By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"I'm very pleased with that class," Daniels says.
In late July, Daniels traded veterans Kenny Lofton and Eric Gagne, landing Max Ramirez for Lofton and David Murphy, Kason Gabbard and Engel Beltre for Gagne. Ramirez and Beltre are among the best prospects in baseball, Murphy became the Rangers left fielder last season and Gabbard will compete for a rotation spot this spring—quite a deal for two veterans whose careers fizzled after they left Arlington.
Daniels also needed to find a new home for Teixeira, who was ready to break the bank when he became a free agent in the offseason. So in another late July maneuver, Daniels shopped the switch-hitting first baseman to the Atlanta Braves, which still hoped to make a playoff run.
In exchange for Teixeira and reliever Ron Mahay, the Braves handed over a package of five prospects—Feliz, Andrus, Saltalamacchia, Harrison and Beau Jones. The trade has the potential to be the most significant move in team history, especially after Teixeira signed an incredible $180 million contract with the Yankees this offseason.
"They made a great, great trade," says Baseball America's Manuel. "When they got that kind of return in that deal, that's really what made them realize that they could remake the farm system, and that could be the way to remake the franchise."
Daniels began the 2007 offseason by signing Milton Bradley to an affordable one-year contract in December and by taking a risk trading for Josh Hamilton, who would lead the American League in RBI and total bases in the 2008 season. Hamilton added a record-setting home run derby performance at the All-Star Game in New York, and the story of his comeback from severe drug addiction landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Hamilton posted the best season as a center fielder in Rangers history and may have supplanted Michael Young as the face of the franchise.
But to get Hamilton, Daniels was forced to part with Edinson Volquez, who emerged as one of the National League's best pitchers last season with 17 wins, 206 strikeouts and a 3.21 ERA with the Cincinnati Reds.
Much like he did nearly a year earlier, Daniels locked up a key player to a five-year deal before the season, but this time it was for far less money ($22 million), and it was given to Kinsler, who's entering his prime whereas Michael Young is on the decline.
With only one first-round pick in last year's draft, Daniels still managed to grab the best group of talent, according to Baseball America. Justin Smoak, the Rangers' first-rounder, is already considered among the top prospects in the game after playing just 14 games in the minors last season.
Daniels credits owner Hicks with buying into this change in philosophy back in 2007 and supplying him with the resources needed to acquire the best young scouts and players, along with coaches to train them.
"A short-term goal has been realized, and now our challenge is how we take this collection of talent and turn it into a championship team here in Arlington."
Having the best farm system in baseball is no guarantee of success, but as Daniels points out, building and developing a team with homegrown talent is a proven winner. Just look at last year's World Series: the Phillies lineup featured five players who were drafted and developed by the organization, and the Tampa Bay Rays had its own crop of homegrown stars.
Even the New York Yankees, who have a reputation for buying championships, received World Series assists from players it developed such as Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada.
"Whether you have a big-end payroll or a lower-end payroll, you've got to develop your own players for it to work," Daniels says.
The Rangers dedication to development already paid dividends last season with the emergence of Teagarden and first baseman Chris Davis as impact players. Andrus should continue this trend as the next wave of prospects takes their place.
But not everyone is convinced Andrus is ready to take over the shortstop job immediately. Even Daniels, who signed Omar Vizquel as insurance, is hedging his bet. "We're pushing him," he says. "I'm not going to sit here and say he's 100 percent ready. We think he is. That will play itself out on the field."
Newberg maintains this season is vital to establishing the Rangers as a contender in 2010, which is a realistic date, according to Daniels. If the Rangers fall in the standings, Washington could easily lose his job. Daniels, under contract until 2011, won't be judged on wins and losses this year, but his Rangers career might be cut short if these young players don't pan out on the field—and soon.
"He's safe unless a bunch of these prospects that they're banking on and the ones that are at the forefront of this youth movement break down or get to the big leagues and don't cut it consistently," Newberg says. "If there are three or four who can't get the job done, then I'd say that philosophy starts to be called into question."