(Photo Credit: Hans Gutknecht)
While the Los Angeles Dodgers decided to embark on a brand new front office structure during the winter of 2014, the game of baseball itself was experiencing an evolution of sorts, as the national pastime began morphing into a game of numbers, analytics and financial management as opposed to seeing the most dominant clubs succeed with intangible qualities like grit, wit and desire.
And as the game evolved, so did the Dodgers. Gone as general manager was Ned Colletti, a hard-nosed sports executive from Illinois who spent time with the Cubs and Giants before being hand-picked by owner Frank McCourt in 2005 to lead the troops in Tinseltown. Jumping onto the scene was a 37-year-old Tulane graduate named Andrew Friedman, who signed a record-setting five-year deal worth $35 million and was believed to be one of the brightest young minds in the game after putting Tampa Bay on the baseball map.
Friedman’s role with the Dodgers was deemed as president of baseball operations, as he was given the privilege of choosing his own office staff and overseeing the daily baseball operations of the organization. And although Colletti was in a very similar role at the top of the franchise’s totem pole in his own era, it may be just a tad bit unfair to compare the two based on the quality of ownership and resources alone.
Nevertheless, a few of the differences are glaring. Colletti loved his gritty veteran players while believing the farmhands had a long line of dues to pay before being given at least a smell of the coffee brewing at the big boy’s table. Even though it was amidst McCourt’s horrible divorce saga and a limited budget, Colletti filled more than half of the roster with veteran has-beens after scouring the darkest holes of the bargain basement in the 2011 preseason. He made what he thought were big splashes by signing Juan Uribe, Ted Lilly, Jon Garland and Matt Guerrier — all to multi-year deals. He also scored a group of low-cost, one-year contracts with scrappy, gritty journeymen like Aaron Miles, Marcus Thames, Eugenio Velez, Dana Eveland, Juan Castro, Tony Gwynn Jr., Ron Mahay, Juan Castro, Mike MacDougal and Gabe Kapler.
To be fair, Friedman walked in to a half-decent structure, having inherited a club which won the NL West divisional crown in 2013 and 2014. The biggest difference, though, is that Friedman showed faith in the younger players in the minors. Granted, under the McCourt regime the farm system was barren and international scouting non-existent, but building up the lower-levels of the organization was one of the highest initial priorities of both Friedman and part-owner Stan Kasten.
Friedman not only gave a multitude of youngsters a shot of proving their skills in the bigs in 2016, but by doing so, he also increased the end value of those players, something that the Yankees were deceptively brilliant at doing in the 70s and 80s. Friedman saw two players, Brock Stewart and Andrew Toles, begin the season in High-A and cruise through the rankings to make their MLB debuts. Future stars such as Julio Urias, Ross Stripling, Rob Segedin and Jose De Leon all earned promotions to the big leagues under Friedman, moves that Colletti and his henchmen surely would have ridiculed in their old school line of thought.
Colletti managed in the traditional style of management. He had his deputies, most specifically Logan White and De Jon Watson, to report to him and tell him which players had what it took to succeed in the majors, while Friedman probably knows more about the skills of his prospects than his own scouting directors.
Colletti reported to an owner who probably didn’t know the difference between a two-seam and a four-seam fastball, while Kasten was busy soaking up knowledge from players like Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz during his heyday in Atlanta.
Most of the time, Colletti would depend on his field generals, Joe Torre and Don Mattingly, to break bad news to his players in the event of a trade or a demotion. The deal of then budding star James McDonald comes to mind in particular, when, along with outfielder Andrew Lambo, were sent to the Pirates in July of 2010 in exchange for reliever Octavio Dotel. McDonald was seen in the Dodger clubhouse changing back into his street clothes immediately before the beginning of a game against the Giants one Saturday. When approached by several Dodger players and asked as to what was happening, McDonald was quoted as saying that he had been watching an ESPN crawler report and saw that he was traded.
On the contrary, Friedman along with GM Farhan Zaidi, are always present for such meetings, realizing the importance of the players interacting with the executives. Friedman is constantly seen on the back fields at Camelback Ranch during spring training as well, always eager to see another prospect on the verge of stardom.
Colletti was dependent upon past player stats from the back of a trading card, as well as having a “nose” for talent and the ability to guesstimate a players’ longevity. Friedman, Zaidi and VP Josh Byrnes continue to spend a great deal of time emphasizing research and development — supplementing new tools which measure every single split-second of players actions and reactions while on the diamond.
In the end, however, perhaps the biggest difference is more money and better resources — two valuable components that Friedman is adept at utilizing well. And after almost two years at the helm, it’s certainly fair to say that the Dodgers are headed in a new direction — continuing to emphasize the farm and the value of youth, despite the overwhelming anxiety and desire of the fan base to win a World Series Championship “right now.”
Eventually, that time will come. And it probably will be sooner than many think.