ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays have been able to maintain a run of unprecedented success, until this past season anyway, despite losing a series of star players.
But they now are faced with a potentially much more daunting challenge as Andrew Friedman, the executive vice president who built those teams through shrewd moves and bold decisions, has left to join the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Matt Silverman, team president the past nine years, will take over the baseball operations department in lieu of a more experienced outside executive, "absolutely the right person to pick up the baton and take this thing forward," principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Tuesday. Brian Auld, a senior vice president, will assume Silverman's duties.
"I know it's going to be different and it's going to take some time for us to adjust," Silverman said. "The beauty is that the gentlemen leading this baseball organization have been doing so for many years. We're minus Andrew and it's a huge loss — I can't minimize that and I won't minimize that — but it's going to be business as usual for most of us in the department. And we have a lot of work to do."
Friedman's departure ignited speculation that Rays manager Joe Maddon — who is signed through 2015, which will be his 10th season — may join him in Los Angeles.
Maddon, though, reiterated Tuesday that he wants to stay with the Rays — "I don't really look to go anywhere else" — and anticipates talks this offseason on a contract extension. And Dodgers officials said they expect to retain their current manager, Don Mattingly, for next season.
But both Maddon and Sternberg acknowledged it will take two-party consent for a new agreement, which likely would require a raise from Maddon's current $2 million annual average. If they don't strike a deal, Maddon could manage in 2015 and be a free agent afterward, or the Rays could seek to trade him.
Sternberg said Friedman would not take any members of the baseball operations staff with him; Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander, two of his top assistants, are now expected to assume larger roles with the Rays. The organization has no plans to hire a senior adviser, as they did when Friedman started. They get no compensation for Friedman's departure, as he worked without a contract.
Silverman, 38, worked closely with Friedman on major baseball decisions in addition to his business-side responsibilities. He was the more cautious of the two, acknowledging Tuesday that what he admired most about his close friend was his boldness and courage to make difficult decisions.
Silverman said "there's not going to be much of a change in our philosophy," as they will continue to blend analytics and traditional scouting concepts, though he joked that he would have to buy his first radar gun.
But Silverman made repeated references during a late afternoon conference call to some new ideas they would try, without specifying. He said he will be immersed fully in the new role — to the extent that Auld will now get involved in stadium talks that Silverman had led — but also said he wouldn't be in the demanding 24/7/365 job for 10 years.
"He'll be fine," Maddon said. "You know how bright he is. He's seen it work, he knows how it works. I believe he'll delegate well.
"We've been so close. One digit's been removed, but the rest of the hand is still there. I think we're going to be able to figure this out and continue on. … Of course it's going to be different, of course it's going to be a little awkward in the beginning. … But it's going to work fine."
Maddon said he and Friedman had developed a close personal bond and an immense level of trust.
Sternberg said he was confident in the new organizational structure, but not overly optimistic. He acknowledged that a rank at or near the bottom in major-league attendance and a lack of progress on a new stadium have had an impact on their overall operation.
Friedman said in a statement he was "truly grateful" for the opportunity with the Rays and was "absolutely confident" their success will continue.
He takes over a Dodgers team with massive financial resources, sporting payrolls in excess of $200 million the past two seasons. (By contrast, the Rays last season spent a franchise-record $80 million.)
Dodgers president Stan Kasten called Friedman "one of the youngest and brightest minds in the game." Former NBA star Magic Johnson, part of the Dodgers ownership group, noting Friedman's success with the Rays, tweeted, "Think what he'll do here!" and that "his smarts and savvy will take us to new heights."
Said Maddon: "He's going to do equally as well, probably better, there because he may have a few more items at his disposal."
Friedman had declined previous overtures from the Angels, Cubs and his hometown Astros. Sternberg said it wasn't necessarily a matter of time until he left, but he wasn't surprised, either. Talks between Friedman and the Dodgers had been ongoing for several weeks.
"Clearly as good as he is, and as desirous as many other teams are to have somebody who they think is as good as Andrew is, they'll keep coming at him and keep trying," Sternberg said. "I guess at this point, the timing was just right, specifically for Andrew because he's going into this eyes open. … One thing I can say is, this was certainly not an easy decision for him."
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.