ARLINGTON, Texas - Jon Daniels grew up in Queens, rooting for the Mets, so yes, he understands the curiosity from Mets fans. And no, he's not going there (to the subject matter of the Mets' general manager opening, that is).
"The story's on the field," the Rangers' GM told Newsday on Thursday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington as his club prepared to play the Yankees in its first ALCS. "I'm with a tremendous organization. I have a great job. I'm not thinking about that."
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The Mets have not reached out to Texas to speak to Daniels or predecessor John Hart or anyone else in the Rangers' organization. Yet as Daniels took a moment to reflect on what he has built here in football country, he offered words that should be used as a blueprint for the new Mets hierarchy.
"When you've got a full organizational buy-in, all the way up through ownership, it makes decision-making easier," he said. "You can always look at things through that prism. 'Is this what we're about? Is this what we want to do?' And not worry about what your competitors are doing so much.''
It has been an eventful five years for Daniels, who became baseball's youngest-ever GM (28 years, 41 days) when the Rangers hired him Oct. 5, 2005. "Baptism by fire," he said, smiling. "Some of the fires, we started." There have been earth-shattering trades, a dramatic change in ownership and a scandal involving his first managerial hire, Ron Washington.
Once accused by local media of having brains but lacking guts, as Daniels puts it, he quickly challenged that characterization by trading Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to San Diego for a package highlighted by pitchers Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka in January 2006. Gonzalez now is a Most Valuable Player candidate for the Padres; Eaton and Otsuka are out of baseball.
In December 2006, Daniels traded John Danks to the White Sox for fellow pitching prospect Brandon McCarthy, a deal that backfired. The pundits' line, Daniels recalled, changed to "he's got guts, but I'm not sure how smart he is."
The direction changed in the summer of 2007, when Daniels convinced owner Tom Hicks to trade star first baseman Mark Teixeira and commit fully to rebuilding. Teixeira, now a Yankee, brought back a haul from the Braves that included shortstop Elvis Andrus and closer Neftali Feliz. And Daniels built up the Rangers' farm system so substantially that he was able to outbid the Yankees in trade talks for Seattle's Cliff Lee in July.
"Starting in '07, we said, 'Let's not play for hoping you hit a bank shot as time expires,' " Daniels said. "Let's put a game plan together that's hopefully going to sustain over time. Build up our scouting system, build up our farm system, be willing to take some risks. Acquire some high-end players and be patient together . . . From that point on, it's been fun."
The patience paid off, even as Hicks declared bankruptcy - putting the team under control of Major League Baseball for about a year before Chuck Greenberg and team president Nolan Ryan took over in August. Even as Washington stunned his bosses last year by revealing that he used cocaine and was going to test positive for it.
With a leadership team featuring assistant GM Thad Levine and senior director of player personnel A.J. Preller, Daniels has constructed something sustainable here in Texas.
He has an out in his contract after this season. But even if the Mets don't look at him personally, they should at least look at the Rangers and try to emulate them.