DENVER—The assumption when Nolan Ryan took over as president of the Texas Rangers slightly more than four years ago was that, given his old-school background, Ryan would clean house with the new-school front office he inherited.
So much for assumptions.
After taking a year to familiarize himself with the folks running the baseball operation, Ryan not only decided to keep the structure in place, but he also reaffirmed his ability to work with Jon Daniels during the spring by signing Daniels to a four-year contract extension.
It’s all about a learning experience for Ryan as well as Daniels, two men from remarkably different backgrounds. Their approaches to life are obviously shaped by their individual experiences, but they are both constantly learning from each other.
And this offseason was probably the biggest learning experience that Daniels, who was 28 when he first took the job, has faced in his development.
The celebration of last year’s American League pennant ended quickly. The reality of the business took charge, and Daniels found himself in an uncomfortable, public showdown with Michael Young, the face of the franchise.
Young felt betrayed by the Rangers’ public efforts to unload him and the $48 million guarantee he carries over the next three seasons.
Can’t Please Everyone
It was shaky ground for Daniels, who is much closer in age to his players than his peers, and who naturally has gravitated toward developing friendships with players. Sounds harmless enough, but it isn’t. As the boss, Daniels cannot always make feel-good decisions, and players like Young can feel betrayed.
For Daniels it became a leadership lesson. It’s not about being liked. It’s about being respected. It’s not about keeping everybody happy. It’s about credibility.
In the end, a spring that began with Daniels and Young exchanging barbs ended with Young very much a member of the Rangers. The two men talked to each other, expressing themselves and getting ready for the start of the defense of the pennant.
“I’ll just say we talked and I didn’t spare any details,” Young said. “I didn’t hold back at all.”
Earlier in the spring, Young admitted that his offseason uncertainity caught him off guard.
“I never thought I could get traded, and I know it was close,” he said. “The business of the game gave me a lesson in the offseason.”
Young ranks among the Rangers’ career leaders in virtually every offensive category. He’s first in hits, triples and at-bats, and second in runs, doubles, plate appearances and games. He is a six-time all-star, won a Gold Glove in 2008, has won the team MVP award four times and was the 2005 AL batting champion.
Young came to the big leagues as a second baseman, but when the Rangers dumped Alex Rodriguez on the Yankees seven years ago, he moved to shortstop. He filled that void because the Rangers got Alfonso Soriano, then a second baseman, in the A-Rod trade.
He made five of his all-star appearances at shortstop, and after winning his Gold Glove in 2008, he was asked to move to third to make way for Elvis Andrus.
And after all that, this offseason was the unkindest cut of all. First the Rangers pushed him aside at third to accommodate free-agent addition Adrian Beltre. Then, after being told he was going to be the primary DH—something the Rangers had promised him earlier that he would not be asked to do—the Rangers acquired Mike Napoli, who figures to catch and get DH duty, too. Young essentially moved into a super-utility position.
Add in that for most of December and January, there were regular reports of the Rangers trying to trade him.
Ryan took the first step in declaring a truce.
“He came to my house the day before (spring training began),” Young said. “We laid the cards on the table. I felt he understood where I was coming from. It meant a lot.”
And in the final days of the spring, Daniels took a similar step. Now look for Young to come out and give his customary production—just as he always has.