Every team with a sustained run of success goes through three stages. The first is building the talent needed to win. The second is a sustained period of success at the sport’s highest level.
The third is what I like to call the “clinging” stage. That's when the team does anything it has to in order to remain a viable championship contender, even if the decisions don’t look that great on paper.
The Texas Rangers may be transitioning from Stage 2 to Stage 3 after Josh Hamilton's departure this week.
Last week, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels likely worked out a neat plan, none of which is possible anymore.
Then, depending upon who the Rangers signed, it probably meant going out and making a trade. Players bandied about included pitchers James Shields and R.A. Dickey, or hitters like Justin Upton.
None of that is happening now. Greinke signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hamilton spurned the Rangers for the Los Angeles Angels. Shields was dealt to Kansas City. Dickey appears to be staying put with the New York Mets. Same for Upton in Arizona.
Did Daniels have a plan for this? Probably not. No one wants to consider that scenario. Thus ends Daniels’ long winning streak through stage one and two of the Rangers’ ascent in the American League.
The building years
Stage 1 started in July of 2007 when Daniels went all-in on a youth movement by trading Mark Teixeira to Atlanta for a bounty that included three current Rangers – shortstop Elvis Andrus and pitchers Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz.
Daniels was the brains behind the trades for Josh Hamilton, Cliff Lee and Mike Napoli.
From that moment, just about every major decision Daniels made turned to gold. The trade for Hamilton. The trade for Cliff Lee. The trade for Mike Napoli.
The largesse of prospects Daniels and his crack scouting department racked up, including a large investment in Latin America. Stage 2 started when the Rangers reached the World Series in 2010.
Losing Lee didn’t hurt nearly as much after C.J. Wilson had a career year in 2011. Losing Wilson to the Angels didn’t hurt nearly as much after the Rangers signed Yu Darvish.
Daniels’ decision-making helped build the core of those teams. Now his decision-making will determine how much longer the Rangers remain viable World Series contenders.
Where do we go from here?
As great teams lose pieces, the temptation is to find a way to sustain the run. That usually involves spending money, sometimes overspending.
Look at the Angels. After winning the World Series in 2002 with a great young team they built from within, the Halos won five division titles between 2004 and 2009.
As that great young talent matured, the Angels had no room for new prospects so they were traded in deadline deals for veterans with expiring contracts. Then as its maturing talent either left in free agency or became old and hurt, the Angels didn’t have the young players to replace them.
That’s actually part of the reason the Angels have spent so much money the past few years. They drained their farm system for veteran players and only started to restock a few years ago. Now they can pair players like Hamilton and Albert Pujols with young talent like AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo.
This is the decision Daniels faces. Does he have enough talent to sustain success or must he start dealing his young talent — namely Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar — to keep this going?
Selling fans on a youth movement when the team isn’t winning is far easier than selling them on a youth movement when the team is winning. Once fans get a taste of success they want more and they care little about the long-term cost that dealing players like Olt and Profar could have on the franchise.
Welcome to Stage 3, Jon Daniels. It’s your move.