MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Dodgers present completely new challenge for Friedman

Dodgers present completely new challenge for Friedman

The Los Angeles Dodgers have just hired a brilliant man, a brilliant baseball executive.

Is Andrew Friedman baseball's best general manager? Put it this way: There's no way to have this conversation without including him. He's a rare individual on many levels.

First, he understands the complex analytics that have transformed the sport. Perhaps because of his Wall Street background, he has had the ability to redefine some of the ingredients that win baseball games.

He also understands that baseball is about people, about personalities and about constructing a roster in which players accept their roles.

Friedman has already written an amazing legacy for himself with the Tampa Bay Rays. In the last seven seasons the Rays have averaged 90 victories a season and gone to the postseason four times despite an average payroll that ranked 25th.

The Rays won more games with fewer resources than any other team. In doing this, they wrote a blueprint for every other team unable to spend with the Yankees, Red Sox, etc.

Now he has a completely different kind of challenge. In fact, running the Dodgers baseball operation is almost totally different than running the Rays. First, he's going to have the kind of scrutiny and second-guessing he has never had before. Drowning out the noise will be one of his first challenges.

With the Rays, he was unable to take large financial risks. So he mixed and matched the roster, getting guys who fit a platoon plan or a young guy the Rays believed had the potential to be better than others thought possible.

One of the internal philosophies was this: "We see things others don't." In James Loney, Fernando Rodney, Yunel Escobar and many others, the Rays got significant contributions from players who weren't exactly in demand.

Because he had a great manager, he could throw an assortment of personalities into the clubhouse and trust manager Joe Maddon could make it work. If there was a better relationship between a general manager and manager than Maddon and Friedman, it would be difficult to find.

Maddon has one year remaining on his contract and could follow Friedman to the Dodgers. Or he may be so invested in the Rays and the Tampa Bay community, that he makes a long-term commitment.

Now a word about the Rays.

This is a difficult day. Friedman did wonderful things. But let's also remember the resurrection of the Rays began when Stu Sternberg bought the franchise. He brought along team president Matt Silverman and Friedman.

In terms of maximizing their financial resources and being a good citizen of the community and generally doing things right, the Rays have been as well run as any club in the game.

If there's a surprise in the announcement that Friedman is headed to the Dodgers, it's that he's leaving Sternberg and Silverman. They worked well together. They were close. They also understood they had a good thing going.

That said, as long as Sternberg owns the Rays, they're in good hands. In putting Silverman in charge of the baseball operation, Sternberg is turning to someone who sees the world the same way Friedman saw it.

Silverman will surround himself with more good people, and he will keep the Rays on the right path. Their first job is to get a new ballpark built in Tampa Bay, but that's a story for another day.

Back to Andrew Friedman.

His challenge with the Dodgers is different than anything he had with the Rays. The Dodgers have the largest payroll in the game. Tampa Bay's payroll the last four years combined is close to what the Dodgers spent this season alone.

They have close to $200 million in commitments for 2015 before beginning to improve the team. Even if Friedman is allowed to spend more money, baseball's free-agent market can't solve every problem. That's because most teams don't allow their best players to reach free agency.

Even if Friedman grabs Jon Lester and Russell Martin and a slew of relievers, his team will still have issues. The Dodgers are a hugely talented team, but they're a team with big salaries and big, big egos, a team in which the parts never seemed to fit.

It was one thing to get the overachieving Rays to function as a cohesive unit. It's another thing to get that same kind of thing from the Dodgers.

Around the game, scouts are effusive in their praise of Dodgers manager Don Mattingly for getting a consistent good effort from a club with all those large personalities.

Some of those guys came to the Dodgers with less than great reputations as teammates, and Mattingly did the best he could with what he was given.

But this much definitely has changed today. A solid baseball operation is about to be transformed into a great one. Friedman will indeed see things others don't. And the Dodgers, who've been remade in ways large and small the last few years, are going to see this as one of the best days they ever had.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.