ARLINGTON - Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has been called a poker player. He holds his cards close to the vest; he's hard to read; he doesn't give away information.
But here's how Daniels really compares to great poker players: he doesn't let past results influence future decisions.
Each poker hand -- and each free agent -- should be treated independently. It's hard to do in poker. If you went all-in with a set of aces, and your opponent gets lucky and catches his flush on the river, it's difficult not to let that affect your play. But the great ones start at zero on every hand, and they leave emotion outside the card room. They don't overplay pocket 10's because their aces got cracked and they're desperate.
That's how Daniels does his baseball business. Losing out on Zack Greinke, Justin Upton and others did not affect his pursuit of Josh Hamilton. After those players signed elsewhere, it would have been easy for Daniels to think "We have to do something," but it would not have been smart. The question was and always should be, What is Josh Hamilton worth? The question was not, What is Josh Hamilton worth if our off-season is not going well and free agents are signing with other teams?
Under Jon Daniels, the Rangers don't overpay. If they did, it would conflict with his plan to have 1-year and 5-year plans running concurrently. Daniels has said in the past the goal is to build a team that can compete every year, but always with an eye to the franchise's health five years from now.
When they signed Yu Darvish last year, they had to forfeit a posting fee of more than $51 million and then pay the player $60 million over six years. That's big money. But as the Rangers made abundantly clear, Darvish was a unique free agent in that he was only 25 years old (meaning he'll be 31 when his contract ends). Normally free agents of Darvish's ability become available later in their careers, and teams end up paying huge salaries on the back end of those contracts when the player is in decline.
Poker isn't simply a card game; it's a money game played with cards. Good players know money can be a weapon. The big stack can make moves and do things that smaller stacks can't. But that doesn't mean you make stupid moves with your money, and the Rangers know this. They'll throw money around with the best of them in Major League Baseball; they just won't be stupid about it.