Jon Daniels Says the Rangers are Committed to Youth in 2021; Won't Spend Big in Free Agency. What Does It All Mean?

Chris Halicke

ARLINGTON, Texas — For the Texas Rangers, the 2020 season is over. And good riddance. It wasn't a season they will remember fondly, finishing with the second-worst record in baseball.

On Tuesday, Rangers president of baseball operations and general manager Jon Daniels and manager Chris Woodward addressed the media in a wrap up of the season, where they reflect on what transpired over the previous season and what the winter ahead looks like. 

"2020 was an unprecedented season in a lot of ways," Daniels said. "To state the obvious, when you're in position to have the No. 2 pick in the draft, it's not a successful year. We had injuries, we had some poor performances. Ultimately, I'm responsible for that. Honestly, I apologize to our fans for some of the rough stretches that they watched."

When such a season goes awry, one might question whether the right leadership is in place. Daniels doubled down that his manager is the one the Rangers need moving forward.

"I am more confident now than I ever have been that Chris is part of the solution," Daniels said. "He is going to be our manager when on the first Tuesday after the season, he is doing a press conference talking about a postseason series and not an end of season presser."

If 2020 painted anything in a positive light for the Rangers, it's forced Daniels to shift the club's mindset toward focusing on developing the youth of the organization. The unprecedented 2020 season paved new avenues for younger players to get their first taste of the big leagues and gave Daniels all the confidence he needed to dive head first into a youth movement.

"Everything we do moving forward is going to revolve around that," Daniels said. "Our winter additions are going to look to fit into the roster we are putting together. ... The more we stay focused on developing these players, the quicker we are going to see results. That is going to be 100 percent our focus up and down the organization."

The focus on the youth of the organization is typically a fancy way to say the club is rebuilding. However, not all rebuilds look the same. It could also rub ownership the wrong way, especially since the Rangers are paying for more than half of their new $1.2 billion stadium. In 2020, the Rangers tried to put enough pieces together to compete for a playoff spot to usher in a new era of Rangers baseball, but Murphy's law took over when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

However, ownership seems to back the notion that the Rangers need to focus on their younger players and see what they have.

"I think (ownership) agrees with the direction, which is a necessary step," Daniels explained. "This winter is probably not the time that we're going to go headlong into free agency, but I don't think that's too far off. To do that, you've got to really have an understanding of the foundation that you're building upon and the most important thing we could do right now is to establish that."

Breaking It Down

What does all of this look like? What will the Rangers look like in 2021 and why won't they spend money this offseason?

To the group that urges ownership to fork out their millions and millions of dollars to sign players, baseball teams can't be built in free agency. Period. There's no valid argument against it. Free agency is meant to enhance and complement a roster, not a means to build a core. 

Baseball clubs have to build their organizations through the acquisition of young talent in the draft and via trade. Not even the Yankees or Dodgers have the money to build a team entirely through free agency. They just have the luxury of being able to throw stupid money at whatever free agent they want when it's time to go for it.

Right now is not the time for the Rangers to spend. Why? They don't have an established core. The closest thing they have to cornerstone player is Joey Gallo, and he took a step backward this season. Leody Taveras, Anderson Tejeda, and Sam Huff all displayed some wonderful flashes of their talent, but they have yet to see any real extended time in the big leagues. The rotation is built up of three veterans and a lot of unproven pitchers all vying for a spot. 

Does that sound like a team that is close? No, it does not. However, if the youth of the organization develops into the players the Rangers envision—the Taveras', the Tejeda's, the Huff's, etc.—that's when you'll see ownership pull out their checkbooks and be willing to add some quality. Adding big money free agents to a team that's not close, or even blocks some of the younger players, is not only a waste of ownership's money, it's a waste of the young talent in the organization. 

For fans who don't believe the young talent in the organization will amount to anything, there's only one way to find out: let them play. The Rangers did that with Nomar Mazara, and made their decision to move on. The Rangers need to do that with Taveras, Tejeda, Huff, Jose Trevino, Kyle Cody, Taylor Hearn, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and more players like them. They also need to eventually see Josh Jung, Cole Winn, and the even younger players that figure to be in the plans beyond 2021. 

Clamoring for ownership to spend money is not a shrewd move at the moment. And in actual defense of ownership, the Rangers and the other 29 clubs in Major League Baseball sold zero tickets in 2020. Roughly 38 percent of revenue in 2019 came from gate receipts and other stadium revenue. That's a big chunk of change to lose from an operating budget. 

The Dodgers, Yankees, and Astros built their cores, then supplemented with free agency and trade acquisitions. On the flip side, the Athletics and Rays are great at building young, exciting cores, but won't spend the money to add the one or two finishing pieces they need.

While it's unclear what the market will look like this winter, the expectation is the Rangers won't be the only team to cut payroll. As a matter of fact, the majority of teams are expected have lower payrolls next season.

The Rangers aren't in a great position right now. However, they have a plan. Ultimately, it's a necessary plan. And I would seriously argue the Rangers are in a better spot than the Boston Red Sox, who resorted to trading away the second-best player in baseball as part of their plan, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are so notorious for pinching pennies, they gutted a 98-win team in 2015. 

As true with many things in life, it could almost always be worse.

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