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Daniels hopes to dispel youth stereotypes
by Alan Schwarz
Yes, at 28 he's the youngest general manager in major league history. Sure, he's the latest in a string of Ivy League-educated GMs. But as soon as the hubbub about his early-October promotion to Rangers GM dies down, Jon Daniels will be judged like all other club decision-makers: whether he can do the job. I spoke with Daniels during the Texas organization meetings about meshing with established general managers, improving the Rangers and his humble baseball roots that involed crashing in Denver basements.
ALAN SCHWARZ: What is the difference between calling other general managers when you're a GM yourself, instead of still being an assistant GM?
JON DANIELS: I think it's just a matter of building relationships, and some are going to come faster than others. Some guys have been more open in our initial conversations--we've jumped right into any possible fits the two teams have, offseason priorities, etc. Some have been a little less substantive in what we've discussed, but my guess, and I anticipate as our relationships develop as people you do business with, that will expand.
AS: Is there any sort of strategic marketing that you try to do starting out, so that they get to know you in the way you would like to be known? And how much scouting are you doing, to get to know them?
JD: I don't think there is really any marketing. I think if you do that it would come across as transparent and fake. General managers, especially the veteran general managers, are quality reads of people and good judges of character. I obviously don't have a lengthy track record, but I do feel pretty confident that my reputation among people who know me will stand up.
AS: What are the disadvantages of being only 28, and what are the advantages of being only 28?
JD: For me the biggest disadvantage to date, or the issue to date, has been that my age has been the story. I'll be happy as soon as the story is off of my age and the novelty of it and back on the offseason moves to improve the club--the story is back on our players.
I don't have the library of history-making decisions that somebody who has more experience does. But I do think that has been overblown in certain scenarios. You can be an assistant GM or a farm director or a scouting director or an executive at any level for 20 years--but until you actually have to be the one to push the button, make the call, sign the free agent, make the trade, make the multimillion-dollar recommendation to ownership, it's always your first time doing that. I've heard that from a number of GMs.
Another disadvantage for me is the perception that, at 28 years old, I've got my computer and pocket protector ready to go and I'm going to make all of my decisions without consulting with people who have been through the wars before. That couldn't be further from the truth. I believe in gathering as much information as possible and making the best decision I can. That includes medical information, makeup, character, statistical analysis, and equally if not more important, talking to our scouts, getting a read on what their recommendations are. The perception is something that I'm trying not to pay too much attention to, but that's something that I imagine will continue.
AS: Are there any advantages to being only 28?
JD: Not just myself, I think that there is an energy level, a creativity, maybe a little bit of a . . . I don't want to come across as cocky, because that's not me, but maybe a little bit of a fearlessness as far as taking chances.
AS: There is this silly perception that you, Theo Epstein and Paul DePodesta are all the same person. What are the main differences among you three?
JD: Well, there is one enormous difference--Theo has now been to the postseason three times in a row and won a world championship, and Paul won a division title in his first season as general manager. I haven't accomplished anything yet.
AS: I'm talking about personality and philosophy.
JD: I have a relationship where I can call them, but I wouldn't say I know them extremely well. I probably know their public personas better than the guys themselves.
AS: Getting back to your club, what do the Rangers need right now?
JD: Our bullpen is a focus. That was probably the biggest difference from the quality run we made in 2004 and this past year. I think our bullpen ERA went from about 3.40 to 4.80.
I am not the first general manager for the Rangers to identify starting pitching as a focus area. We have made progress--I think a lot of that improvement is going to come internally with Chris Young, Kameron Loe, Juan Dominguez, and others that in our minds have gotten over the hump a little bit. But we need to add to it and we are going to be without Kenny Rogers next year. That's 200 quality innings that we're going to have to replace in addition to wanting to get better.
AS: What is the developing dynamic between Ian Kinsler and Alfonso Soriano? How do you assess your options, given they both play second base and one could make about $10 million or more in arbitration?
JD: First of all, on Ian, he's a guy we hold in very high regard. He is advanced for his age and he has played well so far. The flipside is that he plays the same position where we've got a perennial all-star and guy who has been extremely productive, 30-30 this year in addition to all of the other attributes he brings. There has been some speculation, since day one, that we're looking to deal him. I look up two years later and here he is in our lineup. It's depth. There is nothing to say that both guys can't be here for this year and beyond.
AS: Should I interpret that as a possible position switch for presumably Soriano?
JD: I wouldn't necessarily read into that. Alfonso is our second baseman and we don't have plans to move him off of there.
AS: Your first job in baseball in 2001 was as an intern in Colorado, where you examined in detail how Coors Field affects offense and pitching. Does that experience help you in figuring out how the Rangers' home park plays into decisions?
JD: There are a lot of similarities. But if you get too focused on building specifically for your park, you can get away from trying to identify the most talented players out there. There are two ways to guarantee that the ball stays in the park--a strikeout or a ground ball. So we have tried to focus and look over some tendencies and trends we acquire, but at the end of it, talent plays up and overcomes.
AS: During that Rockies internship, did you really make just $275 a week--and sleep in a basement?
JD: Yeah, it was $1,200 a month. Fortunately I knew somebody out there--there were four roommates, they had a house and it had an unfinished basement. I bought a mattress and some plywood, I built a bed frame and it was fine. There was a concrete slab floor, there were exposed studs on the walls and I bought a clothes rack to hang my clothes and hung it in front of the water-heater. It wasn't that bad. It wasn't like I walked 20 miles barefoot to school.
AS: This winter's free agent market appears a little light. Will trades be more vital than usual?
JD: Sure, it's a supply and demand situation. When we look at how to improve our team, it might be a market that is more reliant on trades than in the past.
AS: Is it more fun to devise trades, or is it more nerve-wracking having to give up talent to get it?
JD: I'll let you know when I actually make a deal.
You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.