clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

On the Jon Daniels firing

We come to bury Jon Daniels, not to praise him

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Los Angels Angles v Texas Rangers Has Been Postponed Due To The Tragic Passing Of Tyler Skaggs Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

One of the advantages I have in running this blog is that, well, it is mine. I can do with it what I want. Yeah, I answer to the corporate overlords at Vox Media, but they pretty much ignore me and I pretty much ignore them and we both seem to be happy with that arrangement.

But, within certain (very broad) parameters, I write about what I want to write about, when I want to write about it. I don’t have editors requiring me to cover certain stories or write about certain topics, or assigning me stories. I generally write about things because I feel like writing about them. With certain caveats, of course — it isn’t like at 3 p.m. every afternoon I have a burning, passionate desire to write about the Rangers’ lineup that day. But generally, I write about what interests me or what I am thinking about, and do so because I want to.

When the week began, I had a couple of ideas rattling around in my head that I had been thinking about and wanted to write about. I thought I’d get one of them written Monday or Tuesday. I was going to be heading to Fort Worth on Wednesday, since I had tickets to the games Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon, and so I figured maybe I’d do the other one Friday, if it had crystallized in my head by then and if my mood was right.

Then Chris Woodward was fired on Monday, which threw a monkey wrench in my plans. And put me in a difficult spot as far as my blogging goes.

Part of this is because writing about a manager isn’t interesting to me. Writing about a manager may not be like dancing about architecture, but for someone like me, who tries to offer passionate but objective analysis of the Rangers as a Rangers fan, it is largely an exercise in futility. Most of what a manager is responsible for, most of the things that he does that are determinative of whether he is a good manager or not, whether he is a success or whether he needs to go, happens behind the scenes. A beat writer, a reporter who has sources and contacts and can see what is going on in the clubhouse and who can get information on background about what is happening behind closed doors, maybe can communicate some of that.

But for me, the quality of a manager, whether he should stay or go, is a black box. I can discuss specific moves, why I think Brett Martin was brought into a game rather than Brock Burke and whether that is something I think makes sense, why Elier Hernandez pinch hit instead of Charlie Culberson, why Brad Miller is in the lineup, but the overall job that the manager is doing is not something I feel I can meaningfully opine on, generally, much in the same way I don’t feel I can meaningfully opine about who the Rangers “should” draft (as compared to “will” draft) with a first round choice.

Which means that, when Woodward was fired, there was a big news event about the Rangers that was the primary area of interest and discussion, and it was something that I didn’t really feel I had much to offer. And if there’s not much I feel like I can say about something, I don’t want to write a bunch of words pretending that I do.

Also, I didn’t want to write about it because I was just kind of bummed that Chris Woodward was fired. I liked Chris Woodward’s overall vibe, for lack of a better term. He seemed genuine. He seemed like he cared. He didn’t pretend, in talking to the media, he knew everything.

The defining moment in Chris Woodward’s tenure, in many people’s minds, is that San Diego Padres game where Fernando Tatis hit 3-0 grand slam in a blowout game, and Woodward expressed displeasure about the decision to swing 3-0, saying that’s not how the game should be played. His comments resulted in him being the Main Character of the Day on Baseball Twitter, with much ridiculing of Woodward as a backwards, behind-the-times Unwritten Rules Warrior who was blaming one of the most exciting young superstars in the game for his own team’s failures.

That incident sticks with me, as well, when I think about Woodward. But it isn’t the comments the night of the home run that I find noteworthy — rather, it was Woodward’s comments the next day:

“I find it funny that I’m being labeled as the old-school guy,” the manager said with a nervous chuckle. “I’ve thought about a lot of the gray area in the game when it comes to the unwritten rules. We’ve moved past a lot of these things. The line is one (place) for one person and one (place) for the other. Just because I was upset about it doesn’t mean that I was right. Doesn’t mean that it’s wrong that he swung. I’m always willing and open to listen to discussion.

“Did it cross the line? In my opinion, yes. But maybe that’s because I’m scarred from the years I’ve been in the game and what I’ve heard and witnessed from people in the past. That doesn’t mean I’m right, though. That doesn’t mean that he was wrong to swing 3-0. Maybe that’s the new norm. Maybe that’s OK.”

