By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Prospects, not patches.
Says Daniels: "I'm willing to listen to anything that will improve our team."
He must accomplish this impossible task—winning at the Major League level while simultaneously amassing sustainable talent in the minors—under irrational constraints. Cuts in the scouting department, a pedestrian budget despite playing in the nation's fifth-largest market, a pissed-off Michael Young (better known as the face of the franchise) and a farm system ranked 28th out of 30 by Baseball America are all conspiring against Daniels.
"There's a certain amount of propaganda to those rankings, but at best the Rangers are middle of the pack," says long-time fan Jamey Newberg, founder of the must-read Rangers minor-league manifesto, The Newberg Report. "Their rebuilding plan is the correct plan, but the problem is it's the same plan they've been giving only lip service to for years."
Says Daniels of his organizational talent, "With our recent draft and some of the moves we've already made, if we do nothing else we'll make a pretty dramatic climb in the rankings next year. And we're not finished."
Young, who signed an $85 million contract extension last winter partly because of Texas' supposed commitment to win now, bristles at the rebuilding. Like a lot of us, he's lost track of where one reconstruction ends and another begins. Sensing his displeasure, Daniels met with Young on the recent road trip in Detroit.
"It was productive in that I got a chance to tell him how I feel," Young says sternly in front of his locker before last Thursday night's 5-1 loss to the first-place Angels at soggy Rangers Ballpark. "I understand we have two different job descriptions, but I've been through rebuilding and I'm not receptive to it in any way, shape or form. I don't want to be patient. I want to win now. Today. If we're trying to sell rebuilding to the fans, they shouldn't be patient either."
Uh-oh. Eschewing self-preservation, in last month's draft Daniels—at the time without a contract beyond '08—drafted a slew of high-school pitchers he might not survive to see pitch in Texas. But better for the franchise, goes the timeless thinking, to land a No. 1 pitcher in three years than a No. 3 pitcher in one year.
This, of course, is an about-face from last winter when Daniels coveted McCarthy over Danks because he was a year older, more experienced and better suited to help the Rangers win right stinkin' now.
"I told Michael we were implementing a five-year plan toward stability and a one-year plan toward winning, running concurrently," Daniels says. "I purposely avoid the word rebuilding."
But Hicks doesn't. With his team dragging a league-worst 26-43 record on June 19, he flip-flopped philosophies, awarded his GM a $650,000 extension and hedged his bet by making it only one year. It's going to get worse before it gets better, and Daniels knows it. By sabermetrics, carbon dating, some secret function on the new iPhone or just acquired intuition, he knows it.
Though he refuses to pinpoint a time line, the blueprint calls for blossom in 2009.
By then both Millwood and Padilla will be in contract years, financially motivated into solid seasons. McCarthy should be dependable by then. Loe could be a star. Who knows what will happen to pitchers Robinson Tejeda, Thomas Diamond and Edinson Volquez? Or even recent 17-year-old first-round draft pick Blake Bevean, he of the 98 mph fastball and the 110 mph cockiness. In theory, come '09 Jason Botts, Taylor Teagarden, Johnny Whittleman and John Mayberry Jr. will be doing the clutch hitting and Kasey Kiker and Eric Hurley the quality pitching. Who knows? Maybe imminent Twins free agent and area resident Torii Hunter will be roaming center field and, though he'll need an extension on his expiring '08 contract, perhaps Washington will still be around to manage it all.
"Can't control 2009 or even 2008," Washington says. "I'm only worried about 2007. They haven't put that 'x' by our name telling us we're eliminated. So we're going to keep playing our schedule and see what happens."
Says Daniels before excusing himself first for the bathroom, then the door, "Our results are disappointing. For that I take full responsibility."
But unlike Jon Daniels' 2007 Texas Rangers, his career and his lunch aren't cooked.