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Friday, February 5, 2010
Updated: February 9, 1:01 AM ET
Daniels, Ryan join forces as good guys

By Jim Reeves
ESPNDallas.com

A brand new season of "Survivor" just kicked off, and I couldn't help but search for a familiar face among the contestants.

Surely, Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is in there someplace. After all, the new season is being billed as "Heroes vs. Villains" and heaven knows, depending on your perspective, Daniels could probably qualify for either side.

Let me say this right now: If I'm the captain choosing my players for the "Heroes" team, Daniels might just be my first selection.

There's no better character than a villain-turned-hero. Pro wrestling has been making millions off that plot twist for years. Right Hulk Hogan?

Of course, casting the boyish Ivy Leaguer-turned-GM Daniels as any kind of real "villain" is a stretch of anyone's imagination in the first place, especially in light of the news that just slipped out of Rangers headquarters recently.

Daniels, it turns out, has basically been trying to do his job with at least one hand tied behind his back for the past two years. That they may have still been two of the best years any Rangers GM has ever had simply emphasizes his survivor skills.

By all rights, Daniels shouldn't be packing his bags for spring training in Surprise, Ariz., next week. He should have already been kicked off the island.

Daniels was set up to fail once Nolan Ryan arrived as team president two years ago this month. Not by Ryan, mind you, but by owner Tom Hicks, who put his general manager in a virtually untenable position.

Hicks did the right thing by bringing in Ryan as club president, of course. The Hall of Famer provided not only instant credibility, but a vast storehouse of knowledge and experience for Daniels to tap into. Or at least that's how it should have worked. Instead, Hicks created instant tension between his two top executives by having Daniels report directly to him instead of to Ryan.

Now that wasn't Hicks' intention, of course. He was, no doubt, trying to protect his young GM, and this shouldn't be construed as another Hicks bashing. But it was a mistake, and that Ryan and Daniels somehow made it work anyway speaks to the loyalty both felt to Hicks and the Rangers' organization.

The tension between the Ryan and Daniels camps for the first two years, however, was palpable and something both sides now freely admit they could feel. There was talk of Ryan bringing in "his people." The split in the organization was obvious to everyone.

Daniels had every right to be jealous, maybe even resentful, of Ryan stepping in and getting all the attention after the GM and his assistants and scouts had done the yeoman's work in rebuilding the Rangers' farm system.

Communication snafus were constant. Daniels would talk to Hicks and assume information was being relayed to Ryan, which too often wasn't the case, and vice versa. Had Ryan decided to fire Daniels and bring in his own GM, hardly an eyebrow would have been raised.

Instead, Ryan remained patient and determined to give his young GM a chance before making any rush to judgment. There was a rough stretch about this time last winter, when Daniels was cast as the heavy in the handling of the Michael Young-to-third base decision just before spring training. We all know how that turned out.

But in October, following the 2009 season and with Hicks clearly on his way out as Rangers owner and a sale to the Chuck Greenberg-Ryan group imminent, Hicks called Daniels and Ryan in and changed the dynamic. Instead of reporting to Hicks, Daniels would now report to Ryan.

Better late than never.

Suddenly, lines of communication were open and clear. The chain of command was finally the way it should have been all along. Now, instead of wondering what the other might be doing, Ryan and Daniels could perform as one smooth, well-oiled machine, having discussed and decided together on the same strategic plans and goals.

The result was a remarkable offseason in which Daniels filled Ron Washington's wish list like Santa Claus filling a kid's stocking on Christmas Eve.

They added right-hander Rich Harden to the top of the rotation; potentially replaced Kevin Millwood's innings by bringing back a recharged Colby Lewis from Japan; added a huge right-handed bat in the middle of the lineup in DH Vlad Guerrero, who made a career as a Rangers killer; inserted veteran left-hander Darren Oliver into the bullpen picture; and picked up Khalil Greene as a utility infielder who can play shortstop for an extended time if need be.

Much of the work was either done or set up at the winter meetings in Indianapolis in early December.

"We had a feel for what we wanted to get done," said Daniels, who admitted the Rangers nailed virtually every player they had targeted. "We started walking through our options. It was a lot of fun. Everybody had input."

Let's not kid ourselves, there's a caveat with each of those players or the Rangers probably wouldn't have been able to get them.

Harden has a history of injuries, but when he's healthy, he's in the discussion with the best starters in the game. Lewis failed in the big leagues before finding success in Japan. Guerrero turns 35 this week and has also battled injury. Oliver is 39. Greene hit 27 homers just three seasons ago but has been battling an anxiety disorder for two years now.

Obviously, none of them carry any guarantees, yet the potential upside does nothing but inspire hope. It's enough for Ryan to say that he expects the Rangers to win. Not finish above .500. Not come close. To win.

If that's pressure, Daniels happily accepts it.

"There's more of a sense of pride than pressure," said Daniels, who was at the Rangers' academy in the Dominican Republic last week. "There's a sense of pride that someone believes in you and the plan that as a group we've put together, where those are reasonable expectations.

"The ownership here -- Tom, Chuck, Nolan -- have bought into us, bought into our plan, supplied us with resources, stuck with us despite us stubbing our toe early on. There's a sense of obligation to deliver on that. That's why you do what you do and you work as hard as you do, to get to this point."

Daniels is definitely a survivor and the most positive thing to come out of the offseason wasn't that the Rangers made such a successful haul in trades and free agency. It's that the chain of command is finally where it should be and that he and Ryan are on the same page at last.

No wonder optimism abounds.

Jim Reeves is a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and will be a frequent contributor to ESPNDallas.com.