* * *

“I don’t expect guys to stop swinging the bat,” Woodward clarified. “I want to make that clear … I expect him to swing 2-0. I expect him to swing 3-1. (But) that 3-0 pitch was always the one that you’d get in trouble for if you swung at it. That was just common knowledge in the game. And now that it’s a little bit blurred … I’m willing to move on and kind of adapt to the new norm, if that’s the case.”

I didn’t agree with Woodward’s comments immediately after Tatis’s home run. I understood why he made them, but I didn’t agree with it, and didn’t like it.

The comments the next day, however, gave me a new level of respect for Woodward. Woodward came across as thoughtful, open-minded. He’s willing to listen. He’s willing to acknowledge, publicly, that he may be wrong about things. Its not a quality you see from every manager.

So I liked Woodward. I wanted him to succeed — both because it was better for the organization, and because I was rooting for him.

And so it bummed me out when he was fired. And I don’t enjoy writing about things that bum me out.

So I was thinking about all that, thinking about the firing and how it harshed my mellow and didn’t put me in the mindset where I wanted to write about the stuff I had wanted to write about, much less write about the news that was front and center, talk about possible candidates for the long-term and why Woodward failed and the like, when, sitting at my desk at work, getting ready to get on the road to Globe Life Field later that day, when Ken Rosenthal dropped the bombshell:

The Chris Woodward firing, as I wrote at the time, was surprising, but not shocking.

This was shocking. “Shocked” was the word used by both owner Ray Davis and general manager Chris Young to describe Young’s reaction to the news. Daniels was described as surprised. The folks covering the Rangers seemed dumbfounded — the Hardline had Evan Grant on with them the afternoon of the firing, and the word that was used, repeatedly, in describing the move in that segment was “weird.”

I want to be clear about something here — I’ve been seeing a lot of strawmen (how many? Oh, about 35,000) online from fans and even media saying, this is now six years of losing seasons, how can you say ownership hasn’t given Daniels a chance/hasn’t been patient/that Daniels deserved to stay? How can you say that there was no reason for Daniels to be fired, based on the past six years?

To which I would say, yes, its justifiable to fire Daniels based on what has happened over the past six years, in total. However, that justification for firing Daniels is really based on what happened and how the team performed in 2017 through 2020 (which was largely a result of organizational amateur acquisition and player development failures preceding that period, and going back to 2009 or so). If Daniels had been fired at any point from 2018 through the end of 2021, I would have understood it, whether I agreed with it or not.

But what makes this weird, shocking, and (to me, at least) somewhat inexplicable is that the failures of the 2017 to 2020 time period were known when the organization committed to a rebuild late in the 2020 season. They were known when Chris Young was brought in as general manager to work hand-in-hand with Jon Daniels. They were known when the team committed to a teardown that resulted in one of the worst teams in franchise history in 2021. They were known when the organization committed to significant expenditures this past offseason, expenditures that the organization openly acknowledged would not be enough to make this team a playoff contender in 2022.

And if you look at what has happened since the rebuild began, things appear to be going, dare I say it, well. The player evaluation and acquisition strategy that was overhauled between the 2018-19 seasons, putting a much higher emphasis on analytics while beefing up that part of the front office, appears to be working. A farm system that was poorly regarded a couple of years ago is ranked sixth currently by Baseball America and Fangraphs, due primarily to moves made in the last couple of years. The team has shown improvement in 2022, either in line with or exceeding expectations coming into the season, depending on your point of view.

The failed strategies the front office had engaged in previously had been changed, and those changes appear to be working — and not just according to me, but according to Ray Davis and Chris Young.

Ray Davis, in the statement the team released announcing Daniels had been fired, said “I am certain we are heading in the right direction.” Evan Grant says that the “inner circle” of upper level folks in the front office working with Chris Young “would seem . . . relatively stable.” Chris Young says that Ray Davis “understands our vision. He’s supportive of our vision, and he believes in it, and he’s committed to giving us the resources we need to execute that vision.”

So there aren’t likely to be major changes under Young in regards to what the organization is doing. There doesn’t appear to be a desire, or a need, for major changes, according to Davis and Young, because things are on track and everyone is on the same page.

Which leads one to ask why, then, if things are proceeding to plan, if ownership supports the front office’s vision, did the top guy get fired — and not just fired, but fired now, with six weeks to go in the season, and in a way that even the most ardent of Daniels detractors found to be inappropriate?

One can agree with the substantive decision — firing Jon Daniels — and not the form of how it went down, or vice versa. But in trying to understand why Daniels was fired on a random Wednesday morning in August, I feel like it is almost impossible to separate the two, because it seems like there was a message being sent in the way it was handled.

