Dodgers shake up front office, MLB with move to get Rays' Friedman
On the heels of last week's disappointing first-round exit from the playoffs, the Dodgers have shaken up their front office. Ned Colletti, the team's general manager since late 2005, has been re-assigned to a senior advisor role, while Rays executive Andrew Friedman has been hired as president of baseball operations and will have the power to hire a general manager. Back in Tampa Bay, team president Matt Silverman will take over baseball ops. Even given the rumors connecting Friedman to Los Angeles that had been in circulation for the past week, the addition of one of the game's most highly respected executives to a front office armed with resources but at times uncertain of its direction is quite a coup.
On the Dodgers' side, this move had apparently been in the works even before they were eliminated in the Division Series last week by the Cardinals. Friedman, who worked wonders with a shoestring budget in Tampa Bay and rebuffed previous overtures from the Angels, Astros and Cubs, apparently found the Dodgers' situation — which offers the promise of a payroll roughly triple that of the Rays — too good to pass up. Because he worked without a contract in Tampa Bay, Los Angeles won't need to compensate the Rays, which the Cubs had to do when they hired Theo Epstein away from the Red Sox three years ago.
Under Colletti, who was hired by since-departed owner Frank McCourt to replace the fired Paul DePodesta in November 2005, the Dodgers posted the NL's third-best cumulative record (783-674, for a .537 winning percentage) over the past nine seasons. This year, Los Angeles won 94 games, second-most in his tenure. The Dodgers posted eight winning records in Colletti's nine years, won five NL West titles and advanced to the NLCS three times, but they were never able to secure the team's first pennant or championship since 1988.
Under the Guggenheim Baseball Management ownership group, which spent a record $2 billion to purchase the team from an increasingly insolvent McCourt in the spring of 2012, the team has pushed its payroll into the stratosphere, becoming the first club besides the Yankees to breach the $200 million barrier. Via Cot's Contracts, Los Angeles' Opening Day payroll this year weighed in at a $229.3 million, the highest in the majors.
The spending decisions underlying that skyrocketing payroll weren't made by Colletti unilaterally, but he does have to bear a great deal of the responsibility for the Dodgers coming up short, and for the way this year's roster had its curious redundancies and shortcomings. Most glaringly, the team had four outfielders — Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig — under contract through at least 2017, creating no end of headaches for manager Don Mattingly when it came to doling out playing time, let alone any opportunity for top prospect Joc Pederson to break in. In the space of a few months last offseason, the team shelled out more than $50 million in commitments for a pair of Cuban defectors, Erisbel Arruebarrena and Alex Guerrero, who became so lost in the crowd that they combined to make just 58 plate appearances for the team this year.
Meanwhile, despite spending more than $30 million on a bullpen that included ex-closers Brandon League, Chris Perez and Brian Wilson as well as J.P. Howell, the team's late-inning relief corps was so shaky that Mattingly took two rookies (Pedro Baez and Carlos Frias) with a combined 56 1/3 major league innings to the Division Series. Mattingly was so untrusting of the unit as a whole that he allowed a tiring Clayton Kershaw to give away sizable leads not once but twice, paving the way for the team's loss to the Cardinals in four games.
Beyond those flaws, the Dodgers now have more than $700 million in salary committed for the next five seasons. Over $190 million is committed to 13 players for next year, thanks in large part to Kershaw's record-setting seven-year, $215 million extension kicking in; he'll be one of six players making at least $18 million. As of right now, the team has $170 million — more than all but three teams' 2014 payrolls — committed to 10 players for 2017, the kind of thing that can make long-term planning as difficult as fine-tuning a roster.
Beyond his pre-baseball employment as an investment banker, figures of that magnitude are unfamiliar territory to the 37-year-old Friedman, except in the context of his big-money competition in the AL East. As the GM of the (Devil) Rays since November 2005, when owner Stuart Sternberg gained a controlling interest from original owner Vince Naimoli, Friedman has presided over payrolls that only twice have even topped $70 million, including a franchise-record $76.8 million this year.
Despite that, his team's cumulative record (754-705, for a .517 winning percentage) on his watch amounts to just three fewer wins per year than Colletti's teams, and that's with a combined 197 losses over the first two seasons before the franchise changed names and grabbed the 2008 AL pennant. Over the past seven seasons, the Rays have the higher winning percentage of the two teams, .552 to .541 (fourth and fifth in the majors, respectively), with five 90-win seasons and four postseason appearances, generally against much tougher competition than that of the NL West. Indeed, Friedman has been able to build contending teams on a much smaller budget thanks to strong drafts (though not as strong in recent years when making lower picks), astute trades and smart contracts with players that bought out portions of their arbitration and free agency eligibility.
