The face is familiar, but the success does not ring a bell. Just imagine, all these years and losses later, the worlds of Chuck LaMar and the Rays have intersected again. And the only thing that has changed is everything. You would think getting to the World Series would be surreal enough for a franchise as star-crossed as Tampa Bay. But no, the opponent had to be LaMar's new employer, the Philadelphia Phillies. Call it coincidence, or call it serendipity, I would like to call it a final opportunity. One last chance to review the role LaMar had in helping Tampa Bay win the American League pennant, albeit three years after he was fired as the team's general manager.
It's an argument we do well in Tampa Bay. Six years later, people still are debating the amount of credit Tony Dungy deserves for the Super Bowl won by Jon Gruden and the Buccaneers.
In Dungy's case, the argument was easily made. He had changed the image of the Bucs and had brought them to the brink of the Super Bowl. Dungy's impact was obvious; the only question was the degree.
It's much harder to muster up a case for LaMar. He was in control for Tampa Bay's first eight seasons and finished last seven times. And new front-office honcho Andrew Friedman has made so many right moves the past few seasons, the inclination is to say LaMar built the ark and let Noah stock it.
But that's not entirely fair to LaMar. He was not an effective general manager, but he did leave Friedman a solid base to build on. So would the Rays be in the World Series today if LaMar was still in charge? That's an impossible question to answer, but I'll still give it a try:
No. No, no, no.
And furthermore, no.
As good as LaMar was at scouting young players, he was awful when it came to managing his payroll. And please, don't make me go through the gory details.
So like players divvying up World Series shares, we've come up with a completely unscientific method to assign credit. We have divided the team into players LaMar acquired, players Friedman acquired and players both men can claim for their DNA pool.
And in the final analysis, we've come up with the proper description for LaMar's level of credit. And that word is "some." It's more than a little and less than a lot.
When the movie version comes out, it will be Friedman's name above the credits. Just don't forget to look for LaMar in the closing credits. The Friedman Group
Draft picks: Evan Longoria, David Price.
Considering he has been in charge of only three drafts, Friedman is off to a good start. Longoria is the likely AL rookie of the year this year, and Price is one of the favorites for 2009.
Free agents: Cliff Floyd, Michel Hernandez, Eric Hinkse, Aki Iwamura, Trever Miller, Carlos Pena, Troy Percival.
This is where Friedman has excelled. He found a first baseman, a second baseman, a closer, a left-handed specialist and a pair of platoon hitters by shopping in the discount aisle.
Trades: Chad Bradford, Gabe Gross, Dan Wheeler.
Friedman has made plenty of other trades, but these are the only players acquired without using LaMar leftovers. Gross was picked up for 2006 second-round pick Josh Butler, and Wheeler came back in a deal for Friedman free-agent discovery Ty Wigginton. The LaMar Group
Draft picks: Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, Jonny Gomes, Jason Hammel, Fernando Perez, James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine, B.J. Upton.
This is a pretty impressive group, with two starting pitchers and two All-Star quality outfielders. LaMar deserves loads of credit for getting Crawford (second round), Sonnanstine (13th) and Shields (16th) after the first round. But it's also important to note LaMar was in charge of 10 Tampa Bay drafts.
Free agents: None.
This is LaMar's greatest shortcoming. He did not hit on many hidden gems, and he handicapped the team's payroll structure for years with horrible signings such as Wilson Alvarez, Juan Guzman and Greg Vaughn.
Trades: Scott Kazmir.
By far LaMar's shining moment. He dangled a middle-of-the-road starter (Victor Zambrano) at the Mets and came up with one of the best young left-handers in the big leagues. The Friedman/LaMar family tree
Trades: Willy Aybar, Grant Balfour, Jason Bartlett, Chad Bradford, Matt Garza, J. P. Howell, Edwin Jackson, Dioner Navarro, Ben Zobrist.
Friedman acquired all these players using LaMar's leftovers as trade bait. And in virtually every case, the Rays are better off.
The Rays stole Garza and Bartlett in a deal for Delmon Young, who probably should not have been LaMar's choice as the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft. J.P. Howell was irreplaceable in 2008 and was acquired for an expendable fourth outfielder (Joey Gathright).
Jackson and Navarro came from Los Angeles in trades involving Danys Baez, Mark Hendrickson and Toby Hall, a rather lopsided victory for Tampa Bay.
The only trades in which the Rays did not receive greater value are Julio Lugo (the recently released Joel Guzman and Sergio Pedroza) and Aubrey Huff (Zobrist and Mitch Talbot), but the moves were still effective because they shed unwanted salaries.