And yes, I know, people get fired all the time, and people are escorted out unceremoniously, and there’s not a good way to handle a firing, people are going to be upset. I’ve heard all the same things from those who either defend how Davis chose to execute his decision, or downplay it. I’ve seen several references to Tom Landry’s unceremonious canning by Jerry Jones (though if you are reaching back almost 35 years to one of the more poorly handled episodes of Jerry Jones’ checkered tenure as the Cowboys’ owner to defend how Daniels was terminated, you would seem to be implicitly acknowledging the inherent problematic nature of the actions taken).

But focusing on that, on how Ray Davis felt about Jon Daniels, on how you and I felt about him, about whether the media thinks he deserves to have a more gracious departure and leave the organization on his own terms, really doesn’t matter so much in the big scheme of things.

What matters is how the people still with the organization, the people still working for the Rangers, the people who knew and had relationships with Jon Daniels, who knew how he treated people and the work he put in and what he meant to this organization, feel about Daniels’ firing, and how it was handled. Even if you want to be clear-eyed and hard-assed and put emotions and things like propriety and common decency aside, you presumably are going to want to take into account how the people still working for you are going to perceive and react to the way you let someone go. You want to be aware of how it impacts those in your organization.

Maybe Davis wasn’t worried about that. Maybe he underestimated how people would respond. Maybe he knew what the response would be, and either didn’t care, or wanted the reaction he got.

But the reaction was stark.

The two primary public-facing non-playing members of the organization — interim manager Tony Beasley and general manager Chris Young — were openly, emotionally unhappy about the news. As Fittz alluded to, if you made Tony Beasley mad, you must have really fucked up. And if you have Chris Young — the man who, theoretically, benefits the most from this most, the person who you supposedly made this move in order to help and put in the best position to succeed — choking up when talking about the move some twenty four hours later, with “messages Young sent to other members of the front office [expressing] his personal pain at losing Daniels,” maybe that’s a sign things should have been handled a bit differently.

Jeff Wilson said yesterday, in regards to Davis making the decision to fire Daniels without Young “even receiving a heads-up that something was afoot and with Daniels not being given the chance for a graceful exit,” that how things went down “did not go unnoticed within the organization.”

I would say that is an understatement. I think it is fair to say that this move — and in particular, the way it went down — did not do a lot for morale among those who work for the Texas Rangers. One would have expected Chris Young — suddenly the head baseball guy in the organization — to be facing the media on Wednesday. He was not, reportedly both because he wanted time to collect himself and his thoughts and emotions, and because he needed to prioritize communicating with those within the organization who were blindsided by the move.

From Wilson:

Young’s first day in charge was spent making sure all those rattled had a sounding board and an outlet to process the sudden and poorly orchestrated ouster of a longtime boss and friend.

Ray Davis said that he made this move when he did because he wanted to give Chris Young a “head start” on preparing for the offseason. Instead, it appears that he did the exact opposite — create uncertainty and drama within the organization while putting additional responsibility on Chris Young’s shoulders, and requiring Young to do damage control with his employees. Reading Chris Young’s comments, he seems to see this much more as a handicap than as a head start.

In trying to justify this move, many folks have ultimately shrugged their shoulders and said, its Ray Davis’s team, he can do with it what he wants. And while that is technically not 100% true — Bob Simpson still has a significant stake in the team, and there are other minority partners — the gist of it is true. Ray Davis is the managing partner, and he can fire whoever he wants, however he wants, for whatever reason he wants. That explanation is a cop out, though...whether one can do something isn’t the same as whether one should do something, and whether one should do it the way they did.

To me, if you look at this move from a baseball standpoint, from a “making the team better” standpoint, from the standpoint of how this fits in regards to the overall plan that the organization has to put a winner on the field, it doesn’t sense. Evan Grant said on Twitter this morning, in response to me saying that I was not clear on how Daniels’ vision for the team differed from Young’s vision for the team and Davis’s vision for the team, “I don’t know that [Davis] believed in Daniels’ ability to execute his vision.”

