There are plenty of success stories out there for the Twins to consider as they select a new general manager, plenty of approaches to use as a model. But this month’s trade deadline was a good reminder that there are few baseball personnel leaders who act as decisively and effectively as the Rangers’ Jon Daniels.
The New York native and Cornell business school grad was only 28 when Texas hired him a decade ago, making him the youngest general manager in baseball history, and the gamble has paid off beyond anything the Rangers had ever experienced. It took Daniels four years to revamp a Texas roster and guide the Rangers not only into the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade but to their first World Series. And after getting there in back-to-back seasons — and coming within a David Freese triple or a Lance Berkman single of winning a championship — Daniels was forced to dismantle that team and build a new one.
He might have finished the job two weeks ago. When All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy blocked a trade to Cleveland, Daniels seized the opportunity to acquire a major upgrade at the Rangers’ weakest position, a trade that also buttressed the bullpen’s depth with righthander Jeremy Jeffress. Then he took advantage of the Yankees’ uncharacteristic sell-off to pick up Carlos Beltran as a two-month rental.
The deals cost Texas three heavily hyped prospects, including two former first-round picks who appear all but certain to reach the majors. That’s a stiff price, one that many GMs would hesitate to pay. But it didn’t strip Texas of its best young players, two of whom are already contributing to the big-league team. And those moves have made Texas the favorite to reach the World Series for the third time in seven seasons.
“Any time you’ve got two future Hall of Famers back to back, that’s a deadly combination. There’s no bullpen and there’s no starter who wants to deal with that,” Lucroy, speaking of Beltran and third baseman Adrian Beltre, told the Dallas Morning News upon arriving in Arlington. “It’s a Murderer’s Row.”
That might be hyperbole, but Lucroy’s point is taken, even with Prince Fielder forced to announce his retirement last week because of repeated neck injuries, just the latest in a relentless roll of injuries that seem to strike Texas every season. The Rangers entered Saturday tied for sixth in the majors in runs scored this season, and Lucroy — who hit six home runs in his first 10 games as an American Leaguer, including two Friday against the Tigers — will only add to that.
What’s striking, though, is how little this Rangers team has in common with Texas’ World Series clubs, only five years later, the result of Daniels’ determined overhaul. The nucleus of those AL champs — Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Neftali Feliz — is long gone, though technically Hamilton, who didn’t play this season because of a knee injury, is Rangers property again. Only Beltre, Mitch Moreland and Elvis Andrus remain as regulars from those playoff teams.
Daniels has rebuilt with a couple of canny free-agent signings such as Ian Desmond, Shin-Soo Choo and Yu Darvish. He gave opportunities to young prospects such as second baseman Rougned Odor, utility man Jurickson Profar and outfielder Nomar Mazara, at age 21 an AL Rookie of the Year candidate this year. And he made bold trades when possible, acquiring ace lefthander Cole Hamels and closer Sam Dyson at last year’s deadline, before this year’s haul.
Not every gamble has worked out, not even close, with Fielder (and the $72 million the Rangers still owe him after this year) chief among them. But backed by a strong farm system that was his first priority upon being hired, and an owner willing to support bold moves and invest in the roster, Daniels has kept the Rangers relevant, just down the street from the attention-hogging Dallas Cowboys, for most of a decade, through a near-total makeover.
Daniels may even be a couple of months from his first world championship. The Twins should do so well.
It’s been an eventful week, or month, for the closers of the American League Central. Here’s a look at how this critical position shapes up around the division:
Cleveland’s Cody Allen has eclipsed 20 saves for three consecutive seasons, but it remains unclear how manager Terry Francona intends to use Allen and newly acquired lefthander Andrew Miller.
Since Miller came aboard Aug. 1, each reliever has converted one save opportunity, and Francona hasn’t clarified how he will use his pair of closers.
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Kelvin Herrera has calmed Kansas City’s fears about Wade Davis’ flexor injury by earning three August saves entering Saturday, but Herrera also has entered a couple of tie games and taken the loss in both. Fortunately for the Royals, Davis should return before the end of the month.
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The Tigers’ Francisco Rodriguez, who leads active relievers in saves, earned his 33rd in 36 chances this year Saturday.
But he’s 34, too, and had allowed runs to score in three of his previous four appearances, triggering an annual event in Detroit: worrying about the bullpen.
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Back-to-back blown saves in Kansas City ballooned White Sox righthander David Robertson’s ERA to 4.18, unheard of for a closer, and triggered whispers in Chicago that he might be available in a waiver trade this month. But he earned his 29th save Saturday night at Miami.
Outfielder Robbie Grossman has the highest walk rate (16.0 percent) on the Twins since Jim Thome in 2010 (17.7 percent), but that willingness to take pitches comes with a side effect. Since Grossman joined the Twins on May 20, he has taken strike three more than any player in the majors except one. Here are the major league leaders in strikeouts looking since May 20, with season backwards K’s in parentheses:
37: Chris Davis, Baltimore (55)
31: Robbie Grossman, Twins (31)
30: Steven Souza Jr., Tampa Bay (41)
29: Wil Myers, San Diego (46)
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Twins catchers Kurt Suzuki, Juan Centeno and John Ryan Murphy entered Saturday having thrown out only 14 would-be base stealers this season, a rate that could make them the first AL team since the 1963 Red Sox (17) and Yankees (18) to throw out fewer than 20 base stealers in a season. It’s nothing new for the Twins; their three lowest totals of caught stealing have come in the past four seasons. The fewest in franchise history, with caught-stealing percentage in parentheses:
2015: 22 (19%)
2014: 22 (18%)
2012: 24 (18%)