Jon Daniels should report straight to Las Vegas. After what he did to the Chicago White Sox on Friday, the Rangers president of baseball operations should consider the World Series of Poker.
The Rangers sent out signals Thursday that a trade for White Sox outfielder Alex Rios was unlikely after they had claimed him off waivers. But all the while, Daniels had a suspicion the White Sox would blink before the end of the exclusive 72-hour negotiation period. Chicago was asking for Rangers left-handed pitcher Martin Perez and top pitching prospect Luke Jackson before the non-waivers deadline that passed July 31.
That was too high a price to pay for the 33-year-old Rios. But Daniels correctly assumed the White Sox wanted to dump Rios’ salary and he patiently waited for the price to come down. The White Sox blinked Friday, accepting Triple-A shortstop Leury Garcia for Rios. Garcia is a talented player who could also play second base for Chicago, but he didn’t have a spot at the big-league level for the Rangers. Daniels landed starting pitcher Matt Garza before the trade deadline, but he received criticism for not having a better contingency plan for the suspended Nelson Cruz. On Friday, the contingency looked a lot better.
“We’ve said it a million times,” Daniels told reporters Friday. “Whether it’s the offseason, the trade deadline, August, there really are no deadlines in this game. There are, but you’re trying to get better 365 [days per year].
“It just so happens that last month and here again in August, there are opportunities that presented itself. Because of the work [of] everybody in the organization and ownership supporting us, we were able to get it done.”
And that part about ownership is key. The Rangers lost Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young this past offseason and did little to replace them. Daniels had to scramble to sign Lance Berkman to be the Rangers’ designated hitter and that hasn’t worked because of injuries. It was hight time ownership spent some money.
But after falling to six games behind the A’s 11 days ago, the Rangers responded with three consecutive walk-off wins via homer. And even when Cruz elected to accept his 50-game suspension Monday, the Rangers kept rolling. They hung nine runs on the lowly Astros on Friday without hitting a single home run. That sort of win would’ve been shocking in July, but this is a team that has seemingly changed its identity on the fly. And the good thing is that Rios should fit perfectly with Ron Washington’s “raisin’ hell baseball.” He’s regarded as a 5-tool player who struggles with consistency. But you have to think that suddenly finding himself in a playoff race will give him a boost.
The Rangers started tracking him closely before the July 31 deadline. They know he’s an imperfect player, but Daniels believes he’s the type of talent who can flourish under manager Ron Washington.
He’s a free-swinger who will not grind out ABs, but he has some power. And he’s stolen 26 bases in 32 attempts this season. He’ll fit in nicely with the “run run” Rangers. Daniels and his group had always admired Rios’ talent, but he had a big contract. The contract now looks more palatable ($13 million in 2014, club option in ’15) and the Rangers could have a replacement in right field if they lose Cruz to free agency.
I don’t know if Daniels makes this deal if the Rangers had remained in a funk after the deadline. But I do know that Washington is very appreciative to have a quality right-handed bat in the lineup.
“They’ve done an excellent job,” Washington said of the Daniels group. “We felt like we needed some pieces. We needed a pitcher; he went and got us a pitcher. Of course we’re playing pretty good and we lost Cruz. We certainly discussed around the trade deadline that we would like to have another bat. What he does is goes out and gets us another bat and a player that can play. Not only a bat, but this guy is complete. He can do everything. We just added to the organization.”
Daniels and Washington aren’t always on the same page about players, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Daniels targeted Rios, in part because he felt like he would respond to Washington.
The Rangers manager waited until the very last minute to show his hand. And that’s why the Rangers are poised to make a run at the A.L. West title.