by Patrick Despain
Every GM makes mistakes, even the beloved Billy Beane out in Oakland. Bill Belichick and the Patriots have not been perfect on every personnel decision. Jon Daniels is no different. He’ll tell you the Adrian Gonzalez trade was a disaster in the end. The Matt Garza trade was one that he said would haunt him for a long time. He’s had his wins though. Adrian Beltre, the 1/2 year of Cliff Lee and the original trade of Josh Hamilton for Danny Ray Herrera and Edinson Volquez. Of course, the feather in his cap is Mark Teixiera for Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
During the Jon Daniels regime, the Rangers have forced some youngsters to the show too fast. They have let players go that went on to successful careers after the Rangers like Chris Davis. That may or may not have been the fault of the front office, but people put that on their doorstep. What Jon Daniels and his staff do right, almost every single year, is find that player on the proverbial “MLB scrap heap” and get them to rebound to their former selves or perform at a level not expected of them.
For every Matt Garza, there’s a Benji Molina. For every Roy Oswalt there is a Jeff Baker. Over the past 9 years, Daniels & Co. have made successful acquisitions that have helped this club. 2014 was a total disaster, but without some of the roster moves, that thing would have gotten even worse. I dare say, that the Rangers are the best in the biz at reclamation projects. Some have not worked out as in Brandon Webb, but some have been outright genius.
Wandy Rodriguez (6-4, 4.90 ERA, 86.1 IP in 17 games) and Delino DeShields (.261 BA, .344 OBP, 22 2Bs, 25 SBs in 121 games)
Wandy wasn’t a huge success in wins, and he certainly didn’t dominate, but he did provide stability when the Rangers needed it most. If you look back at last year, Derek Holland was injured on Opening Day, Yu Darvish was out with Tommy John surgery and Martin Perez had not yet come back from Tommy John. Rodriguez came in and helped keep the ship afloat with a patchwork rotation.
Delino was a Rule 5 draft pick from the Astros and taking a chance on DeShields was a bold move for Jon Daniels due to the roster implications it can cause. However, Delino didn’t disappoint in his rookie season. He had a .344 on-base percentage as the everyday lead-off hitter, played better than adequate defense which made Leonys Martin an expendable commodity, which in turn netted Tom Wilhelmsen in a trade with Seattle.
Note: Wandy Rodriguez is in Astros camp for Spring Training, but is not expected to make the club. Delino will be the everyday center fielder for quite some time.
Kevin Kouzmanoff (.362 BA, 10 RBI, 183 OPS+ in 13 games)
The first thought is that “Kouz” didn’t play enough to warrant mention, but in fact he does need mentioning. Adrian Beltre started the year on the DL and Kouz came in and was absolutely on fire. He eventually got hurt, along with just about everyone else on the Rangers in 2014, but he helped keep them from falling even further behind early in the season. Looking back on that terrible year, up until June, Texas was not completely out of the race and Kouz gave them a push with his offense that helped until Beltre returned from injury.
Note: Kouzmanoff’s last game was in a Rangers uniform.
Neal Cotts (8-3, 1.11 ERA, 57 IP in 58 games)
Neal Cotts had not pitched in a Major League game since 2009 due to Tommy John surgery. He bounced around teams during Spring Training and eventually was signed by the Rangers in 2012, and placed at AAA Round Rock. In 2013 as a Texas Ranger, Cotts put up on of the most impressive years as a reliever in recent memory, posting an 1.11 ERA in 58 games. That is seven earned runs in 57 innings pitched. Neal Cotts had one of the best years ever as a Texas Rangers reliever.
Note: Neal Cotts is in the Astros camp for Spring Training.
Joe Nathan (3-5, 2.80 ERA, 37 saves in 66 games)
Joe Nathan was a four-time All-Star before signing with Texas. In 2010, he had Tommy John and a big salary. In 2011 in Minnesota, Nathan was simply not good. His road back from elbow surgery was a rocky one with an inflated ERA, limited innings, high home run rate (for him) and he didn’t strike out nearly as many hitters as in his past. Texas signed him at a reduced rate and a hope he could fill the closer role, while thy transitioned Neftali Feliz to a starter. Joe Nathan did not disappoint while securing the back end of the bullpen with a 157 ERA+ in 66 games. His 2013 for the Rangers was even more impressive, and Jon Daniels milked the last good years from Nathan.
