By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Less than three months into the job, Daniels committed the team to a trade that ended whatever honeymoon he had with the media and fans. To the Padres, he dealt away first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who showed flashes of brilliance on offense and defense, and Highland Park favorite son Chris Young, a solid rookie pitcher coming off a 12-win season who could have helped satisfy the perpetual cravings of Rangers fans for a decent starting rotation. In exchange, Daniels got veteran starter Adam Eaton and aging reliever Akinori Otsuka.
At the time, the trade made little sense: to some it revealed Daniels' inexperience (the Observer ran a July 2007 profile on Daniels titled "Boy Blunder"); to others such as Newberg, it showed Daniels' penchant for trading away future prospects to pursue his "win now" philosophy.
The trade made even less sense to fans after Young and Gonzalez became All-Stars. Eaton, meanwhile, tore a finger tendon before his first start in a Rangers uniform. He returned from the disabled list to post an ugly 5.12 ERA, which led to a quick departure via free agency to Philadelphia. Otsuka pitched well as a reliever in his two seasons with Texas but left the team after suffering an elbow injury.
Newberg refuses to place all the blame on Daniels, maintaining that Daniels was influenced by then-Rangers manager Buck Showalter, who had a lot of input regarding trades. "And Buck Showalter just wasn't a big Chris Young guy," Newberg says.
But Daniels says that he is "the one that is ultimately accountable," and if he could do it all over again, it's the one trade he'd take back.
Daniels continued to target pitching through free agency, signing Millwood in late 2005 to be the team's ace. The only problem was, Millwood was no ace. With the Cleveland Indians, he had a losing record and was pitching behind CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee in the rotation. Even when he posted his best season in 1999, Millwood was not a No. 1 starter. But the Rangers paid him like one and expected him to pitch like one.
At the trade deadline in 2006, Daniels hoped to make a run for the playoffs and acquired the best slugger available—Carlos Lee, who just wasn't the impact bat Daniels was looking for. Again the Rangers missed the playoffs and Lee left as a free agent in the offseason. The Lee deal did have its perk—Nelson Cruz came in the package and the outfielder has been a late bloomer, finishing last season hitting .330 with seven homers and 26 RBI in just 31 games after a call-up to the majors.
Daniels began his second year as GM by firing Showalter and then hiring Ron Washington in November 2006. This seemed like a strange move since Washington had spent a decade with the Oakland A's as an infield and third base coach, and Oakland wasn't desperate to keep him despite needing a manager of its own. Daniels also decided not to interview any of the established managers available at the time, which included Joe Girardi, Lou Piniella, Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy.
The Washington hire became an immediate source of frustration for the team: Washington, known for his prowess as a defensive coach and his ability to relate to players, began feuding with Teixeira and catcher Gerald Laird, and the team he fielded came up lacking in fundamentals. Just two months into the 2007 season, the Rangers were out of contention with a 19-35 record, and media speculation about firing Washington was rampant.
Daniels made several savvy moves in the free agency market, but another clunker was on the horizon: trading former first-round pick John Danks to the Chicago White Sox for Brandon McCarthy. The pitcher has been a massive disappointment, mostly because of his inability to stay healthy. After battling blister, forearm and shoulder blade issues in 2007, he pitched in only five games last year for the Rangers because of injuries to his forearm, elbow and finger.
Daniels clearly hasn't given up on his pitcher. "I still have faith in Brandon McCarthy, now that he's healthy, to be the productive pitcher we thought he'd be."
Signing Sammy Sosa to a cheap one-year contract and extending Young's contract were Daniels' final moves before the team quickly tanked at the start of the 2007 season. That's when Daniels decided to stop handing out massive contracts and trading away young talent to deliver on the win-now approach.
"We sat down and talked with ownership and laid out the vision," Daniels says. "They agreed to it and bought into it, and I'd say that was kind of a turning point."
That turning point included a contract extension for Daniels, despite the Rangers having the worst record in baseball at 26-43.
"He's an intelligent, knowledgeable, brilliant baseball mind," Hicks told the Observer one month after signing him to the extension. "My opinion of JD hasn't wavered."
The draft in June 2007 and three key trades made shortly afterward marked a philosophical shift for an organization desperate to find its way back into the win column.
Texas ended up with two first-round picks as compensation for Carlos Lee signing with the Houston Astros, two first-rounders for popular outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. signing with the Los Angeles Angels and one pick for the loss of versatile utility man Mark DeRosa, who signed with the Chicago Cubs. Daniels chose wisely, using his picks on pitchers Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Neil Ramirez and Tommy Hunter and outfielder Julio Borbon—each of whom has become a highly regarded prospect.