In their hopes to become younger and more agile in the wake of another postseason flameout, the Los Angeles Dodgers have started with their front office.
Andrew Friedman, the 37-year-old who for the past nine years helped transform the Tampa Bay Rays into a highly relevant franchise in the competitive AL East, is the new president/baseball operations for the Dodgers.
Ned Colletti, who became GM of the Dodgers within days of Friedman taking the same job in Tampa and built five NL West champions, remains with the club as senior adviser to club president Stan Kasten. The duties will suit him well. He is expected to work closely with Friedman, as well. The two became friends nearly a decade ago and maintained a close relationship.
The change impacts two power organizations in baseball. The Rays, competitive in spite of payrolls among the lowest in the league, lose the man who guided their decisions and philosophies and took them from doormat to World Series. (President Matt Silverman will take on general manager duties.) And the Dodgers, who'd set payroll records since Frank McCourt sold the team to Guggenheim, provide Friedman with what amounts to a blank, well-financed, somewhat imbalanced, always interesting canvas.
The Dodgers have made no announcement regarding manager Don Mattingly's future. Mattingly is under contract through 2016. When Friedman became GM of the Rays, he hired Joe Maddon within weeks, and Maddon was for those nine years a savvy and charismatic manager, one of the best in the game. Maddon is under contract through 2015.
So, life changes for the Dodgers and Rays. And it changes for Friedman. The Rays, given their burdensome economic restrictions, are streamlined. Their victories – large and small – are celebrated, their defeats often excused as a byproduct of living alongside the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. At their best, they were smarter and more creative, because, in part, of Friedman. The Dodgers operate, well, differently. They haven't been to a World Series in 26 years, a drumbeat that has finished off general managers for decades, and eventually got Colletti, too. Now Friedman gets the payroll and the flexibility, but he also gets the expectations, and the drama, and the bloated clubhouse that comes with L.A.
He is expected to hire a general manager. But the Dodgers hired Friedman to be their baseball brain and voice, and his are the fingerprints that will come with whatever happens next.
The job is among the most attractive in the game, given the club is flush with money and comes with the likely Cy Young Award winner – Clayton Kershaw – under contract through 2020. There are, however, complications. The team sagged under the weight of those World Series expectations. There are, at last count, six outfielders for three positions, four of them earning top dollar. One, at least, will have to be traded this winter. The bullpen is shoddy, and yet returns crowded and expensive in 2015. Assuming it lets Hanley Ramirez walk, the club will need a shortstop.
Nearly a quarter-billion dollars worth of players filled the ballpark and won the division, but more was demanded. So when Kershaw lost twice in the division series and the offense did not deliver, the jobs of Colletti and manager Mattingly appeared tenuous.
Nine years Colletti had been doing this.
He got the job when Frank McCourt fired Paul DePodesta for trying to hire a manager.
The place only got nuttier.
Nine years passed, so three owners counting Major League Baseball and Guggenheim once each, even though MLB's was an interim gig and Guggenheim has, like, a half-dozen guys with "Dodger owner" business cards, including Magic Johnson, who probably could tell you all the defensive positions on a baseball diamond.
In those nine years, Colletti assembled and ran maybe five different teams, counting the team McCourt was running into the ground, the team McCourt did run into the ground, the team MLB propped up, the team Guggenheim bought and then the team Guggenheim turned into a Mardi Gras float. That's not a knock. Who doesn't love a Mardi Gras float? It's just that you know beneath all that fun, shiny, shimmering things there's a nasty ol' timing chain dying to be replaced.
Yes, this Dodgers team underperformed for a handful of days in October, in part because of a flawed roster, that area primarily being a corps of unreliable relief pitchers. Against the Cardinals, Mattingly was trapped. Pitch those guys, he'd lose. Not pitch them and, well, that's why we're having this conversation. Colletti built the roster. So, to some degree, that's on him, minus the usual variances of "stuff happens" and, "They wanted how much for Andrew Miller?"
So there came a real question as to whether Colletti would still be the general manager moving forward, which meant nine years after an owner canned a GM for wanting to hire a manager we could see an entirely different owner fire – or in this case reassign – a different GM for winning a division title, and not just one division title, but four of seven and five overall, and not just four division titles, but three trips to the NLCS, none successful.
The point is, yes, being in charge of baseball for the Dodgers should be a great gig. The larger point: It was the worst job in the game long before it was the best job in the game, and Colletti did what he could under the circumstances. When the circumstances got better, and the Dodgers had to be competitive right now, he filled the roster with good players. He made aggressive trades. He signed superstars. And the Dodgers were legit again.
Because they were both legit and expensive and, finally, October flops, Colletti was replaced. Because at his last trading deadline he held firm to the notion that next year and the year after would be important too, he refused to part with his highest-end prospects, and maybe that cost him his next year and the year after, as far as the Dodgers are concerned.
But, the Dodgers today are better for it, and that always was Colletti's aim. And now, today, Friedman will be better for it.
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