Rangers' focus remains on the field
Daniels isn't worried that front-office changes will affect players
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- What you see here is a baseball team in the final two weeks of Spring Training, gearing up for the regular season.
This baseball team, the Texas Rangers, is far better than average, but other than that, this is pretty standard stuff: drills and an exhibition game, roster spots on the margins in the balance.
What you don't sense here -- at all -- is any reaction to a recent restructuring in the front office.
Many of us may have blinked when we heard that Nolan Ryan, one of the game's truly iconic figures, was losing his title as Rangers team president. Jon Daniels, the club's general manager since October 2005, was made president of baseball operations; while Rick George, the chief operating officer, was made president of business operations.
Ryan retained his title as Rangers CEO. All of this was on the order of a mild shift, recognizing the work of people who have succeeded nobly in building a highly successful organization. The evidence supplied by successive American League pennants in 2010-11 should be more than persuasive in that regard.
But again, part of this change involved Ryan, whose stature in baseball, and particularly in Texas, is suitably legendary. So people observing from the outside get to do what they want to do with these circumstances, including creating the appearance of a club in crisis.
This club isn't in crisis. It has more than its share of pitching injuries, but this does not add up to an organizational quagmire.
In an interview with MLB.com on Monday, Daniels was asked whether the front-office situation was difficult or if it was a storyline that the media simply kept alive.
"More the latter," Daniels replied. "I don't think it in any way is a distraction to the players, or keeps them from getting ready for the season. But it's certainly involves people that you work with and care about. Certainly it's a topic, but I don't think it's holding anything back.
"Ownership was looking to recognize the work that has gone on over the years for all the people involved."
Asked if this situation presented problems on a day-to-day basis, Daniels said: "There isn't for me, but I've been careful not to speak for anyone else. I don't think that's my place. I mean, I was in a meeting this morning with Nolan. I don't see it as a deterrent to getting the season under way. Of course, you'd always like to work in an environment with no side stories."
This situation recalls a frequent stance of Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, that the game is at its best when the focus remains on the field. In this view, nothing that happens off the field can be as compelling as the game itself.
"I think the Commissioner is spot on," Daniels said. "Anything that detracts from the game itself is just that, a distraction. I should be answering questions about our pitching depth."
And he did just that. Daniels was more comfortable answering those questions, but then again, I was more comfortable asking them.
The Rangers will have significant pitching talent on the disabled list when the season begins. They expect Colby Lewis to come back by June, but are hoping for May, Daniels indicated. Joakim Soria is in the same range. Martin Perez is probably returning in May, as is Kyle McClellan. Neftali Feliz's return is expected in August.
"The reinforcements are coming back, but we're going to count on the rest of the group to get us there," Daniels said.
On the issue of pitching depth, Daniels said: "I don't think you're ever OK, you're always looking for more. We like the group we've got. There are some concerns but it's more the next injury, the next issue. I think we're OK with how we'll break [from Spring Training]."
One issue with the Rangers is that there are three viable candidates for the fifth starter's spot -- Robbie Ross, Nick Tepesch, Randy Wells -- but none of them has really seized the job this spring. When Daniels was asked again about the possibility of signing free agent Kyle Lohse, he said that he didn't want to get into that specific discussion, but that the organization's position had not changed on that issue. That was not a yes.
Rangers manager Ron Washington said Monday that an organization ought to have eight starting pitchers of Major League quality to begin the season. This would account for spot starts and for replacements due to injuries.
Were the current Rangers approaching eight, or was that stretching a point?
"No, you're not stretching it," Washington said. "We just haven't had anyone step up in that No. 5 spot yet. But we certainly have some options."
And they'll have more options later when the injured pitchers return to being active pitchers. The work of these pitchers, the ones who are able to pitch now, and the ones who will be able to pitch later, may well be the most important factor in determining the whether the Rangers will have a successful 2013.
There is an excellent chance that what won't be the biggest factor, or any factor at all, for that matter, is the reordering of job titles in the Texas front office.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.