Daniels keeping Rangers' plans under wraps
As Winter Meetings approach, GM mum on targeted upgrades
ARLINGTON -- Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has mastered the art of baseball-style poker. It is a familiar high-stakes game that all general managers play at this time of the year, and Daniels plays it as well as anybody.He is appropriately cautious and calculating, and tenaciously plays the game "close to the vest" as the big rollers describe in other venues. The occasional sly smile and a sip of bottled water are the only departures from the perfected blank countenance that serves him well. He protects his honesty with measured vagueness when discussing the Rangers' offseason plans. Therefore, nobody outside the Rangers' tight-knit front office cadre really knows what Daniels has planned as the offseason progresses and the Winter Meetings get ready to begin next week in Dallas. Daniels plays a stronger hand than most general managers, but it's only a guess to whether he is bluffing on certain matters or ready to go "all-in" and rake in the big pot. The other general managers sitting at the table know Daniels is backed by a strong ownership group willing to spend money. They know he has a strong farm system if he is willing to give up prospects in a major trade. But exactly what he will do is only speculation and conjecture at this point until the hand is called.
Has he offered clues? Maybe. Maybe not. They may be hints or they may be feints.Daniels said the Rangers have not closed the door on free-agent pitcher C.J. Wilson. He said that after the Rangers signed Joe Nathan to be their closer with the idea of Neftali Feliz going into the rotation. Feliz would join Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando, leaving no room -- it would seem -- for Wilson. Yet, Daniels said there is still interest in Wilson. Is it real, or is it bluffing? Certainly if the Rangers sign Wilson at what Daniels describes as a "reasonable price," it might open up a trade with another starter, perhaps this winter or in Spring Training. Or maybe Daniels knows that the Yankees, Angels and Red Sox are all interested in Wilson. Why fold on a hand before it is necessary? Maybe a bluff in the form of perceived interest in Wilson serves the Rangers in at least forcing somebody else to pay more than what the market otherwise dictates. Daniels did meet with Carl Crawford's agent at the Winter Meetings last year. Then there are Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, the two power-hitting first basemen who are both free agents. To this point, the Rangers have openly expressed reluctance to pursue either one, citing too much money and too many years. Those are resources that could be spent on either pitching or keeping their current core of players intact for an extended period of time. But Daniels also admits to "exploring everything," and remember that a week before last year's Winter Meetings, nobody had any inkling that the Rangers would get involved with Adrian Beltre. At the time, it was all about pitching and Cliff Lee. Pitching was supposed to be the Rangers' top priority going into this offseason, but it has since been revealed that they were willing to do a one-year with Grady Sizemore and give him a chance to play center field. That does not necessarily suggest the Rangers are unhappy with the potential current arrangement of Craig Gentry, Julio Borbon and possibly Leonys Martin. But the Rangers are never averse to upgrading at any position and certainly center field could turn out to be higher on the list than previously anticipated. That may be another card being zealously guarded. What Beltre proved last year was the Rangers perceive there are more ways to improve a pitching staff in particular or a team in general than by acquiring a pitcher. The Rangers may decide that adding a power-hitting first baseman is the best way to help Holland, Harrison, Ogando and the rest of the pitching staff. Suddenly Fielder, Pujols or even Michael Cuddyer might be worth more than just the casual exploratory drilling. After all, the Rangers have owners who struck it rich through exploratory drilling. What we do know about Daniels is he does not like to play it safe or settle for a track record of mediocrity. The pursuit of Sizemore and the acquisition of Nathan are the latest illustrations. Daniels and his cadre philosophically look for high-ceiling players who have the potential to have a significant impact. That could be in the form of young talent with high-ceiling potential or veteran players who may have health issues that create risk but also have a long track record of success. When it comes to Nathan vs. Matt Capps or Sizemore vs. Nate McLouth, Daniels always bets on the high-ceiling, high-impact player. See Vladimir Guerrero, Eric Gagne, Omar Vizquel, Sammy Sosa and others. Remember, they flirted with Jim Thome last year as well. There are times when Daniels is not bluffing. There are times when he sees a prize and is willing to up the ante to seize it. Those moments are almost assuredly ahead as the offseason progresses. Nathan was only the start, but that was a deal that took two weeks to come together and at no time did the Rangers allow even an inkling that something was in the works. Daniels always has something in the works. He knows the hand that has been dealt, he has an idea of what the other general managers are holding and only he knows how far the Rangers are willing to go. He's just not revealing his hand. The great poker players never do.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.