Among those moves, signature trades brought in Ben Zobrist for Aubrey Huff in mid-2006; Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young in late 2007; Matt Joyce for Edwin Jackson in late 2008; Jesse Chavez for Rafael Soriano in late 2009; Chris Archer for Garza in early 2011; Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi for James Shields and Wade Davis in late 2012; and Drew Smyly and Nick Franklin for David Price this past July. Thanks to his contracts, the Rays have Matt Moore under club control through 2019, Archer through 2021, and Evan Longoria through 2022, all at affordable prices; previous club-friendly deals such those for Shields and Davis helped pave the way to that blockbuster.
Hand in hand with the Rays' operation on a tight budget has been their embrace of analytical methods in the front office and in concert with manager Joe Maddon. The team has been well ahead of the curve on matters such as defensive shifts, catcher framing and unorthodox platoons — some of them involving multiple positions — that go beyond simple lefty-righty matchups. At the field level, ideas from above have been implemented with far less drama than has been the case elsewhere (think of Billy Beane's battles with Art Howe and some of his successors prior to Bob Melvin, or this year's mess in Houston).
For the moment, it appears that Friedman is inclined to retain Mattingly, who has one more year under contract, though that could change if Mattingly — for whom in-game strategy has never been a strong point, to say the least — is uncomfortable taking such direction. Maddon's current contract in Tampa Bay runs through 2015, and it's not inconceivable he could join his old boss in Los Angeles upon its expiration. It's also possible that Friedman could instead eye Maddon's heir apparent, Dave Martinez, the Rays' bench coach since 2008.
If you're looking for starting points as to what Friedman might do with the current roster, expect him to let free agent Hanley Ramirez walk away, likely with a $15.3 million qualifying offer in hand so as to net a draft pick when he signs elsewhere. An upgrade on catcher A.J. Ellis, who ranked as the game's second-worst pitch framer and hit an anemic .191/.323/.254, is also likely. Don't be surprised if Friedman resists the temptation to bring home free agent Russell Martin, who was 33 runs better than Ellis in pitch framing and was drafted and developed by the Dodgers. Going on 31 years old and heavily used throughout much of his career, he may have too many warning signs for a shrewd GM not to heed.
As for Colletti, his move to become a senior advisor to team president and CEO Stan Kasten effectively puts him out to pasture while allowing him a quieter exit at a future date. His tenure as GM certainly had its ups and downs. He reaped the fruits of a booming farm system that produced Chad Billingsley, Kemp, Kershaw, Martin and James Loney, all of whom arrived in 2006-08, before McCourt's cutbacks in draft bonuses came back to bite the team.
Colletti's record in free agency was mixed. He made good free agent signings (Nomar Garciaparra, Hiroki Kuroda, Justin Turner, the 2013 model of Wilson), bad ones (Juan Pierre, Matt Guerrier) and awful ones (Jason Schmidt's $47 million deal yielded just 43 1/3 major league innings, Bill Mueller's $9.5 million just 32 games, Andruw Jones' $36 million deal required a buyout). Likewise, he made good trades (stealing Ethier from the Athletics for Milton Bradley, acquiring Manny Ramirez and Greg Maddux in mid-2008) and bad ones (Carlos Santana to the Indians for Casey Blake).
Notoriously, Colletti bungled in the winter of 2010, non-tendering Martin while retaining Loney for a similar amount of money without acknowledging the scarcity of two-way catchers relative to slick-fielding first basemen short on power. He was hamstrung by McCourt's tightening of the purse strings as the team headed towards bankruptcy, but he also reaped the benefit of the Dodgers' forays into international markets to sign Kuroda, Puig, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Takashi Saito.
At this point, it's unclear whom Friedman might tab as the team's new GM. Logan White, their current vice president of amateur scouting, has been a popular candidate who has interviewed for GM openings with other teams, and likewise for Kim Ng, previously an assistant GM for the Dodgers (2002-11) who is now senior VP of baseball operations for Major League Baseball. Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler, who interviewed for the Diamondbacks' GM position, is another hot candidate who could draw interest, and likewise for the Red Sox's Mike Hazen.
As for the Rays, this is a blow along the lines of trading Price, in that other bright but less heralded figures will be charged with moving the team forward now that the superstar has departed. Silverman, the team president, will take over as president of baseball operations (effectively, their GM), while Brian Auld, their senior vice president of business operations, will take over as team president.
In the end, this is a seismic shakeup that affects both leagues and both coasts. It's also the fourth change in the GM ranks in the NL West in the past three months, with the Padres hiring A.J. Preller in August, the Diamondbacks turning to Dave Stewart in place of Kevin Towers earlier this month and the Rockies promoting farm director Jeff Bridich to replace Dan O'Dowd. For the Dodgers, there's still more to come on the hiring front — in addition to a new GM, director of player development De Jon Watson, who left to join Stewart in Arizona, will need to be replaced — but for the moment, the pain of being bumped from the playoffs has been replaced by a key victory for the front office.