The Rangers join the youth movement by making 28-year-old Jon Daniels the game's youngest general manager
In the summer of 2000 Jon Daniels was doing what recent Cornell grads with degrees in economics do: The Queens, N.Y., native was living in Boston, taking his first steps on the corporate ladder with a business-development job and deciding if he should apply to law schools or MBA programs. But in his spare time Daniels pestered a Cornell pal, A.J. Preller, for stories about Preller's gig as a low-level assistant in the baseball commissioner's office. Says Daniels, 28, "I paid more attention to his job than my own."
These days Daniels has more reason to take an interest in his friend's job, which is now manager of pro and international scouting for the Rangers. Last week Texas owner Tom Hicks promoted Daniels to replace general manager John Hart, who resigned two days after the season ended. At 28 years, 41 days, Daniels is the youngest G.M. in history, 10 months younger than Theo Epstein was when he took over the Red Sox in 2002. "He's the same age I was when I made my first leveraged buyout," says Hicks. "It shows you that young guys can do good things in this world."
Daniels's hiring is the latest indicator that the stock image of a G.M.--a cigar-chomping scouting wonk who spent years in the player-development trenches--is hopelessly outdated. Blame it on Theo: Mindful of the success Epstein has had in Boston, more and more teams are looking for executives who are intelligent, analytical, business-minded and computer-savvy, even if they barely remember the days before interleague play.
Daniels broke into the game in 2001 with a $1,200-a-month internship under Rockies G.M. Dan O'Dowd. As an Indians assistant G.M. in the late 1990s O'Dowd began grooming sharp twentysomethings for executive jobs, exposing them to every aspect of a major league operation--from statistical analysis to international scouting to arbitration preparation to trade deadline all-nighters. Indians G.M. Mark Shapiro, 38, Dodgers G.M. Paul DePodesta, 32, and Boston assistant Josh Byrnes, 35, also worked under O'Dowd.
Daniels joined the Rangers in 2002 as a baseball operations assistant, and Hart made him assistant G.M. last year. (He handled contract extensions for many of Texas's young stars, including first baseman Mark Teixeira and third baseman Hank Blalock.) Like most new-breed general managers Daniels is a stats maven, but he says he'll give equal weight to the Rangers' scouting resources in decision-making. "He understands the computer has some of the answers but not all of them," says a Rangers source. "He won't come off as a know-it-all."
Fenway Park will have a different look next year, and not just because the glassed-in section of luxury seats behind home plate is being renovated to better blend with the park's architecture. Due to free agency and the ongoing trade intrigue involving the Red Sox and leftfielder Manny Ramirez (the Mets remain a serious suitor), Boston, swept out of the Division Series by the White Sox last week, could turn over as many as five of its eight starting position jobs. The potential free agents include centerfielder Johnny Damon (above), whose wish for a five-year deal makes him unlikely to return (the Cubs, Angels and Yankees, among others, figure to have interest), first basemen Kevin Millar (almost certainly gone after a down year) and John Olerud, second baseman Tony Graffanino, third baseman Bill Mueller and reliever Mike Timlin.
G.M. Theo Epstein, whose own contract expires Oct. 31, is expected to return with an emphasis on making his club younger and more athletic after it hit a September wall. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, third baseman Kevin Youkilis, infielder Hanley Ramirez and pitchers Manny Delcarmen, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon, who will move from the bullpen to the rotation, look to be key contributors next year. The Red Sox, who let Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe leave as free agents after the 2004 world championship, have come to regard such roster uncertainty as an opportunity for improvement and payroll flexibility. --Tom Verducci
• More from Tom Verducci at SI.com/baseball.