Which, if that is the case, is fine. But it doesn’t explain why the axe would be swung now, after the trade deadline, with six weeks to go in the season — especially without talking to Young, who, it appears, would have found a transition period more helpful than the “head start” he was given instead. And, if Young and Daniels worked together well — as has been widely reported, without, I don’t believe, any reports to the contrary — it doesn’t explain why he doesn’t trust Jon Daniels and Chris Young, together, to implement the vision, but does trust Chris Young on his own. If you’re going to justify this as a “making the team better” decision, you have to believe that Daniels’ ongoing presence with the club, in any capacity, would make the team worse, and that getting rid of him now — regardless of what the guy you are making the sole person in charge thinks — is addition by subtraction.

As I said before, if you wanted to fire Jon Daniels based on the on the field failures from 2017 through 2020, for the developmental failures that go back years prior to that, then that would make sense. Firing him based on what has happened more recently — and this year, in particular — and leaving pretty much everything in place does not make sense, to me.

If you look at what some media folks suggested the day of the firing on Twitter, the thought was that Davis was frustrated, he didn’t like the way the team was playing, people weren’t buying tickets, and he reacted. Davis’s statement released to the press, as well as the statements in his press conference, focused on the team having their sixth losing season in a row in 2022, and that this wasn’t acceptable to him. Stefan Stevenson said in regards to Davis, “I think he grew impatient, like a fan.” Some media member (and I apologize, Twitter’s search isn’t working right now and I can’t find the link) said something to the effect of, the team hasn’t been playing well for several weeks and Davis wasn’t being entertained.

If you’ve been reading LSB at all this year you know we have talked a lot about run differential, and the team’s historically bad record in one run games, and how the team’s actual record of 53-65 is worse than what would be expected for a team that has, as of today, a -3 run differential on the season. The general view is that run differential is a better indicator of how a team has played than actual won/loss record, and a team’s record in one run games is largely due to random variation rather than being an indication of the quality of a team. From that point of view, the Rangers are playing like a .500 team, even if the team’s actual record is 53-65. And if you look at the team’s OPS+ of 101, their ERA+ of 96, their wRC+ of 101, their FIP- of 105, that’s a team that would expected to be a shade under .500.

The flip side of that is that one can argue that the failure in one run games are failures of execution and ultimately a reflection on the manager, coaching staff and roster the front office put together, and that even if the team should be better based on run differential, as Bill Parcells says, at a certain point, you are what your record says you are.

And I am curious as to whether this move would have come down, particularly when it did, if the Rangers were 59-59 this year rather than 53-65. If the answer to that question is no, I have a hard time, from a baseball standpoint, understanding why the move was made.

That being said, the irony is not lost on me that Jon Daniels likely bought himself more time, and a longer rope, by virtue of a first place finish in the American League West in 2016, and the best record in the American League that season, with a team that had a +8 run differential on the season, but that was 36-11 in one run games — one of the best, if not the best, records in one run games in MLB history (I don’t care enough about the distinction to look up whether its the best or just one of the best), and now has been fired, at least in part (and possibly in large part) due to the 2022 Rangers having the worst record (as of the date of his firing) in MLB history in one run games. One can also argue that, from a longer-term perspective, the Rangers would have been better off being a .500 team in 2016 than winning the division, but that’s a discussion for another day.

This is a lot of words to try to put a bunch of free-floating thoughts into a coherent form, and to try to walk through my thoughts about this, and understand why this went down the way it did. But in looking at everything, Occam’s Razor suggests that it is an owner who was unhappy, who wanted people to know he was unhappy, and concluded that firing the president of baseball operations who oversaw the operation that made the mistakes that resulted in the need for this rebuild, who was transitioning to a less involved role and likely would be gone or in a a much less involved role in the next year or two anyway, and that maybe Davis now thinks he should have fired a few years ago anyway, was the best way to scratch that itch.

If you look at this as a baseball decision, the move doesn’t make a lot of sense, in regards to both the decision to make the move at all — if you had enough confidence in Daniels to have him oversee the rebuild two years ago, nothing since then should have really changed that — and in particular, in regards to the timing of doing it now, rather than at season’s end, with the ensuing disruption that results from not having a smooth transition period in place.

If you look at it as an owner who was unhappy with the losing record, fired the most visible object of fans’ displeasure, the president of baseball operations who had worn out his welcome and was phasing out anyway, in either a cathartic expression of unhappiness, a sop to the fans who wanted heads to roll, a warning to the rest of the baseball operations folks that if the team didn’t win no one was safe, or some combination thereof, then, well, the move is a lot more understandable.

Doesn’t mean it is right. Doesn’t mean I agree with it. But if that’s the case, I can see why it happened.