With the lackluster performance by an aging and expensive Rangers team this past season, there’s a lot of discussion around the idea of rebuilding or no. It’s even raged on our own byline, here and here.
What gets lost in these discussions, which are valid but descending into “Barry or Emmitt” territory in their frequency and circular nature, is not so much what but who. Who is going to rebuild or attempt to contend, and why that matters.
Before you ask, no you don’t need your #FireJD pitchforks for this. The situation is a bit more nuanced than just firing one guy and everything gets better. I know nuance tends to elude the folks with said pitchforks at times, but bear with me. You might learn something instead of just stewing in ill-placed rage.
The Texas front office structure, which is at every level responsible for the player development and acquisition process, had been led by Jon Daniels since 2005. That’s when Jon Hart decided he’d rather play golf full time as his job instead of playing golf full time while masquerading as a baseball executive, leaving then owner Tom Hicks with a recommendation to promote JD.
In that time, we’ve seen Daniels go from GM to President of Baseball Operations. His chief lieutenants A.J. Preller and Thad Levine departed to go be full GMs elsewhere, only achieving the assistant title here. As it stands now, Texas has three assistant general managers all of which have specific titles such as “player development,” “international scouting,” and others.
There are also nine special assistants to the GM. Those are mostly Ranger luminaries such as the extremely Twitter woke Michael Young ,Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez, former pitching coach Mark Connor, and amateur Trans Am mechanic (but he’s better than most pros lemme tell you) Colby Lewis.
There’s a myriad of lower level people that are more important than visible. The only time we catch their names are in press releases when promotions are announced. They’re the lifeblood, the information system for the decision makers.
All of these people have something in common: A majority of them were promoted from within.
This is well-known, as noted in this article from T.R. Sullivan last November. If given the choice between hiring outsiders or elevating folks already here, Texas is more inclined to choose the latter. As of late that’s extended to the major league coaching staff, with names like Justin Mashore and Hector Ortiz taking on more prominent roles in Arlington.
There’s merit in this process, one that companies from every spectrum engage in to great praise. It feeds the narrative of meritocracy and fairness; work hard enough and your bosses will reward you for that. That’s more so in a place like Texas, where the perception of a more familial environment exists.
With it comes tangible benefits not just perception based ones. Staying in house means that person is already familiar with your language, expectations, and general atmosphere. There’s a level of comfort in that, knowing what you’re getting and from whom you’re getting it.
All that established it seems safe to say that JD and company have nurtured a front office from top to bottom. They’re well established, familiar, and dare I say that word comfortable.
But to put it bluntly, I think that might be harming the organization more than helping.
The organizational process in Texas seems one that runs to counter to how current teams succeed. Let’s use the Cubs and Dodgers as examples. If you were starting a brand new team from scratch, following their model is a good idea. Their on field winning directly correlates to how they’ve won off it.
When Theo Epstein left Boston for Chicago, he hired people like Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod to build a brain trust. After departing Tampa for LA, Andrew Friedman scooped up Farhan Zaidi and Josh Byrnes for his management cabinet. In turn both organizations started outfitting their new regimes with outside names.
Did some familiar faces stay? Yes, it wasn’t a total evacuation of the existing baseball offices. On the whole though, it’s safe to say that after years of middling success those teams changed how they went about their business. Those changes led to better results.
It’s unfair to say that the Rangers haven’t been successful since JD has had the reigns. It’s one hundred percent fair to say that his tenure is the most successful in team history, regardless of how low that bar was set.
The facts stand however: this team is six years from their last World Series appearance. Six years from their last playoff series win. While those memories are wonderful, at this point they are but memories. They in no way reflect the current state of the team.
The current state is plagued by issues tied back to the actions or lack thereof of the front office. The most glaring is the inability to develop starting pitching through the farm system. Be it poor talent acquisition or development, Texas hasn’t gotten the job done full stop.
There’s also questionable major league talent evaluation. With the benefit of hindsight, the Shin Soo Choo signing can be considered a dud. Tyson Ross and Mike Napoli also represent recent flops in the free agent market. Jonathan Lucroy, Ross Detwiler, Matt Garza, and Ryan Dempster are costly examples of how the front office had the right idea, but the player’s performances and subsequent results eradicated their good intentions.
With all that on the ledger, what has the front office done in correcting these past mistakes?
Business as usual.
As we enter year 13 of this baseball administration, with the same problems intact yet no real outside influence or thought being brought in, it is fair to ask why should change be expected? For what reason?
The answer is there isn’t any. The front office feels what they’re doing is working and will work, despite the mistakes cited above. That there’s no need for change, so therefore there will be none.
What do I think?
I’ll appropriate a hackneyed Dallas cliché: JD the President of Baseball Operations needs to fire JD the GM.
I’m content with JD watching over this organization as President. I’m OK with him having a loud voice in the room. What I am no longer OK with is his voice, process, and line of thinking being the unchecked dominant one by which decisions are made.
So as we talk about offseason acquisitions in the context of great players, the one I want the most is one we’re not likely to get: a general manager from outside the organization. A bright baseball mind who comes in and see things differently. I can’t see the harm in adding another smart baseball person to the mix. It certainly hasn’t hurt the Cubs or Dodgers.
I even have a prime candidate: Kim Ng.
Ng is a baseball lifer, getting her first full time job in 1991 with the White Sox. She’s been with the White Sox, Yankees, and as the Dodgers’ Vice President and Assistant GM. She currently works at the MLB office under Joe Torre after three different GM interviews without a selection.
There’s no questioning Ng’s credentials; she’s regarded as one of the best baseball minds not holding a GM job. Should she be hired, she would follow a similar path to her new boss of intern to full time to management. That’s before you even consider the impact of Texas hiring the first woman general manager, which would be a welcome change from the norm.
It doesn’t have to be Ng however, it can be any intelligent baseball mind. Texas needs someone that can come in, see the organization through new eyes, and use what they see in patching the holes the existing administration to this point hasn’t.
The odds of this happening are slim. If JD wasn’t going to cede the GM title for someone like Levine or Preller, it’s hard to envision why he’d make that change for someone else. So the cycle will continue, with the same minds making the same decisions with close to the same results.
If those results continue, with a new stadium looming, Texas will end up hiring a new general manager. The only difference is the folks that are around now won’t be here to see it through.
Send all your spiciest "Jon Daniels ruined the Rangers!" takes directly to Samuel on Twitter @thesamuelhale.