I don't doubt or minimize the Nolan Ryan factor in the ascent of the Texas Rangers over the past three years, but let's be honest: this ballclub is succeeding because of what Jon Daniels has done, not just in terms of talent aquisition, but in terms of building a front office and scouting and development team that is arguably the best in the business.
Losing Nolan Ryan would be bad for this organization to be sure, and that has become the focus (well, fear, really) of local media and Rangers fans as they suffer through these increasingly bizarre bankruptcy proceedings, but the fact of the matter is that losing Daniels could very well become a crushing blow to the organization.
And you better get ready to take that hit, Rangers fans.
Just about five years ago today, Daniels posed a question to Jamey Newberg and me over lunch at Texas Land & Cattle near the Ballpark: "Do you think that Tom [Hicks] would consider hiring a 28-year-old as his GM?" This was about two months before John Hart would announce that he was stepping down from the position, but by the time Jamey and I reached our car for the return trip to downtown Dallas on that early-August day in 2005, we sort of looked at each other and said "we just had lunch with the next GM, didn't we?" We knew right then.
Now, five years later, and without the benefit of having a conversation with the man, I record the day that I came to the realization that Daniels' tenure as the Rangers' GM will almost certainly come to an end before opening day, 2011.
It's not necesarily a matter of a new regime wanting to install their own front office, either. Even if Rangers Baseball Express (popularly known as "the Greenberg / Ryan group") somehow walks away from Wednesday's auction as the winning bidder -- and I'm now guessing they won't because they are under the quaint assumption that the purpose of this entity is to operate a successful baseball organization, and we now know that's simply not the case -- Daniels has put himself in a position to land his dream job and there's simply nothing that the Rangers (whoever that turns out to be, if anyone) can do to stop him from taking it.
As Daniels himself has put it, when he got this job people said "he's smart, but does have guts?" and a year or so later, they said "he's got guts, but is he smart?"
Now, there's no question he's both incredibly clever and has balls as big as church bells.
As the debacles of the Adrian Gonzalez and John Danks trades recede into history and he adds more and more successful (often wildly successful) deals to his resume, Daniels has now demonstrated a phenomenal ability to acquire premium talent through every means possible. He's built a powerhouse farm system with a scouting and develpment team that is the best in the business. He's hauled in massive talents from the draft, international signings, and trades that leave you wondering how his scouts seem to have a better grasp of other clubs' minor league talent than the clubs that have the players to begin with.
Forced to constantly pull rabbits from a hat (and the hat itself has, most of the time, seemed to be invisible to everyone but Daniels himself), the man's performance over the past month has been nothing short of dazzling. While the baseball world allowed themselves to believe that having no money, no owner and no flexibility would prevent the Rangers from making any substantial moves unless and until the ownership issue was resolved, Daniels did the unthinkable. And then he kept doing it.
And then -- just to show off, I think -- he executed one of the most astounding moves yet yesterday afternoon by taking one of the game's most successful GM's (and the original Ivy League wunderkind) to the woodshed for the second time in three years.
Having backed himself into a corner on roster space, Daniels didn't do what everyone else would do on July 31 -- stick a guy on waivers and cross his fingers. Instead, with not much in the way of bargaining power, he used that "problem" to add to his seemingly unending armada of power arms. I can't decide which is nastier: getting Engel Beltre for what was left of Eric Gagne or getting Ramon Mendez for what's left of Jarrod Saltalamacchia's "future". Almost certainly the former, but Mendez has the sort of electric arm that could make a horse race out of it.
Meanwhile in Queens, the Mets -- with plenty of money and plenty of needs -- were unable to do anything to make their club better. You can bet that Fred Wilpon is watching what the kid who grew up as a Mets fan is doing down here in Texas.
Omar Minaya has run his course in New York. Jon Daniels can become a free agent this winter. Do the math.
The problem with building an organization and putting together a group of people as talented as Daniels has here in Texas (with the deck stacked against him in many ways) is that there is going to be attrition. Thad Levine will move on to become someone else's GM sooner than later (and whether or not Daniels stays). A.J. Preller is likely to join Levine and Daniels at the helm of an organization too at some point. Maybe Don Welke goes with Daniels. Maybe Levine. Other scouts will move along with these guys, and losing Daniels will just accelerate the whole process.
It's next to impossible for me to envision the Mets not looking for a new GM this winter. And given what he's has done in Texas with one -- and sometimes both -- hands tied behind his back, it's hard to fathom that anyone could possibly be higher on their wish list than Daniels.
Even if Rangers Baseball Express becomes the owner of this franchise at some point before winter, it's hard to fathom how Daniels doesn't jump at the chance to run the club he loved as a kid, with a huge payroll in a beautiful new stadium.
Will the next regime know to go after Neftali Feliz? Engel Beltre? Will they be the folks who see Tommy Hunter as a first round talent who could come quickly when everyone else thought he was a third rounder at best? Will the next GM have the cojones to pull off the Cliff Lee trade? Who knows?
Whether or not the Rangers front office exodus that is almost certain to come -- one way or another -- cripples this organization in the next decade remains to be seen, but whoever the new owners install to run this thing is going to have a very tough act to follow.