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Rays Tales: Architect Andrew Friedman returns this week with Dodgers

During a decade-plus with the Rays organization, Andrew Friedman never swung a bat or threw a ball, except for the omnipresent pink rubber one he would toss around the office and hallways for fun.

But he had as much to do with their 2008 transformation into perennial contenders as anyone on the field, in the dugout or elsewhere in the front office.

"He is pretty much the architect of the whole deal," pitching coach Jim Hickey said.

Friedman returns this week to the Trop in his new gig, baseball operations president of the Dodgers, lured to leave the Rays after nine years as executive vice president after the 2014 season for the considerably larger challenge, budget and paycheck in Hollywood.

Friedman will talk to the media about his return before Tuesday's game. Longtime Rays had plenty to say about the impact he had on the organization, well beyond the 55 trades and hundreds of players signed.

"Andrew was one of the cornerstones who helped move the organization to where it is today," principal owner Stuart Sternberg said. "I'd prefer him to be here, but we all have our own paths to take as we go forward. He was here for over a decade. His impact will be felt here for decades going forward."

Friedman was in his late 20s when he started with the Rays, coming from Wall Street, along with Matt Silverman (who was team president and has since replaced him) and Sternberg, and was full of new and radical, ideas.

"In the beginning there definitely were a lot of questions, and rightfully so, because people didn't know who he was or where he came from or what this group of people were trying to do," RHP Alex Cobb said. "I think he recognized early that this franchise couldn't be like everybody else, that they were going to have to make some unordinary moves, think outside the box and find different ways to be successful."

They did, becoming innovators in extensive defensive shifting, application of sabermetric data and maximizing roster construction with multi-positional players. And they did it well enough to become competitive despite significant financial disadvantage, playing with half or less the payroll of rival teams.

Though working with his bosses and manager Joe Maddon, Friedman was the deal- and decision-maker.

"I think Joe got a lot of credit, but a lot of things that were set up for Joe to be successful came through Andrew, came through the whole Sternberg group," RHP Chris Archer said. "And Andrew had the loudest voice out of everybody."

Though Friedman brought in many of the key players that led the Rays to the playoffs four times in six seasons, his greater accomplishment might have been changing the losing atmosphere and culture that had been in place.

"That," Hickey said, "was probably the most impressive thing."

Once the culture was improved, next was the quality of the team. Friedman, a master multitasker with the mantra "information is king," continued the makeover with bold and sometimes head-scratching moves to make the Rays into annual contenders, the most tantamount testament to his tenure.

"The impact that he had and the impact that he still has is a great one," Archer said.

Though courted previously by the Astros and Angels, Friedman's departure for the Dodgers was somewhat of a surprise given the close relationship he had with Sternberg and Silverman. Plus, it triggered the out clause in Maddon's contract. And Friedman, 39, did leave with the farm system a bit bare and roster in need of some renovation.

But there seemed much more understanding than resentment.

"You have to go where you feel the best fit and the opportunity — well, maybe not the best fit — but the best opportunity is," 3B Evan Longoria said. "All things equal, I think he would have stayed here. I think money had a little bit to do with it. … I think he probably was pretty underpaid here, maybe not in the beginning, but the job he did was top-notch. … That's not to say he left with his middle finger in the air saying you guys should've paid me and I would've stayed. I think he kind of understood that his time here had come to an end, and unfortunately he was going to have to move on."

Longoria said he thinks Friedman "misses being here." First-base coach Rocco Baldelli said he knows it is also the other way around.

"I've always considered him more of a friend than someone who I just work for,'' he said. "I just think he's a tremendous human being and an extremely talented guy. … I think everyone here from the top down misses him."

Best and worst of Friedman

Taking measure of Friedman's best and worst deals is a subjective exercise, rooted in whether you value the immediate result, overall talent haul or long-term impact and related moves. Here are our top five, with a few extras:

Hits

1 Traded touted OF Delmon Young to the Twins in November 2007 for SS Jason Bartlett and RHP Matt Garza, who became two huge pieces on the '08 transformative World Series team and then both brought big returns.

2 Flipped Garza after three seasons to the Cubs in January 2011 for a massive haul, topped by All-Star RHP Chris Archer, plus OF Brandon Guyer and since-dispatched C Robinson Chirinos, OF Sam Fuld and SS Hak-Ju Lee.

3 Dealt free-agent-to-be INF/DH Aubrey Huff (and $1.6 million) to the Astros in July 2007 for RHP prospect Mitch Talbot, who didn't do much, and INF Ben Zobrist, who maximized his versatility to become one of the Rays' best players.

