Andrew Friedman is a smart man. Whether you want to believe it or not, he’s smarter than you. Yes, you. He’s one of the — if not, the — highest-paid executives in baseball, and he’s the man who will attempt to put the Dodgers in the best position to succeed short- and long-term.
When irrational fans clamor for his firing or look down on the “nerds” and “saber-metrics,” as it was written by a hack writer earlier this week, it’s because they don’t understand the process. Friedman is an analytical person, and he has a plan behind everything this organization does.
He sat down with the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin for a question and answer session. I’m going to pull a couple of his answers to highlight what’s happening in the Dodger front office.
On the front office’s objective:
“I think, since Mark [Walter] assumed ownership and Stan Kasten and the rest of the group, there’s been a very consistent message, which was: We’re going to do everything we can to compete as quickly as we can, and all the while build up our farm system as quickly and aggressively as we can. This predates me.
But there were significant commitments made that were more obvious, in terms of additions to the major league roster, and a lot of things happening behind the scenes in terms of prospects — not only being added, but a reluctance to part with key prospects as well. And then I think the next phase, as I’ve heard [team president] Stan [Kasten] talk about often, has been to help nurture that farm system into our next core of players.
I think large-revenue teams can sometimes fall into a trap of focusing too much on the current, and that is something that we have tried to be extremely mindful of. We certainly understand and respect the fans’ passion. It’s one of the things I like most about my job.“
The farm system has been built back up incredibly well. It’s ranked as the best by Baseball America and second by ESPN/Keith Law. This is on the heels of Frank McCourt and his penny-pinching ways — mostly on the international front.
The irrational fan isn’t going to look at things like this. He/she wants to win right now. Problem is, if a team empties its cupboard and doesn’t win, you end up with an Anaheim Angel situation. They have some good talent on the MLB roster, but there is virtually nothing on the farm. Law called it one of the worst farm systems he has ever seen.
Look how the Yankees rebuilt their squad in the 1990s. They did so with a ton of home-grown talent: Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams — and this includes them missing badly on Brien Taylor with the No. 1 pick in 1991. In that quintet of players, you have two Hall of Famers and three perennial All-Stars. That doesn’t even include some of the key role players who came up through the system. What free agency and the trade market did was supplement the core of the team, which was primarily home-grown.
Let’s try a 1-to-1 comparison with the Dodgers.
- Clayton Kershaw : Pettitte
- Corey Seager : Jeter
- Joc Pederson : Williams
- Kenley Jansen : Rivera
- Andre Ethier : Posada
It isn’t a perfect 1-to-1 comp, but it’s not bad, either. Kershaw is obviously superior to Pettitte, but Pettitte was dynamite in the postseason. Pederson and Jansen are straight positional comps. Grandal would have been a great one for Posada, but he wasn’t home-grown. And Ethier wasn’t technically home-grown, but he was acquired as a prospect and spent a little time in the Dodger minor-league system. Also, this isn’t me comparing Seager to Jeter. I’m saying the home-grown, can’t miss, No. 1 prospect comparison in apt. Seager probably won’t be a Hall of Famer (because that’s a hard goal to attain), but he should be a fixture for the Dodgers for at least a decade.
The Yankees acquired the likes of Roger Clemens, David Cone, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, David Wells and the like to pair with the young core. This is how the Yankees got back on the map. They used their vast wealth and trusted the scouting department and, most of all, resisted the urge to trade some of the prospects for quick fixes that didn’t guarantee anything.
On failing to acquire Cole Hamels or David Price at the trade deadline last year:
“I think it all gets back to acquisition cost. We were very much in play on a number of guys but deemed the acquisition cost to be too high, based on the fact that it certainly did not guarantee anything. Look at the teams that did acquire some of those guys. It does not guarantee that you are going to win a World Series. You have to appreciate what it means for your chances.
I think human emotion takes over when you’re in July, and you’re even willing to give more than what rationally makes sense. But there has to be a level where you have the discipline to not overstate that value.”
“Any player that we feel like fits us, whether in the free-agent market or trade front, we exhaust that possibility thoroughly and try to figure out ways to line up and get to a deal. Part of it is having the depth in your farm system to withstand a trade of that nature. We feel like we’re finally getting to the point where we have the depth in prospects, either to help us in the form of trade currency or to continue to supplement our major league team.
Secondly, the easy decision would be just to say yes to something that helps you in the near term, but we’re trying as hard as we can to have the discipline to be as good as we can be in the current year and to maintain it as far as we can see out.”
The second paragraph (about emotions) is telling. Friedman and Co., thought the cost to acquire those players was prohibitive (turns out, the Rangers and Blue Jays gave up a lot for those players). Instead of potentially mortgaging the future by trading guys like Julio Urias, Jose De Leon, et al, for a Hamels or Price (who was a free agent following the season) didn’t make sense for the long-term plan. It may have made sense in the short-term, but it also didn’t guarantee the Dodgers of beating the Mets in the National League Division Series. Instead, betting on a couple of mid-to-late-20s starters who have been successful was the right play in the front office’s eyes because it didn’t have to give up a lot of value to get them. It didn’t quite work out as hoped, but that doesn’t mean the idea and process was terribly flawed.
There’s every chance Alex Wood has a great 2016 season. He’s been significantly above-average in his first three seasons in the majors. The Dodgers were betting on Mat Latos bouncing back and getting back to his San Diego form. The data were there, the results, obviously, were not.
Sure, the Dodgers’ chances of going farther in the playoffs probably would have been increased if they had Price instead of Wood, but at last check, the offense is what struggled in the NLDS, not the pitching (save Brett Anderson in Game 3).
I tweeted this yesterday about the Q&A.
Andrew Friedman is a smart man. He has a plan and is executing it. Folks need to read that Shaikin Q&A and, most importantly, accept it.
— Dustin Nosler (@DustinNosler) February 18, 2016
“… accept it” was probably the wrong way to phrase it. “… understand it” works better. There is a reason the front office does and does not do what it does. The process is what matters. The smart guys are using information to their advantage when it comes to building a championship-contending team. It is also doing its best to ensure a sustained level of success. And because baseball’s playoffs are so unpredictable, all it takes is getting to the postseason to have a legitimate shot at the World Series. The Giants’ teams that won in recent years were far from the most talented. The 83-win Cardinals won the World Series in 2006. The 2015 Blue Jays, which acquired Price and Troy Tulowitzki at the trade deadline, were ousted by the Royals in the American League Championship Series.
Friedman has four more years left on his deal. He isn’t going anywhere, mostly because of that. Also because he is building a powerhouse. It has been written by others (not just us). This team is going to contend. The farm system is deeper right now than it was a year ago at this time. This opens up the possibility of landing a big-time player at the trade deadline, if need be.
I’m confident in this team for 2016 (and beyond). I’m confident in this front office. You should be, too.