On the one hand, Andrew Friedman is one of the only executives with a book written about him—or, at least, a book read by more than the author’s closest friends and relatives. On that hand, he runs a team that, when it succeeds, is largely credited to his genius (and the genius of his front office). On that hand, his Rays have been experimental and at the vanguard of various “trends”—at various times shifting, locking up pre-arb players ever earlier, building around defense, resisting multi-year contracts to relievers, or giving what figuratively seem like literally millions of at-bats to Jose Molina—that have become routine, even over-fished, around the league years later. We tend to see his Rays as the first clinical trial for the strategies that will soon be ubiquitous, so we pay a ton of attention to him. Because of all this, we know a lot about Andrew Friedman, who the Dodgers just poached to be president of baseball operations.
On the other, he has run perhaps the most opaque organization in the game. I once heard about a former Rays intern who was applying for another job. Standard industry practice in this situation is to pump the applicant for information about what his old team was doing, the research, the secrets. Heck, some of the time this fact-finding might be the only reason the interview is even taking place. But this intern wouldn’t budge. Again and again, he told the team that he was interviewing with, the team he was trying to impress, that, well, shoot, he’d love to, but he just couldn’t, not with his non-disclosure agreement, not when we’re talking about the Rays. The Rays were a black box. Their local media, for the most part, never got the Rays, and the Rays never gave them much to get. We know, in some ways, very little about Andrew Friedman.
The result: Something like a legend. When I wrote about the quest (inside and outside of the sport) to quantify or engineer clubhouse chemistry, insiders would sometimes tell me that teams were working on it, they didn’t know which, “but probably the Rays.” When I wrote about building a new type of player development system using analytical approaches, I’d hear that if any team was trying something new, it was the Rays—though nobody quite knew what they were doing, or how. The story of the Rays was thus established: They had secret weapons; nobody knew them; and so we agreed that one of them was certainly Andrew Friedman.
So what does this mean? We know Friedman has won a lot of games without money, that he probably always wished he had more money, that if he had more money he probably thought he could have won more games, and that the Dodgers have a lot of money, That’s simple enough, but winning is extremely unsimple. The Red Sox just finished in last place. Again.
The impact will probably be subtler. It’ll be a bit about some stylistic choices. It’ll be a bit about embracing big-market tactics while shaving off the 10 percent of gristle that sometimes sabotages those tactics. Friedman will likely find (okay, we’ll find; Friedman surely knows) that it’s easier to be a tyrant in a small country than a large one. He’ll also find (again, us) that the Dodgers as an organization don’t need to be rebuilt the way that the Rays needed to be. That's a big factor in thinking about this hiring.
In 2012, just after Stan Kasten took over as team president, the Dodgers went out and signed a bunch of high-profile international scouts, one of their first throwing-money-around moves (and leading directly to some later throwing-money-around moves). Here’s what Kasten told me a few months later:
We were behind the curve when we came in, both in scouting and player development. We didn’t have the players, the pipeline that the Dodgers have traditionally been known for. We had weaknesses in our scouting efforts, particularly internationally, where the Dodgers were once leaders. Where we had invented international scouting, we were dead last, no. 30, in international signings. That’s where we were. We still believe that is how you build a franchise. I’m not saying it now; I said it day one. We’re going to focus on building our scouting and player development.
We’ve added the best people, experienced people. We added the finest international scout there has ever been (Bob Engle) and a cadre of 10 international scouts. That’s going to take time. But it’s heartwarming, or fortuitous, that our first two international signings turned into Ryu and Puig. We got lucky. Maybe it wans’t luck. Maybe it was good.
You could argue that those 10 international scouts were a bigger deal than Friedman could be to this organization. Which isn’t to say that Friedman isn’t a big, big deal. It’s just that it’s easy to overstate what the Dodgers need, and to overstate what Friedman (or anybody) could conceivably change.
Based on what we know about Friedman, where should we expect the Dodgers to do things a bit differently?
1. Get a new manager: “Maddon quickly became known throughout the organization as a progressive thinker. In his early minor league days, he harped on the value of rest and nutrition, mental preparation and handling pressure, at a time when such topics were rarely discussed in baseball spheres. When technology became more prevalent a few years later, Maddon was an early adopter of all the latest gadgets, especially when they helped him gather and organize information…. Later in his career…he became one of the earliest adopters of customized, small-ball pitching machines. Meanwhile, Maddon kept finding new ways to inspire players.” –The Extra 2%, Page 115
This is actually two-pronged. One prong is the type of manager. Where you see teams these days hiring all sorts of liaison types to coordinate the flow of information into the dugout and, to put it bluntly, make it so these stubborn old types have to listen, the Rays never needed such a thing. Maddon was the liaison. I have no idea who the Dodgers plan to hire for their next manager (though it seems like at least a 51 percent chance it’ll happen sometime soon), but after three “headline” hirings in a row, it’s probably safe to assume that the priority this time will be finding somebody who is an extension of the front office, instead of a celebrity standing outside of it.