4 Dealt previously injured INF Aki Iwamura, who was due a $650,000 buyout, to the Pirates in November 2009 for RHP Jesse Chavez, who was then sent to the Braves to get closer RHP Rafael Soriano, who delivered a 45-save All-Star 2010 season then left as a free agent netting two compensatory draft picks, one yielding OF Mikie Mahtook. (Thus, Iwamura for a great Soriano season and Mahtook's future.)

5 Dumped LHP Scott Kazmir and, more importantly, the nearly $25 million left on his bad-list deal on the Angels in August 2009 for a couple of helpful pieces, INF Sean Rodriguez and LHP Alex Torres, who in turn was a big part of the January 2014 deal with the Padres that landed INF Logan Forsythe and RHPs Brad Boxberger and Matt Andriese.

ALSO: Traded RHP Seth McClung for RHP Grant Balfour and INF Ty Wigginton for RHP Dan Wheeler to provide a foundation for the '08 bullpen. … Signed 1B Carlos Peña to a minor-league deal, and he had a 46-homer season. … Signed free agent RHP Fernando Rodney, who had a 48-save, 0.60 season. … Acquired LHP J.P. Howell for bit parts and switched him to effective reliever.

Misses

1 Picked INF Tim Beckham No. 1 overall in the 2008 draft, ahead of franchise cornerstone C Buster Posey, as well as 1B Eric Hosmer, INF Pedro Alvarez and others as the draft proved somewhat vexing overall.

2 Left former top OF prospect Josh Hamilton unprotected for the December 2006 Rule 5 draft after getting him back on the field following repeated drug suspensions, then saw him become a five-time All-Star for the Rangers.

3 Signed Pat Burrell to a two-year, $16 million contract to handle DH duties he didn't want, only to release him six weeks into his second season. (Also signed/extended RHP Grant Balfour, INF Yunel Escobar, C Jose Molina and 1B James Loney, all of whom were eventually ditched.)

4 Dumped C Stephen Vogt (trade to A's) to make room on 2013 roster for Shelley Duncan, a temporary fill-in for injured DH Luke Scott. Vogt became a starter and All-Star.

5 Made OF Wil Myers the centerpiece acquisition of the December 2012 trade of RHPs James Shields and Wade Davis to Royals. While RHP Jake Odorizzi has been a solid starter, Myers was a disappointment and subsequently traded to be replaced by Steven Souza Jr., though his success could eventually make Friedman's deal look better.

ALSO: Traded C John Jaso to Mariners for RHP Josh Lueke, then signed Jose Molina to be primary catcher. … Took, and didn't sign, INF Levon Washington first in 2009 draft, took eventually released OF Josh Sale first in 2010. … Traded for then signed to an extension C Ryan Hanigan, who lasted one year.

TBD

One of Friedman's biggest deals is still in evaluation, as he traded LHP David Price 1½ years from free agency for LHP Drew Smyly, who has been good; INF Nick Franklin, who has been bad; and INF prospect Willy Adames, who has great promise.

Rays rumblings

Congrats on a long career to now retired RHP Grant Balfour, who was always an extremely fierce competitor and candid interview. And good luck getting that home-flipping business featured on HGTV. ... Look for CF Kevin Kiermaier in a TV spot for the Morgan Auto Group, the first of potentially several endorsement deals for arguably the Rays' most popular player. … SS Brad Miller is seeking residuals — or at least a free pizza or chocolate chip cookie — after noticing he and former M's/current Rays teammate Logan Morrison are shown in action footage of a new Papa John's TV commercial. … Former Rays INF Aaron Ledesma has opened a baseball training facility in Clearwater with registration now open for summer camps; see ledesmabaseball.com. … Former Rays C Rene Rivera is back in the majors, called up by the Mets on Tuesday when starter Travis d'Arnaud went on the DL. Rivera made his season debut Saturday afternoon.

Got a minute? SS Brad Miller

Best meal you can make? Bacon, egg and cheese bagel. And that's it.

Singer/band you'd like to be on stage with? The Weeknd, to enjoy his musical stylings.

Dream vacation spot? I hear Hawaii is really nice.

Movie you quote the most from? There's a lot — let's go with Step Brothers, that's always a solid quote.

Celebrity crush? (Some thought, then actor) Blake Lively.

Rays Tales: Architect Andrew Friedman returns this week with Dodgers 04/30/16 [Last modified: Sunday, May 1, 2016 12:46am]
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