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Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Poise pays off for Jon Daniels

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jon Daniels' best trait as a baseball man is he never, ever panics.

Not when his Texas Rangers slumped and fell six games behind then division-leading Oakland Athletics in July.

Not when his entire lineup went into a collective funk and ran the bases like a group of T-ball players.

Jon Daniels

Jon Daniels' penchant for keeping his cool under pressure is one reason he's considered among the best GMs in baseball.

Not even when Major League Baseball popped Nelson Cruz -- the Rangers' biggest bat -- with a 50-game suspension after he was linked to Biogenesis and baseball's performance-enhancing drug scandal.

And that, you see, is why Daniels, ever the pragmatist, is among baseball's best GMs.

Oh, he experiences the same myriad of intense emotions -- anger, exhilaration, frustration and pride -- that fans do when the Rangers play. But he always removes the emotional aspect from his decision-making process.

Daniels understands the baseball season is ridiculously long, so what's true last week -- pitchers Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison will fortify the starting rotation in September -- might not be true this week.

GMs who don't comprehend that subtle, yet important facet of the game tend to make silly trades that ultimately get them fired.

"You're human," Daniels said. "I say all the time that we probably shouldn't watch our club play the last two weeks of July.

"You can't ignore what's going on and think things are going to get fixed through good vibes and osmosis. You gotta work on it."

Daniels continues to do his best work at midseason, while others dominate the winter meetings. All Daniels does is consistently get manager Ron Washington the pieces he needs to guide the Rangers to the playoffs and make a championship run.

The best thing Daniels does when it comes to players is stick to his convictions.

Based on conversations with the organization's most trusted voices, Daniels assigns players a value, and he rarely moves off that value. And if that means missing out on signing a free agent such as Zach Greinke or trading for players such as outfielder Justin Upton and pitcher R.A. Dickey, then so be it.

Think about it: That's why Josh Hamilton is with the Los Angeles Angels. C.J. Wilson, too. Each wanted more money than Daniels thought they were worth, and he was willing to let them walk. It's the same reason he didn't panic and overpay for Alex Rios at the trade deadline.

That requires swagger, chutzpah if you will.

It means Daniels could not care less about the local and national noise surrounding his team, because he has supreme confidence in his thought process, attention to detail and ability to execute the right deal.

Last month, we all knew the Rangers needed another starter and a bat to make the playoffs for a club-record fourth consecutive season.

So Daniels acquired the best pitcher available, Matt Garza from the Chicago Cubs, nine days before the trade deadline, allowing the club to squeeze two extra starts from him. The Rangers won both games. It was a subtle difference that could be huge in the taut AL West race with the Oakland Athletics.

Then Daniels stayed patient when the Chicago White Sox wanted way more than outfielder Alex Rios was worth.

When the White Sox put him on waivers this month, Texas claimed him and worked out a much more favorable deal. The Rangers received Rios and $1 million for middle infielder Leury Garcia. Maybe Garcia develops into a solid major leaguer, but he was never going to do it with Texas, which has shortstops Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar and second baseman Ian Kinsler on the roster.

"You have to be flexible," Daniels said. "You just have to make sure you're being flexible for the right things."

This year, it was pitching, not hitting.

No team ever has enough pitching. Garza was the best available. Daniels made sure he wound up in Texas.

Daniels knew it would require a significant package to acquire Garza from the Cubs, so he figured he'd have to overpay, which is considerably different than overpaying because you panicked.

"We paid a premium for Garza," Daniels said. "We did what we had to do to get an impact player. I would've liked to give up a whole lot less, but at the end of the day that's what it cost.

"This is the guy we wanted. This is a guy who could change the landscape."

Daniels' moves have positioned the Rangers to make yet another World Series run because they have the AL's best pitching staff and a versatile offense capable of scoring just enough runs to win the low-scoring games we'll see in October.

That said, don't be shocked if the Rangers add another starter as Alexi Ogando continues to fade. Just know it won't be a panic move.

Daniels will do it on his terms.