opinion, is the separator,” Daniels said. “I don't know that that's fully appreciated in the industry of just how committed it seems that the Rays are to that culture and developing people and all the byproducts that come from that.”

Daniels said he doesn’t view his role as a “stepping stone-type move at all.” If anything, he’s looking forward to a step back from the everyday grind of running a team that consumed nearly two decades of his life.

Since being dismissed by the Rangers, he’s thoroughly enjoyed spending more time with his wife, Robyn, and three children. The Rays have understood and encouraged that, allowing Daniels to work from his home in the Dallas area.

“This role allows me to have that balance and prioritize my family. If I'm never at the front of the room again, I'm at peace with that,” Daniels said. “I’m appreciative of just having the opportunity to be in the room. … My hope is I'm here in some capacity helping Erik and Pete and this group for an extended period.”

During his time in Texas, Daniels developed a tight bond with Neander, who described Daniels as “as good of a person as you’re going to find in this game.” Similarly, Daniels said their relationship was as strong as that of “anybody that I hadn't worked with previously.”

The two executives developed a rapport while discussing trades over the years. They gained a greater appreciation for each other as they talked through personal and professional issues while navigating their clubs through the COVID-19 pandemic. So when Neander and the Rays came calling, it was an easy decision.

“At 45 years old, I wasn't really thinking about sitting on the rocking chair for the rest of my time. I really just love the idea of being part of a team and competing and all that,” Daniels said. “Specific to the Rays, it was really the people. … Just the quality and the culture, the way they care for people, it really blew me away. So when the opportunity presented itself, it just felt right.”