Note: Nathan left for Detroit in 2014 and was a disappointment for the Tigers. He faced one hitter in 2015 and suffered another injury to his UCL in his elbow. Joe’s career is likely over, although he has not announced his retirement.
Mike Napoli (.320 BA, 30 HRs, 5.4 WAR in 113 games)
Mike Napoli was cast off the Angels to the Blue Jays as part of the Vernon Wells trade. Rumor is that he became expendable because Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia did not think he had the ability to be an effective catcher. Four days after he was traded to Toronto, he was traded to Texas for Frank Francisco……and the rest they say, is history. In case you have forgotten, Nap Nap broke off 30 home runs and had an OPS+ of 173 in 113 games. It was one of the most impressive second halves of a season any of us has ever seen. On May 22, 2011, Napoli’s batting average was a season low .183 with six home runs. From that point on, NAP-O-LI would go on a tear that will forever go down in Rangers lore.
Note: Napoli is in Cleveland for Spring Training.
Vladimir Guerrero (.300 BA, 29 HRs, 115 RBI in 152 games)
Vladdy was granted free agency in Nov. 2009 by the Angels. That year he made $15 million and Daniels scooped him up to be the DH for Texas for $5.5 million. The ultimate Ranger Killer became one of the best acquisitions ever for one year in Arlington. I’m sure most, if not all, of us remember Vladimir throwing up the Claw after the big double in Game 6 of the 2010 ALCS. The Designated Hitter on the first Rangers team to go to the World Series was the guy who used to carve up Ranger pitching like it was nothing. Having Guerrero be an ally was a lot more fun than him being an enemy, even for one short glorious year.
Note: Guerrero played in Baltimore in 2011 and never played Major League Baseball beyond that. In 2014, he signed a one day contract with the LA Angels and officially retired.
Darren O’Day (2-1, 1.94 ERA, 241 ERA+ in 64 games)
Darren O’Day was selected off waivers from the New York Mets on April 22, 2009. You may remember his inauspicious debut in Toronto giving up the winning hit in the Bottom of the 11th, all while wearing a Kason Gabbard jersey. From that point on however, O’Day was lights out for the Rangers giving up just 12 runs the rest of the year and helping shore up a bullpen with C.J. Wilson and Frank Francisco. Darren O’Day is the epitome of a Jon Daniels find. He wasn’t t a sexy name, not a fireball thrower and relatively cheap, but very effective in the situations they needed him to be.
Note: O’Day left for Baltimore in free agency and has been a staple in their bullpen ever since.
Milton Bradley (.321 BA, 22 HRs, 162 OPS+ in 126 games)
The bad boy and hated by most, Milton Bradley came to the Rangers with a Texas-sized reputation. In most of his career, it was not all fun and games, regardless of what his name suggests. Bradley, to his credit came in here and did everything that was asked of him and more. It was one of the best seasons for a DH in Rangers’ history. My colleague Eddie Middlebrook even granted Bradley enshrinement into his All Time Rangers 25-man roster. Milton was never as productive as his one year in Arlington. 2008 was his only All-Star appearance, his only 20+ home run season and the only year, it seems, he didn’t find himself in hot water. He did have one episode in Kansas City when he tried to confront Ryan Lefebvre for comments that Bradley found unflattering, but was stopped before he could get to him.
Note: Bradley played for the Cubs in 2009 and the Mariners in 2010-11. He has found himself in legal trouble since his playing days have ended.
Marlon Byrd (.307 BA, 10 HRs, 112 OPS+ in 109 games)
A relatively unknown Marlon Byrd was signed as a free agent by the Rangers in the winter of 2006 and became a fan favorite rather quickly. Hitting over .300 and amassing 3.2 WAR as a part time outfielder will do that. Byrd was an all-hustle all the time guy while he was in Texas and that has continued throughout his career. The fact is that Marlon played on a sub-par 2007 Texas Rangers team and is a bit overshadowed by the other names on the list, but he should be remember for his great play while he was in Texas.
Note: The 38-year old Byrd is in Spring Training with the Cleveland Indians
There was not an acquisition of note in 2006. The only real candidate would be Akinori Otsuka, but he was acquired in the Adrian Gonzalez deal-gone-bad in Daniels’ first year at the helm.
Jon Daniels has done a pretty remarkable job finding value where other teams didn’t see it. Matt Bush or Justin Ruggiano or even a waiver wire find could be this year’s Darren O’Day or Mike Napoli. When players get released, especially this time of year, keep your eyes open for the next Marlon Byrd.