Again, we're looking at the excellent book by Jonah Keri. In case you missed the first article, here's a rundown on what I'm doing:
Jonah Keri is a good writer. I've enjoyed his stuff for years and was intrigued by his announcement that he'd be publishing a book on the Tampa Bay Rays. That book, The Extra 2%, came out in March of this year.
Why do I bring this up? Since Jim Crane has professed an admiration for how the Rays run their show and that persistent rumors link the Rays' GM Andrew Friedman with Houston, I wanted to get a behind-the-scenes look at the organization through the book. It's a quick read, under 300 pages, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's following new trends in baseball.
I had lots to take away from the book, but I don't want to dump it all in one article, so I'm breaking this up into three different ones, each focusing on a different aspect of the book and how it relates to Houston.
Today, we'll look at what makes Andrew Friedman a good GM. After the jump, let's focus on what we know and don't know about the talented Tampa Bay executive.
First of all, there is a lot we don't know about Friedman. Since owner Stuart Sternberg took over, putting Friedman and Co. in place, the Tampa Bay franchise has been a pretty closed book. Keri relates an anecdote that when Josh Kalk was hired to be a statistical analyst, the Rays didn't want him revealing anything about where he was going or which organization hired him. They kept him off the main directory and tried to conceal everything about him.
Thinking about that, it's very hard for to know exactly what's going on in Tampa Bay's front office. Trade negotiations are played very close to the vest along with signings and everything else. Basically, any leaks about potential trades happen because of the other teams or the agents for players. So, we have to judge Friedman on what we know. With that in mind, let's run through his biggest strengths.
One: He finds talent at the margins - Ben Zobrist. Aki Iwamura. Carlos Pena. Sean Rodriguez. Dioner Navarro. Grant Balfour. J.P. Howell. Kyle Farnsworth. All players with flaws who Friedman picked up and put in a position to maximize what they're good at. It's a very useful skill and one of the fundamental tenets Billy Beane espouses in Moneyball. It's also one of the strengths of a former Astros GM, Gerry Hunsicker.
Evaluating talent isn't always about finding the next superstar. It's about finding useful players who can play for cheap. It's in finding the Mike Lamb's, the Billy Spiers' of the world to help push a contender over the top. If Friedman has this skill, he'll always be able to use his budget well.
Two: He hires good people and lets them work - I mentioned that he brought in Josh Kalk, but that's not the only person Friedman's baseball side has brought in to do good work. They also brought in a sports psychologist to work with players like Carlos Pena. The kinds of people Friedman has brought in help emphasize the organizational philosophy that Friedman set.
That is never more evident than in his hiring of Joe Maddon. The Tampa Bay skipper was a little outside the box, but everyone who knew him thought he'd be a great major league boss. He's unusual, but he fits exactly into the system Tampa Bay has set up, using advanced stats to better run the team. Friedman can't take credit for what Maddon's done with the young players, but he does get credit for hiring Maddon and putting him in position to succeed.
Three: He takes a proactive approach to negotiations - The Evan Longoria contract is one of the best in baseball. It was negotiated before Longoria was even called up to the majors and guaranteed his salary (at a huge bargain to Tampa Bay) for years to come.
It's an innovative approach, but it's also fraught with peril. However, it shows how forward-thinking Friedman can be about his assets. Teams like Pittsburgh are even starting to follow suit. Isn't that what we've been asking Houston to do for years? Not spend more, but spend more wisely?
Conclusion: Friedman doesn't have special skills that make him better than any other GM in baseball. He doesn't have magical talent evaluations that make him better than Ed Wade from Day One. The biggest strength of Friedman is that he has a philosophy for the organization and carries it through to all levels of the team. With all these skills, can you see why Crane might like Friedman? He's analytical, which Crane wants to be. He's fiscally innovative, which Crane also wants to be (apparently). He also hires good people and lets them work, another trait near and dear to Crane. There may be other people with these same skills, but Friedman has a track record to really be an asset to a new owner.
On Monday, we'll look at if Friedman can be as successful in Houston as he was in Tampa Bay.