The second prong, though, comes from this: That quote up there, from The Extra 2 Percent, is from 2011. It came out after Maddon’s sixth year in Tampa, and, three years later, Maddon is still there. The Dodgers used to be the most extreme example of organizational stability, but since Tommy Lasorda retired they have had seven managers (including interim Glenn Hoffman) in 18 seasons. I think we’re all assuming there will be an eighth soon, and it’s a good bet that whoever is hired will last as long in the organization as Friedman does. Maddon was, after all, hired as a managerial newbie and he was nothing like an instant success in Tampa. In his first two seasons, the Rays lost 197 games. But Friedman stuck with him, and has done whatever voodoo magic necessary to keep him from bolting to a bigger market since. Step one for an organization is to get smart. Once that is established, step two is only slightly less important: Preserve continuity.
2. Spend as much, but on more players: “Richer teams can build palatial stadiums, pay nine figures for Alex Rodriguez, or draw on the fandom of an entire region. Upgrading a terrible defense, addressing bad base running, providing counsel for talented, young players—all of these steps have been pointed toward a more modest, but equally important and beneficial goal: Wiping out weaknesses.” —The Extra 2%, Page 203
Here’s a good one:
Largest payroll Andrew Friedman's Rays ever carried was ~$77 million. The Dodgers already have $131 million committed to their 2018 roster.
— Pedro Moura (@pedromoura) October 14, 2014
And that’s the year after Crawford and Ethier’s contracts expire. You don’t generally spend money five years into the future by acquiring middle infield depth. You do it by signing big friggin’ stars to big friggin’ contracts. That isn’t necessarily a problem—I don’t think Friedman ever looked at his situation and said, explicitly, “boy, I sure don’t know what I’d do if I got stuck with stars”—but building from the top down is just one way to build a team. From the bottom up is another. I once asked a front office exec what he would do if he were given $20 million to spend. He said he’d spend it on the bottom of his roster. Wiping out weaknesses.
The Rays have been a versatile team, a flexible team, and one that has always seemed to invest thrice as much brainpower into some catching platoon than any other team. Friedman believes in having 35 guys ready to contribute. He hoards options. The Dodgers are going to spend money, and they’ll spend it on superstars, but I would imagine that there will be one or two superstars passed on (without us even knowing it) so that the Dodgers don’t have to settle anywhere.
3. Replace A.J. Ellis, loveable and leadershippy and bad at framing. “To Friedman, every trade, signing, and draft pick was part of a greater process.” —The Extra 2%, page 10.
You’re going to hear the Dodgers suddenly rumored to land David Price in a year, suddenly rumored to sign James Shields in a few months. They might! But those are moves that any GM could make, that any GM would try to make if he had the money to do it. The rumors you probably should start making up and pushing heavily, if you’re a Twitter MLBInsider Fraud type, involve the Dodgers and a catcher who can hit a bit and frame a lot—a “greater process” type of move that would reflect a new emphasis on using the position to strengthen the entire pitching staff.
Buster Posey’s not an option, though you can imagine Friedman would give Ned Colletti’s right arm to finally acquire the superstar he was $1 million too poor to get the first time around. It’s probably a year too early to even dream of putting a f***-you package together that would land Jonathan Lucroy, considering how Rays-like his contract extension is. (Puig for Lucroy—make it happen, universe!) Same for Yan Gomes. Brian McCann + salary relief might be fun—a reclamation project that would simultaneously help the Yankees in their eternally doomed quest to get under the luxury tax threshold? Alas, we’re probably stuck with the obvious: Russell Martin, a free agent this year, great framer, leader in the clubhouse, Dodgers roots, having a moment. Now we just have to wait for Jim Bowden to tell us how much he’ll sign for, and it’ll be so.
Of course, there's the other stuff that "smart" teams do: The extensions, the investment in the farm system, the lack of Kevin Correia. But those are fairly predictable, everybody-does-it things that any "smart" hire would have likely brought.
We might as well conclude with an in-conclusion. In conclusion: The Dodgers were going to win, whether or not they signed Friedman. When Ben Lindbergh and I talked on Effectively Wild recently about which hypothetical team’s outlook we would pick, knowing nothing about them except that one team is the richest, one team has the best farm system, and one team won the most games in baseball the previous season, we picked the richest. That’s the Dodgers, and they’re not all that far off on the other two. They had committed to getting smarter and thinking long term before they added Friedman. They were going to win.
Friedman, as much as anything, is the symptom of that state-of-the-franchise. A team that is committed to getting smarter gets Friedman. A team that’s committed to thinking long term gets Friedman. Does Friedman help? Sure. Brandon League’s probably not on this team if Friedman had been around. But if you want to shoot up fireworks over this move, it’s really celebrating the fact that the Dodgers are run by the type of people who invest in this type of person. A’s hire A’s. B’s hire C’s. The Dodgers just made it clear which they are.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now