(Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)
During the dullest days of the break last winter, we took a few moments to profile a few members of the Dodgers management team, most specifically GM Farhan Zaidi and new additions to the coaching staff in George Lombard and Bob Geren. This year, traveling higher up on the totem pole, we decided to take a closer look at president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman mainly for the sake of having a solid reference link, but also in an effort to learn more about the primary decision maker of the Los Angeles front office crew.
According to baseball-reference.com, Friedman grew up in Houston and attended Episcopal High School, eventually earning a baseball scholarship to play outfield at Tulane University, although his studies in business management and finance were his primary priorities. He followed in the footsteps of his father, Kenneth, who also played baseball for the Green Wave.
Andrew was part of the 1996 Tulane team which won the inaugural Conference USA Championship. Before injuries to his wrist and shoulder ended his playing career, he played under head coach Rick Jones, who led the Green Wave to 12 NCAA tournament appearances over his 21 year tenure.
Friedman went on to become an analyst with Bear Stearns from 1999–2002, and subsequently became an associate at MidMark Capital from 2002-04. He met Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg later in 2004, and after discovering they had many similar ideas about both business and baseball, immediately began working together.
Friedman began his Rays career as the Director of Baseball Development. He was promoted to the position of Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager after the 2005 season, and at the age of 28, replaced the club’s first general manager, Chuck LaMar, who was fired following the club’s eighth losing season in its eight years of existence.
Friedman became Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for Tampa Bay following the 2005 season, staying in the same position all the way until the end of the 2014 season. Success began with the team’s change of name in 2008, when they had their first winning campaign and reached the 2008 World Series on the strength of a core of home-grown players, complemented by others acquired in carefully planned trades. Later that same year, he was named Sporting News Executive of the Year.
Operating on a very thin budget, the Rays managed to sign a few stars to long-term contracts, including third baseman Evan Longoria along with pitchers Chris Archer and Matt Moore, but were mainly successful at obtaining good value through trades in return for players who were about to become too expensive. During all this time, he worked with only one manager, Joe Maddon. There was always an overwhelming amount of secrecy behind the Rays’ success, as Friedman would not divulge the names of who all those who were working under him, some of whom were likely statistical analysts, as the Rays tried a number of unusual things over the years, such as unorthodox line-up choices and defensive shifts.
In October of 2014, he was hired by the Dodgers as president of baseball operations for a record-setting five-year, $35 million deal, and became the team’s new head boss, replacing former GM Ned Colletti. Not long after, Friedman hired Zaidi as the Dodgers’ new general manager and brought in former Padres general manager Josh Byrnes as vice-president of baseball operations. In January of 2016, Friedman hired Alex Anthopoulos, former GM of the Blue Jays, to serve as another vice-president of baseball ops.
In his new role in Los Angeles, Friedman was viewed under a microscope immediately by fans after parting ways with shortstop Hanley Ramirez, outfielder Matt Kemp, second baseman Dee Gordon, and pitchers Brian Wilson, Brandon League and Dan Haren. Now entering their third season with the Dodgers, Friedman and his assistants have the manager of their choice, the coaching staff of their choice, and most importantly, the players of their choice.
The biggest difference between Friedman and Colletti is perhaps Andrew’s faith in the abilities of younger players. 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.
As 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. Incorporating a very friendly, hands-on approach with the players, Friedman, along with Zaidi, are always present for meetings involving transactions, 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.
While the re-signing of core players such as Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen have been labeled as being out of character for the Friedman crew, it does reflect the group’s knack of common baseball sense for success, rather than depending on sabermetric formulas and spreadsheets to determine the club’s next economic miracle. Often criticized for his mathematical approach with disregards to old-fashioned fundamentals and traditional statistics, a few of these recent transactions suggest signs of a well-rounded thought process.
Today, after three years at the helm, it’s certainly fair to say that the Dodgers are headed in a new direction — striving 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.”
Continuing to further develop in knowledge, wisdom and experience, though, it is indeed safe to say that time will come very soon when he sees his club hoist a World Championship trophy — the next goal on the docket of the Friedman regime.