Andrew Friedman was an Astros pipe dream back in 2011. Before Houston hired Jeff Luhnow, the Astros apparently wanted the Rays executive to helm their unprecedented rebuild. The Episcopal High grad nearly took them up on the opportunity to return to his hometown, but ultimately turned the Astros down.
When approached by the Dodgers and their deep pockets, Friedman finally left the team he's been with for the last decade.
When Friedman's hiring in L.A. was announced Tuesday, it was hailed as "gamechanging" news. Ken Rosenthal wrote that the Dodgers finally got the "right kind of star."
Yet, anyone who knows how Friedman worked in Tampa Bay should have reservations that he can replicate that success somewhere else.
Friedman is rightly considered one of the best GMs in the game. A rundown of his best deals on MLB Trade Rumors shows that he combined a keen eye for talent with a knack for operating under the financial constraints of the Rays organization. Most of his smartest moves were signing players to team-friendly contracts.
In L.A., Friedman won't have to worry with that as much. The Dodgers are "dropping payroll," but that fall may only take them to around $150 million, or twice the Rays payroll from a year ago. L.A. doesn't have a particularly strong farm system, despite some standout talent at the top.
Friedman could build that up while maintaining the MLB roster. He could continue the analytic-driven decision-making from Tampa Bay, by finding new, smart people to staff Dodgertown.
But, if history is any indicator, it'll be a hard road. Some of the best GMs in baseball have struggled when put in other situations. Branch Rickey couldn't make the Pirates a winner, despite his best efforts. John Hart won in Cleveland but struggled with the Rangers. Pat Gillick won in a few different spots, and that success is what makes him a Hall of Fame executive. It's so rare that he was able to succeed in different spots.
The main reason for this is that a GM or president of baseball operations doesn't get complete autonomy. He still has to work with an owner and with expectations. In Tampa Bay, the owner was a good friend of Friedman's. Stuart Sternberg brought Friedman on board when he bought the team and they constructed a plan to make the team a winner.
In L.A., there's going to be less of that buy-in immediately. The Dodgers know what they have. They're spending the GDP of a small country on payroll. They expect to win immediately, not slowly rebuild a winner.
Plus, Friedman won't have Joe Maddon with him to carry that buy-in onto the field. He also won't have any of his front-office personnel from Tampa Bay. In a weird quirk, Tampa Bay's upper baseball management operate without contracts. Thus, there's no language to prevent him from taking another job at any time, nor from poaching personnel.
It sounds like a gentlemen's agreement among friends that none of Friedman's new hires will come from Tampa Bay.
That means he won't be able to quickly import a new culture to new surroundings. He'll have to both change the current Dodgers culture or adapt to it with little help from his previous gig.
Ask Jeff Luhnow how hard it is to import a new culture to a team, even with plenty of front office hires from one's old stomping ground.
That leaves Friedman in a precarious position. He got the job because of his victories in Tampa Bay, but will have none of the advantages that existed there.
Instead, he'll have money. Lots and lots and lots of money. Talent too, with one of the most exciting, young position players in the game. He can easily re-sign Hanley Ramirez if he fits with Friedman's vision for the team. He can make some trades to loosen up the roster. He also has the best left-handed pitcher on the planet, after living with another all-world left-hander for the past half decade or so.
Maybe talent will trump all his Tampa Bay tricks. Maybe having nigh-unlimited resources will leave Friedman free to be creative in differents ways, to snap up new smart, innovative minds who can lead his analytics department.
But, there's a pretty sizeable chance that Friedman struggles in L.A.