March 2013

Distractions.

Because I’m busier at work right now than I’ve been since our family grew from two, I probably should have resisted the urge to pull up the radio call of the Rangers-Dodgers game yesterday afternoon, but for two reasons I didn’t.

One: Vin Scully.  C’mon.  Vin Scully.

Two: I needed the distraction.

Not so much a distraction from work as a distraction from baseball.

More specifically, from the overwhelming crush of off-the-field baseball content advancing a dialogue generated to overfill a void that bloats with each extra day of silence from a main character who doesn’t need to be silent.

Scully isn’t what he used to be, and a game ending up with 51 players and a tie score isn’t baseball in its purest form, and even the club CEO sitting in the front row, watching Adrian Beltre take Mark Lowe deep and watching Leonys Martin boost his strong bid further and watching Joe Ortiz look more and more like a big leaguer every time he takes the ball, was probably thinking about a lot of the same things you and I are, surely more frustrated than any of us but also with a far greater ability to put an end to all the speculation than anyone else has.

I’d really like to wake up one morning fired up to write about why Robbie Ross/SP is arguably less of a stretch than Robbie Ross/RP was a year ago.  About Jeff Sullivan’s interesting take over at FanGraphs about Derek Lowe, who, he suggests sabermetrically, “as recently as 2011 . . . was arguably better than [Kyle] Lohse.”  About the big difference in implication between the lack of command shown by Justin Grimm and Cody Buckel, maybe wedging in a note about Chris McGuiness’s .136/.208/.136 start in Indians camp that will likely lead to a opportunity for the Rangers to take him back, if they want to.

I’d like to write too long a piece about Leonys, and another about Nick Tepesch, who in a roundabout way could end up as the trophy from the Jarrod Saltalamacchia trade.

But all this other stuff is taking my eye off the ball, and that’s messed up.

You could even come up with some sort of rallying point, if you tried hard enough, after the Ron Washington cocaine story emerged three years ago at this time.  Everyone at the center of that story addressed it, head on, once it landed in the fourth estate.

This one just festers, as long as the silence persists.

I was driving to my son’s baseball practice late in the afternoon a week ago today when news broke of the shift in job titles at 1000 Ballpark Way.  Some have suggested the timing of the Friday afternoon press release wasn’t accidental.

I’d be grateful to have another club announcement to process by the time I head back out to practice today.

There’s a 90 percent chance of rain in Maryvale this afternoon, which I suppose increases the percentage chance that Nolan Ryan, without the distraction of a ballgame to take in, decides he’s ready to talk, and to put an end to all the written speculation, to own the plate the way he did back when he was on the mound and Vin Scully was at his best himself.

Silent partner.

[T]here were indications here Friday that Nolan Ryan could possibly be out the Rangers’ door, and if he does leave, it won’t be because he was forced out but because ownership has eroded his position within the team.

— Randy Galloway, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

There was that first column that came out late Friday night, so Saturday morning I wanted to address the elephant in the room.  So I went in and talked with Nolan and say, ‘Hey, I just want to address this.  I don’t want it to linger between the two of us.’  And we talked through it and Nolan indicated that he had no issue with myself or anything else.  I’ve got to take it at face value and move forward.  We’ve got a big job here to get the team ready.

— Jon Daniels, on 105.3 FM, one of several local radio interviews he’s done the last couple days

Are the Rangers trying to freeze out Nolan Ryan?  The short answer is no, that’s not the intent, even if the eventual outcome is essentially the same should Ryan perceive that the promotions of Jon Daniels and Rick George have effectively cut him out of the loop, and he becomes nothing more than an iconic figurehead. . . . The majority of the heavy lifting has been done by Daniels.  He made the trades, the drafts and the signings that built the Rangers into the envy of baseball.  Ryan’s contribution hasn’t been as great as most fans like to believe, but it’s not insignificant, either.  Just as he did as a player, Ryan gave the Rangers credibility as team president, a title he no longer owns.

— Kevin Sherrington, Dallas Morning News

Nolan Ryan remains chief executive officer, but he shed president as part of his title.  An icon does not need an elaborate title.

— Gerry Fraley, Dallas Morning News

Ryan is sensing uncertainty now, according to sources, and is strongly considering leaving the club. . . . Many fingers, both in the desert and across Metroplex airwaves, are pointed at Daniels, and all are reluctant to speak on the subject.

— Jeff Wilson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Source says it’s “not looking great” Rangers/Nolan Ryan will work out differences.  Says Nolan “deserves to have his dignity through this.”

— Drew Davison, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

If he decides to retire from the Rangers in two months, four months or whatever, . . . Ryan’s departure will produce a seismic tremor throughout baseball and, particularly, throughout Texas.

— Gil LeBreton, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The perception of a power struggle would haunt (A) the owners who failed to broker a peace between Ryan and those who opposed him and (B) Daniels, who – fairly or not – would be viewed by some as the guy who helped run Nolan Ryan out of town.

— Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports

Ryan’s shadow is so large than Daniels hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves.  I’m not sure whether Andrew Friedman or Billy Beane or Brian Sabean or someone else is baseball’s best general manager, but there’s no way to have that discussion without including Jon Daniels. . . . Daniels built a great baseball organization.  He’d done a lot of the heavy lifting before Ryan arrived, and that’s the point a lot of people miss.  The Rangers were well on their way to the postseason, and Nolan Ryan had almost nothing to do with the building of the baseball team.  Again, that’s a point a lot of people miss. . . . Ryan is such a larger-than-life figure, especially in Texas, that plenty of reporters decided to tell the story the way they thought it should be told.  If the facts were otherwise, well, that’s life.  I don’t know if Daniels ever felt slighted, but he had every right to be.

— Richard Justice, MLB.com

To put it simply: The reason the Texas Rangers gave Jon Daniels a new title the other day had more to do with assistant GM Thad Levine than it did with Nolan Ryan.

— Buster Olney, ESPN

During the process, on behalf of Mike, I asked only that the Angels compensate Mike fairly for his historic 2012 season, given his service time.  In my opinion, this contract falls well short of a ‘fair’ contract, and I have voiced this to the Angels throughout the process. . . . The renewal of Mike’s contract will put an end of this discussion.  As when he learned he would not be the team’s primary center fielder for the upcoming season, Mike will put the disappointment behind him and focus on helping the Angels reach their goal of winning the 2013 World Series.

— Mike Trout’s agent Craig Landis, to Mike DiGiovanna, Los Angeles Times

(Whoops.  Wrong story.)

This was not a Ryan power play as much as his seeking clarification whether the big baseball decisions belonged to him or to Daniels.  And Daniels was declared the winner.  Remember, it was just two spring trainings ago that, coming off the franchise’s first World Series trip, Ryan said it was going to be either him or Chuck Greenberg.  One had to go. . . . Maybe Ryan will be fine for two or three more seasons, sitting in the front row with Ruth and just enjoying baseball.  Regardless, the notion that he’s bound to leave because he’s no longer in charge of what he was hired to do is a flawed one.  He changed that the day he engineered Greenberg’s exit and grabbed the CEO title.

— Tim Cowlishaw, Dallas Morning News

The Rangers have a management team that has been quite successful the past four years, but change has always been the one constant in this organization.

— T.R. Sullivan, MLB.com

With Daniels, Levine, [A.J.] Preller and the likes of [Matt] Vinnola and [Josh] Boyd upcoming on the baseball side, the Rangers have a great working situation.  With George and . . . communications czar John Blake, facilities guy Rob Matwick, entertainment guru Chuck Morgan, CFO [Kellie] Fischer and the likes of business partnerships guys Joe Januszewski and customer service man Jay Miller on the business side, Ryan has an exceptional group of lieutenants.  Ownership has been quiet and supportive of team building.  It is an extraordinary setup, most likely the best in the business.   Ryan can set the tone, be involved on the project of the moment or give advice on a key decision and this organization can continue to grow.  The thing that would serve everybody best here is to realize that Ryan is a huge asset to the club and that every role evolves and changes over time.  If all the parties involved can do that, this bit of drama can help re-center the organization and position it for even greater things to come.

— Evan Grant, Dallas Morning News

Over more than 35 years in the business, I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed a pro sports official grow more in the job than Daniels has. . . . He’s a smart guy, as we already knew.  Smart enough to know that, despite the differences you’d expect between a Cornell man and one educated in clubhouses and bullpens, they mutually benefit one another. Daniels will never enjoy the affection of Texans like Ryan does.  Short of Tom Landry or Roger Staubach or Sam Houston, I’m not sure who would.  Ryan has an authenticity cultivated over a long, storied lifetime.  There’s nothing phony.  What he seems, he is.

— Sherrington

My job is to oversee baseball operations, and I report to Nolan.

— Daniels, to Evan Grant, Dallas Morning News

 

And, in a half a week in which many have spoken and written in an attempt to connect the dots – if not fill in the blanks – the greatest volume spoken has been this one:

 

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Everybody wants to hear from you, Nolan.

We’ve always wanted to hear from you.  We all stop down whenever you speak.  In your unvarnished and often outspoken manner, you speak, and we listen.  We may not always agree – but we always listen.

Everyone wants to hear from you, Nolan.

The Ryan-Daniels-George news.

On the one hand, it sounded huge.  Jon Daniels and Rick George get promotions into presidency positions, in Daniels’s case while also maintaining his post as General Manager, a dual title that only Detroit’s Dave Dombrowski could currently claim.  They continue to run their departments under CEO Nolan Ryan, who earlier in the day (and for nearly two years) was CEO and President Nolan Ryan.

