Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Andrew Friedman from Tampa Bay Rays gen. mgr. to LA Dodgers pres. of baseball operations-NY Times

10/14/14, "From Rays’ Rags to Dodgers’ Riches," NY Times, Tyler Kepner, Kansas City, Mo.

"Dayton Moore, the Royals’ general manager, had the luxury of time and the virtue of discipline in building his team. Andrew Friedman did not take as long to construct a winner in Tampa Bay, but he weathered four rough seasons, including two last-place finishes as general manager, before the Rays won the pennant in 2008.

Now Friedman heads to Los Angeles as the Dodgers’ new president for baseball operationsa general manager, to be determined, will work under him — and the landscape has changed completely.

The Dodgers had the major leagues’ highest payroll this season, around $230 million, and would never characterize themselves the way Stuart Sternberg, Tampa Bay’s owner, described the Rays on Tuesday.

“Given the hand we’re dealt and the way we go about it, it’s half a miracle we get done what we get done and get to where we get to,” Sternberg said during a conference call with reporters, adding: “I never really have a lot of confidence in these things; the games have to be played. But I do have a lot of confidence in the process.”

In nine years as the Rays’ general manager, Friedman, who will be introduced in Los Angeles on Wednesday, had to stick to a process. He never had a payroll above $77 million, so he never had much chance to make an expensive mistake.

The Royals and the Orioles spend more, but neither team has ever given out a nine-figure contract. The Dodgers have five such contracts, and several other deals that simply defy reason.

Brian Wilson got a two-year, $19.5 million contract after pitching about 20 innings for the Dodgers in 2013. Brandon League got three years and $22.5 million after a similar late-season cameo in 2012. Neither pitcher was even the primary setup man, let alone the closer, this October.

Andre Ethier, a spare outfielder, is owed a staggering $56 million for the next three seasons. Another outfielder, Carl Crawford, is owed almost $65 million in the same span. And those players rank below a few others at the top of the Dodgers’ salary structure.

Crawford’s case is instructive. Friedman let him leave as a free agent after the 2010 season, and while he surely recognized that Crawford, at 29, was nearing the end of his prime, it was really not much of a choice. Boston signed Crawford to an absurd seven-year, $142 million contract, when Theo Epstein was the Red Sox’ general manager.

Epstein, like Friedman, is a shrewd team builder, but even he is capable of overreaching. The Crawford contract — like that of Adrian Gonzalez, who was also miscast in Boston — would have continued to drag down the Red Sox had the Dodgers not bailed them out in a 2012 trade. And while Epstein patiently builds the Cubs, with a raft of high-end prospects nearly ready, he has also misfired in Chicago. Edwin Jackson has been among the majors’ worst pitchers since signing a four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs.

The Dodgers have a high enough payroll space to paper over their mistakes; they have won the National League West two seasons in a row. In theory, Friedman gives them a chance to keep winning without wasting so much money — or, at least, while spending more sensibly.

“One of the things I admire about him is his boldness and his courage,” said Matt Silverman, a longtime top executive with the Rays who takes over Friedman’s old spot. “He doesn’t shy away from difficult decisions. He’s willing to stick his neck out for things he thinks are important.”

In Tampa Bay, Friedman’s biggest decisions involved how long to keep players before losing them to free agency or trading them, and which players to target as cheaper alternatives. He did that job extraordinarily well.

But a new set of challenges await in Los Angeles, and a new array of rivals. Four of the five N.L. West teams — all but the San Francisco Giants — have overhauled their front offices since the All-Star break. Ned Colletti, the Dodgers’ general manager for the past nine years, will stay on as a senior adviser.

In time, perhaps, Friedman could lure Joe Maddon to be the Dodgers’ manager, although Don Mattingly is considered safe, and Maddon told Sternberg he was happy in Tampa Bay. Sternberg said he expected no other Rays employees to join Friedman in Los Angeles.

For now, it is Friedman alone, with seemingly unlimited riches at his disposal, but also a bloated payroll and a restless fan base with championship expectations. It is a fascinating assignment, and a whole new world."

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