The Texas Rangers offseason has undeniably produced some jaw-dropping news. Corey Seager — $325 million. Marcus Semien — $175 million. Jon Gray — $56 million. With a new stadium built and an agricultural system being rebuilt, the movements signaled an intent to win again.
As the 2022 team fades to a 52-64 record, feelings of disappointment were to be expected. The realization that this won’t be a case of instant gratification was apparently hard for the Rangers brass to swallow. Texas fired manager Chris Woodward on Mondayand on Wednesday fired Jon Daniels, the president of baseball operations who had led the team since 2005, building five playoff teams and two AL champions. Perhaps there were underlying tensions or a build-up of grievances. Maybe hiring Chris Young as GM before 2021 was really written on the wall.
But regardless of the backstory, it’s surprising to see a team that gave a seasoned executive the half-billion dollar commitment this winter turn around and decide to cut the bait to him in August. .
That’s what makes it look more like bulletin board management, or maybe management for bulletin boards. It’s one thing for fans to see the big contracts and immediately expect a playoff team. It’s another for the property to completely misunderstand reasonable expectations.
Rangers 2022 vs expectations
The signing of Seager, Semien and Gray set Rangers up for a window of contention. But for anyone seriously considering its chances, it wasn’t expected to open until 2023 or later. On opening day, the PECOTA throwing system at the Baseball Prospectus predicted a 71-win season for the Rangers. The current season has been about on par with that – they’re on pace at around 74 wins.
The money committed to Seager and Semien is often relayed by a big, bold number, but it’s an investment paid off – and paid off – over the next decade. Like Jayson Werth with the Nationals, Manny Machado with the Padres and many other preventative strikers, some stars are signed knowing that their biggest impact on the winning curve could come two or three years from now.
It was by far the most likely outcome for Rangers, whose fledgling stable of young talent was mostly acquired or drafted just months before the spending spree.
An honest assessment of the major league team’s season would primarily focus on information relevant to 2023 and beyond. It should be noted that Seager was as advertised, and that Semien calmed the nerves after a difficult start. It would mark significant progress for young players like Jonah Heim, Nathaniel Lowe and Leody Taveras. That would also take into account Rangers’ worst 7-24 record in MLB in one-point games. It’s not positive, of course, but it’s a fact based almost entirely on luck, which should stabilize or totally reverse course in 2023. The Chicago White Sox had the fourth-worst record in MLB in the one-inning matches last year, and second-best this year. According to Pythagoras’ record, which estimates a team’s earned record by points differential, the 2022 Rangers played as a 57-59 team.
Less than a year after being in full sell-out mode — Texas traded Joey Gallo to the Yankees at the 2021 trade deadline — the Rangers are realistically still in the phase of sifting through a lot of potential talent, test what they can at the big-league level, then collect the useful parts.
The 2022 club have had some success on that front. Infielders Ezequiel Duran and Josh Smith — freefall Gallo — made their MLB debuts and started making adjustments. Brock Burke highlighted his potential as a bullpen arm with enough talent to stick or become an attractive trade chip. He was disappointed in other areas as well, including the starting rotation. A big reason Rangers were never supposed to compete this season was a complete lack of surefire starters beyond Gray. Martin Perez has become a great achievement, but ultimately not the most useful thing for a team looking to compete in 2023 and beyond.
Why fire Jon Daniels now?
The big question isn’t whether 2022 was a win for the organization, but why the clock has struck midnight for Daniels now.
He was baseball’s top executive in Texas for 17 years and garnered more wins than the franchise had ever seen. His teams appeared in five playoffs and two World Series where the team had previously only managed three playoff berths (and a meager victory in October) in its history before Daniels took over. His Mark Teixeira trade expedition to Atlanta brought back a monumental lead haul that helped change the way the industry values young talent. The decision to sign Adrian Beltre in 2011 turned into one of the best free agent moves in baseball history and almost certainly hit a Hall of Famer wearing a Rangers hat.
The recent history of Rangers is admittedly a more mediocre narrative.
Owner Ray Davis, one half of a two-headed management duo, focused more on that when explaining the decision to fire Daniels on Wednesday, saying: “At the end of the day, we didn’t have a record of wins since 2016 and for much of that time, have not been competitive in the AL West Division. baseball operations will be beneficial in the future.
Will that be a change, though? The Rangers tapped Young, the all-time great former MLB pitcher who served as general manager under Daniels, to steer the ship on his own. He is immensely respected in the baseball world thanks to his time in the league office – and was wanted when he decided to join the team – but Young’s experience running a front office consists entirely of his time under Daniels.
Where the Daniels era faltered was pretty obvious: as Parents GM AJ Preller and other executives like Twins GM Thad Levine piloted the co-op to run their own teams, the Rangers’ once-reputable talent acquisition machine ran out of steam. Perhaps more importantly, they haven’t kept pace with competitors in player development. Top prospects like Nomar Mazara, Ronald Guzman and Willie Calhoun never delivered on their promise, and others like Taveras inspired anxiety with protracted struggles at the top levels.
Yet no one would call the Rangers situation a desperate or retrograde the way the Detroit Tigers were when they finally unplugged GM Al Avila.
There’s good reason to think a change was needed in Texas, but didn’t that make more sense? before Daniels designed a competitor’s (expensive) kernel? And weren’t the cracks visible in December 2020 when Rangers slid Young into the front office under Daniels? It’s hard to envision a drastic overhaul of giving Daniels a stunt double and then elevating that stunt double.
Rangers will really be there when 2023 rolls around. Seager and Semien will be 29 and 32, respectively, and hot pitching prospects Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker should at least be knocking on the majors’ door by the end of the season.
They have a lot of long-term commitments, which should be the launch pad for an exciting team. By firing Daniels now, they mostly raise questions about whether they have a long-term plan.
If this week’s moves work as a jolt that actually prepares the organization to better sustain victory in the 2020s, that’s great. But it’s fair to wonder if this is just a public show of scapegoating to dispel delusions of 2022’s grandeur. And if the team isn’t going to be honest with its fans, it’s not probably not honest with herself either.