On the other hand, Daniels tells the press that there won’t be a dramatic difference in how baseball operations conducts its business under the new arrangement.  After all, the tripartite structure when Ryan was CEO/President and Daniels was GM and George was Chief Operating Officer wasn’t really changing, even if new business cards would need to be printed.  Just about every local beat writer and columnist was quick to interpret the announcement as such.

Just about.

There were two things that jumped out as I was trying to process what all of this meant, and why it was done now.

The first was Randy Galloway’s take toward the end of his afternoon radio show, when the news broke.  He must have said “Keep a close eye on this” a dozen times.  He suggested this could be a signal that Ryan, 66, perhaps not all that happy about the turn of events leading up to it, might be considering walking away from the organization, perhaps even before the season ends.

Health reasons?  Pace?  Family time?  Office politics?

Galloway wouldn’t say, or even guess – and refused to suggest there was any sort of power play involved – but he did note in a column up on the Star-Telegram website tonight that “[t]here were rumblings over the winter that Ryan was considering retirement, and at least one player’s agent has been telling other people in baseball he believed Ryan was leaving the Rangers,” adding that “if [Ryan] does leave, it won’t be because he was forced out but because ownership has eroded his position within the team.”

That’s interesting.

The second thing that caught my attention was a note that Gerry Fraley (Dallas Morning News) and Anthony Andro (Fox Sports Southwest) each had toward the end of their respective stories on the announcement.

Fraley: “[O]wnership has asked [Daniels] to do everything possible to keep the baseball operations team together.”

Andro: “One thing the [ownership] group wants Daniels to focus on in his new role is keeping the organization’s top personnel from leaving for other opportunities.”

Particularly given those comments, it stands to reason, does it not, that moving Daniels into a Presidency role could pave the way for an eventual promotion of Assistant GM Thad Levine to GM, and of Senior Director of Player Personnel A.J. Preller to Assistant GM (or, I suppose, Preller to GM if that’s the shakeout)?  Levine has had interviews to run other clubs.  If Preller hasn’t, he will.

Theo Epstein, President.  Jed Hoyer, GM.

Mark Shapiro, President.  Chris Antonetti, GM.

John Shuerholz, President.  Frank Wren, GM.

There’s precedent.

We’re all trying to figure out if it’s possible to keep both Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, right?

Then, later tonight, I re-read the press release, and noticed something interesting.

Paragraph 1 announced the Daniels and George promotions.

Paragraph 2 noted that they would oversee their operations “under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Nolan Ryan.”

Paragraph 3 contained a five-sentence quote from Co-Chairmen Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, covering: (1) the organization’s enormous strides under Ryan’s leadership; (2) Ryan’s impact on Daniels; (3) Ryan’s work with George; (4) the promotions as a reflection of the responsibility Ryan has entrusted to Daniels and George; (5) the strength of the organization’s leadership team, led by Ryan.

Paragraph 4 was Ryan’s own quote.

Paragraph 5 bullet-points Daniels’s tenure.  Paragraph 6 highlights George’s achievements.  Paragraph 7 concludes the statement with a sentence remarking on what Ryan has accomplished in baseball.

While Daniels and George earned the promotions – and the extra job security that you’d expect comes along with them – the organization was nonetheless intent on focusing much of its Friday announcement on Ryan.

And I have no criticism of that.  Ryan has meant a tremendous amount to this franchise in all kinds of ways, and will continue to do so, no matter what his title is, as long as he wants to.  To whatever extent this development was his wish, should it effectively keep some key members of the inner circle around, at least for a longer time if not indefinitely, then one more slow clap for the big man.

We shouldn’t lose sight of the folks in baseball operations and in business operations not named Friday but whom Daniels was quick to praise when asked for comment.  As he put it, today’s announcement was, “more than anything, . . . a recognition of the work of not just myself or Rick, but our corps under strong leadership and what the organization has accomplished over the last eight years.”

The franchise is in great hands.  The roster is strong, the farm system is deep, the coaching staff added a star this winter, the business side is killing it, the fan base is formidable.

And ownership has the financial muscle, the desire to win, and the determination to constantly get stronger, which in pro sports frequently includes finding ways to hang onto key assets.

Nobody was added to the organization on Friday, but while the announcement might be viewed as nominal and little more, it could turn out that the news will ultimately represent addition by delaying subtraction.

And if that’s part of the outcome here, congratulations to Davis and Simpson and the group they lead, to Daniels and George for their well-deserved promotions, and perhaps to a few other folks in the organization who might end up in bigger roles.

In Texas.

And if that really is where this is headed and today’s development ultimately helps this franchise win, then regardless of his official baseball title, Ryan gets a seat in front of the motorcade, and whether he’s CEO or CEO/President or Team Ambassador to Everything, I think we’d all be OK with him adding “grand marshal” to his Texas Rangers job description.

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