ARLINGTON, Texas — Jon Daniels went to the baseball winter meetings in Dallas five years ago hoping to land a full-time job.
The Cornell graduate was already working in Boston and doing business development for an international company, yet found himself more intrigued by the jobs some of his friends had in baseball.
One of them worked in the commissioner's office, and Daniels spent more time focused on that job than his own. So Daniels eventually sent his resume through a former classmate who worked in Colorado -- and got an internship with the Rockies for the 2001 season.
"I was confident that if I fell on my face, I could come back East and get a job that I'd be happy at again," Daniels said. "My dad was like, 'Roll the dice.' "
By the time baseball's meetings returned to Dallas this winter, Daniels was 28 -- and the youngest general manager in major league history for the Texas Rangers.
That kid who five years ago was willing to take any job in baseball is now at spring training in Arizona with a Ranger team that he was in charge of putting together.
No longer making recommendations, Daniels is instead taking them from others and making the decisions for a team that's had only one winning season since its last playoff appearance in 1999 -- the year he graduated college with a degree in applied economics and management.
After soaking in as much as he could during that internship in Colorado, Daniels joined the Rangers' operations department in 2002. He became an assistant GM two years later, and an integral part in negotiating contracts and dealing with free agents.
"He was obviously very intelligent, very mature beyond his biological age," said Rockies' General Manager Dan O'Dowd, who enlisted the intern for several different projects analyzing the industry. "He got along with people real well. He had a nice way about him."
When John Hart stepped aside and became a team consultant in October, Daniels was the only person Ranger owner Tom Hicks seriously considered to be the general manager.
"Everything definitely changed sliding one seat over to the right," Daniels said.
Daniels was 28 years, 41 days old when he was promoted. That was nearly 10 months younger than Theo Epstein when he became Boston's GM in 2002, two years before the Red Sox won the World Series.
"I've been watching him real close the last year and a half, and I knew he was ready to do this," said Hicks, who points out he was about the same age as Daniels when he completed his first leveraged buyout. "He's willing to think outside the box. He has a mental capacity to consider a lot of things at the same time."
With several big moves and trades over the past four months, Daniels has already put his mark on the Rangers by revamping the starting rotation. And he did it without tearing apart the team's core or giving away valued prospects.
Undeterred by unsuccessful pursuits of Josh Beckett, Matt Morris and other coveted pitchers, Daniels traded for former NL All-Star Vicente Padilla from Philadelphia and Adam Eaton (11-5 in San Diego last year). He then signed AL ERA champion Kevin Millwood to a $60 million, five-year contract.
Daniels' first significant move came at the winter meetings, when he traded All-Star second baseman Alfonso Soriano to Washington for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and a minor league pitcher.
Still, Daniels made a concerted effort to avoid the kind of "home-run", one-sided moves that might have benefited the Rangers short-term but damaged his ability to deal with other teams in the future.
"There's a value to the win-win deal," Daniels said. "It's about developing relationships in the game and working on relationships."
Soriano later got a salary increase from $7.5 million to $10 million despite losing his arbitration hearing against the Nationals, and Sledge went to San Diego as part of a six-player deal that brought Eaton and hard-throwing reliever Akinori Otsuka.
All the players traded by Daniels had come to Texas in previous deals.
Untouched were pitchers Thomas Diamond and John Danks, both recent first-round picks, and rookie second baseman Ian Kinsler, who will get a chance this spring to replace Soriano.
Hicks refers to the former GM as "wise Uncle John," someone Daniels can go to for advice and insight. But Daniels is clearly making the decisions, several of which Hicks said have gone against what Hart recommended.
"John has been extremely supportive in my transition," Daniels said.
The Rangers avoided salary arbitration with All-Star and Gold Glove first baseman Mark Teixeira with a $15.4 million, two-year deal. Texas avoided any hearings after having 10 players eligible for arbitration.
Still, Daniels knows he's just getting started -- not only for this season but the Rangers' long-term future.