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Reading the tea leaves -- Hart on his way out?

Evan Grant with an intriguing article in the DMN today on John Hart's future with the team. Really something of a bombshell, all things considered, so I'm going to cut-and-paste it in its entirety:

Rangers owner Tom Hicks has long maintained that at some point John Hart would transition from general manager to a consultant.

The question now becomes: Will that happen this winter?

Hicks confirmed Tuesday that he will meet with Hart next week to discuss "what's best for the organization." Hicks said the meeting has been a yearly event, but when asked if he anticipated Hart returning for a fifth season as general manager, Hicks could not provide an answer.

"We have a gentlemen's understanding to sit down at the end of the year and see where we are going," Hicks said. "This has been going on for a while. It's not new."

Hart did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

If nothing else, the postseason meetings have provided some intrigue to the off-seasons of the recent past.

There have been occasions when Rangers officials had to cajole Hart into coming back for another year. Two years ago, Hicks decided it would be best for Hart to start handing over GM duties to Grady Fuson, with a full handoff scheduled for the end of the 2004 season. At the behest of manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Orel Hershiser, Hicks changed directions midway through the 2004 season.

After last season, Hart seemed to be rejuvenated in the job and negotiated a contract extension. That extension, which includes an annual rollover option, is set to start next year.

Hart, 57, already has delegated several responsibilities. Assistant Jon Daniels, who could be a candidate to succeed Hart, handles most contract negotiations.

Wow. Several interesting things here. First of all, from all appearances, it has certainly seemed like Jon Daniels has been the point guy on contract negotiations the last year or so, but this is the first time I've seen that actually confirmed.

More importantly, though, is what this says about Hart's future. The last time I can remember this happening -- Hicks doing the "we'll see where we are after the season" no-comment-no-commitment speech -- was at the end of the 2001 season, which resulted in Doug Melvin getting the axe. And this is 180 degrees from where Hicks has traditionally been with Hart, praising his "brilliant baseball mind" and saying Hart will be here as long as he wants to be here.

And remember, Grant said in his latest newsletter that:

Owner Tom Hicks is expected to meet with several key Rangers this weekend to gauge them on their feelings about 2005 and the team's direction.

I don't know any of the players. I've never talked to any of the players. But the rumblings you hear, both in the press and kicking around the message boards, have consistently suggested that the players are unhappy with upper management, and specifically John Hart. Mike Young and Mark Teixeira have been vocal about their displeasure with how the front office has handled personnel moves (or the lack thereof), and there was criticism from the clubhouse over the foot-dragging regarding Rudy Jaramillo's contract last season.

Tom Hicks has tended to be more accessible to his players than most owners. And I remember reading at one point -- I think in a Randy Galloway column -- that the joke around the Rangers front office is that the most influential person in the Rangers' organization is whomever Tom Hicks last spoke with. If Hicks talks to the players, and they come back with negative reviews for Hart -- which would seem to be likely -- something may end up happening.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say something would likely happen.

This is just reading the tea leaves on my part, but based on Hicks' comments today, the friction between the clubhouse and the front office we've been reading about all season, the negative comments from the players about the front office, and Hicks' willingness to meet with the players directly, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I don't think John Hart will be back next season.