When Andrew Friedman became the Tampa Bay Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations in late 2005, the team had accomplished nothing. Then, just three seasons later, Friedman guided the Rays to the World Series and they have not looked back. Everyone knows the challenges that Friedman has overcome to craft the Rays into a consistent winner. Now the question is whether it is time for him to move onto another objective.
Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times reported that the Los Angeles Dodgers are considering cutting ties with general manager Ned Colletti. If they did, their “top target” would be none other than Andrew Friedman. Despite that being the case, though, it is far from certain that Friedman would leave the team.
Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune wrote about how competing in the AL East captivates Friedman while Marc Topkin discussed how the Rays’ front office has become a comfortable place for Friedman the last nine years. With those thoughts in mind, if Friedman does head to Los Angeles, a major reason would be that he believes that it is more challenging to run the Dodgers than the Rays. We can’t know Friedman’s thought process, but let’s attempt to assess whether that is truly the case.
Category 1: Payroll
At first glance, it seems clearly more difficult to build a contender with the financially constrained Rays than the high-payroll Dodgers. The Rays have to find reclamation projects while the Dodgers can sign whoever they want. We saw this season what happens when Friedman’s maneuvers do not work–the Rays go from a 90-win team to a below-.500 one. However, the Dodgers’ payroll presents its own problems.
For big-market teams, signing free agents usually helps them for a season or two, but their contracts can turn into albatrosses before long. The New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies had sustained runs of success, but their long-term deals have caught up with them and now they are stuck with aging teams. The Dodgers are scared that they will meet the same fate, as noted by Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles. If Friedman went to the Dodgers, the problem facing him would be to figure out how to spend major resources on free agent contracts and extensions to achieve present gains without harming the team’s future. That is a fascinating question in its own right.
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Category 2: Market Size
If Andrew Friedman went from Tampa Bay to Los Angeles, suddenly all of his moves would receive exponentially more scrutiny. Could Friedman take the pressure? Of course he can–he is an excellent general manager, and LA would not faze him.
For the Rays, on the other hand, Friedman has to create a profitable enterprise even though fans are unable to get to Tropicana Field and the team’s TV deal that was negotiated too soon. That is harder to overcome.
Category 3: Current Team Situation
The Dodgers just won 94 games and the NL West. The Rays, meanwhile, have to rebound from a 77-win year. It seems clear that the Rays possess a worse group of players right now. But let’s play devil’s advocate and try to say that the Dodgers are worse off.
The biggest issue with the Dodgers is that Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, and Matt Kemp are all signed long-term at less-than-favorable prices. The team doesn’t even have a true centerfielder between that trio and Yasiel Puig. Joc Pederson could be an option, but he has issues making contact. Friedman would also have an outfield logjam with no DH spot to ameliorate the issue.
Much like the Rays from this past season, the Dodgers bullpen is a mess. The difference between them is that the LA bullpen faces a more difficult task turning itself around. Kenley Jansen is a great closer, but the Dodgers don’t have a single setup reliever they can be confident in next season. They also have Brian Wilson back after his disastrous 2014.
All of that being said, Friedman knows how to build a bullpen and the Dodgers still have more talent than the Rays, especially offensively. We can’t say that the Dodgers’ roster represents a bigger obstacle than the Rays’.
Category 4: Relationship with Ownership
As Mooney details, Friedman is extremely unlikely to be fired as long as Stuart Sternberg owns the Rays. The Dodgers, meanwhile, could certainly move on from him like they are thinking of doing with Colletti if his moves don’t work out. But at the end of the day, Friedman is confident enough in his abilities that such a threat would not be an issue. The bigger question surrounds the leeway he would have to take risks.
The Rays have been known to do crazy things. They were shifting defensively before it was cool and signing players no one else would touch. Would the Dodgers be willing to tolerate Friedman doing things in that vein, especially if he tried them and they did not work initially? Going to the Dodgers might limit his ability to innovate and force him to become more like the general managers he has been one step ahead of his entire career. Of course, putting it this way is an exaggeration, but the thought has to enter Friedman’s mind.
There are more categories than these four, and these categories probably should not be weighted equally. There are aspects of the Los Angeles Dodgers that would give Andrew Friedman a thrill that the Rays cannot match. Nevertheless, we know how much Friedman appreciates the challenge that he faces in Tampa Bay. The most likely outcome is that even if the Dodgers fire Ned Colletti, Friedman will remain with the Rays this offseason.