The Texas Rangers just put the future of a $2 billion business into the hands of a team president with what may be baseball’s thinnest résumé. In few other industries would an organization’s most important position go to a Chris Young.
To believe he’s the man to lead the Rangers back to respectability requires an Olympian leap of faith. So, if you appreciate thinking outside the box, Rangers owner Ray Davis is your man. On the other hand, only six MLB teams have lost more regular-season games than the Rangers since 2016. So perhaps a shake-up is in order.
Young ascended from general manager to president of baseball operations Wednesday, after the Rangers fired his predecessor in the top job, Jon Daniels. The move came barely 48 hours after manager Chris Woodward was also shown the door. Young’s experience includes a politics degree from Princeton, thirteen years as a major league pitcher, three years with a variety of duties at MLB headquarters, and less than two years learning the front-office ropes under Daniels.
Rather than conducting a thorough search for Daniels’s replacement, Davis promoted Young in the same press release that announced the change at the top. “Chris Young is one of the top young baseball executives in the business and in his 21 months on the job has brought welcome energy and new ideas to the organization,” Davis said in a statement. “The bottom line is we’re not good. And we haven’t been good for six years. . . . It’s something I’ve been contemplating for several months.”
Hiring a former player with little front-office experience is far from the norm in today’s MLB. No longer do teams look to fill executive positions with former players or veteran talent scouts. Instead, the league’s most successful executives often come from investment banking, data analysis, and Wall Street.
Name some of the game’s best: Houston native Andrew Friedman of the Los Angeles Dodgers, James Click of the Astros, Erik Neander of the Tampa Bay Rays, David Stearns of the Milwaukee Brewers, and Farhan Zaidi of the San Francisco Giants. None of them possesses a traditional baseball background.
It’s clear that Davis is convinced Young is a quick study, and the organization’s new president will need to be, because baseball’s data-driven era requires not just analysts but strong corporate infrastructure and an obsession with figuring out the game’s next big strategic advantage.
Young will hire a new manager open to a different way of leading the Rangers roster, someone who buys into the concept that lineups, pitching strategies, and defensive alignments must be decided in collaboration with the front office. In baseball’s previous era, managers bristled when a kid from MIT came downstairs with thoughts on the batting order. Some still do.
Ironically, the freshly fired Woodward had a reputation for being just this kind of open-minded manager, one whose previous experience as third-base coach with the forward-thinking Dodgers helped pull the Rangers into the twenty-first century. Under Friedman’s leadership, Los Angeles has become the gold standard for doing things right—that is, spending big on veterans at times while keeping a steady flow of young talent bubbling up from a top-flight player development system. Young’s challenge will be to understand the secret sauce that teams like Los Angeles have and how to implement their strategies in Texas.
Rangers fans, frustrated with the team’s poor results after management spent more than $580 million on free-agent signings in the off-season, predictably celebrated the firings, especially that of Daniels, as he’d become the face of five straight losing seasons. He was on the job for seventeen seasons, and while he constructed the teams that went to back-to-back World Series in 2010 and 2011, he was also the architect of the Rangers’ current mess.
Texas made the playoffs five times in the seven seasons between 2010 and 2016. But when things went bad, they went bad breathtakingly fast. Since that last postseason appearance in 2016, only six MLB teams have lost more games than the Rangers. And throughout his tenure, Daniels failed at the most basic aspect of his job description: acquiring talent. Since 2002, Texas hasn’t gotten a single significant contribution from a first-round draft choice. (One of those picks, 2008’s first baseman Justin Smoak, was traded in 2010 to Seattle for pitcher Cliff Lee, who was critical in the Rangers’ run to the World Series season.)
No Rangers fan will forget the joy of 2010. In the hours after the team beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, Dallas sports radio station the Ticket stayed on the air into the wee hours to allow fans the opportunity to call in and share the moment. The franchise fell short in the 2010 and 2011 World Series, but the back-to-back years of success elevated the Rangers in the hearts of fans.
As for Woodward, he never had much of a chance to prove his worth over three and a half seasons as the Rangers’ manager. With the string of sorry, no-account rosters the franchise asked him to manage since he took the job in 2018, it would be foolish to blame him for the club’s god-awful record.
After signing Woodward’s pink slip, both Daniels and Young were complimentary about the job the manager had done. They also said they thought the team’s record this season should be better, and that preparation and sloppy play had become problems. Perhaps Woodward could have done more in those areas, but the Rangers are so bad on so many levels that even Sparky Anderson and Earl Weaver couldn’t have saved them. The organization is headed for a sixth straight losing season because the men in charge have been much worse at their jobs than Chris Woodward was at his.
In terms of communicating with the roster, getting consistent effort out of the players, and representing the franchise well, Woodward was excellent. If he’d been given the kind of talent the Houston Astros have, Woodward probably would have won big. He’s sure to have several offers this off-season for front-office or managerial gigs, and he’s going to be a great hire for some franchise.
Oddly, the firings of Daniels and Woodward came at a time when the Rangers seem poised for a turnaround—perhaps as early as next season, but more likely in 2024. The farm system—once one of baseball’s least productive—is flush with talent, and after last winter’s free-agency splurge, Davis appears ready to shell out more big bucks in 2023.
Now that he’s the last man standing, Young will need to do some growing to be effective as the team’s front-office leader. Where Daniels was beloved inside the organization, Young’s occasionally brusque manner and willingness to offer strident opinions about how other areas of the franchise operate have some wondering if he has the proper temperament for his new position. On the other hand, keeping employees on their toes could be an effective managerial strategy for Young. He may also want to bring some new voices into the front office and clubhouse—few teams need a shake-up more than this one.
But Young will have to make sure that he remains a motivator—and not a bully—with his demanding leadership style. Here’s guessing that he’ll eventually settle into his elevated role and find the right balance in managing relationships.
He’s a Dallas native and a 1998 graduate of Highland Park High School who knows the Rangers’ tortured history as well as the team’s most loyal fans. He also knows how deeply those fans care, and with an owner who’s willing to spend, a loaded minor league system, and a beautiful ballpark, Young is positioned for success in a way that Woodward never was.