1. Parting with a former top pick
The year before Stuart Sternberg’s group arrived, the Devil Rays used the No. 1 pick in the draft on Delmon Young. By 2007, Young was in the big leagues and finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting after hitting .288 with 93 RBI as a 20 year old. Friedman was not impressed. Young was a defensive liability and an impatient hitter. Friedman traded him to the Twins that winter in exchange for shortstop Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza. Bartlett anchored Tampa Bay’s best-in-baseball defense in 2008 and Garza threw seven innings of two-hit ball in the Game 7 victory against Boston in the ALCS. Young was out of the big leagues before his 30th birthday.
2. Spotting the diamond in the rough
Carlos Pena was traded or released by five teams in four years before the Rays invited him to spring training on a minor league deal in 2007. During the next four years, Pena averaged 36 home runs a season, won a Gold Glove and had two top-10 finishes in American League MVP voting.
3. Turning an eye toward the future
The Rays were one of the first teams to embrace the idea of jettisoning contracts to save money for future payrolls while collecting younger talent. Beginning in January of 2006, Friedman traded Danys Baez, Mark Hendrickson, Toby Hall, Aubrey Huff and Julio Lugo in a six-month span. Hidden in all of those transactions was a Double-A infielder acquired from Houston named Ben Zobrist.
4. Finding just the right dugout leader
4. Looking for a new manager for 2006, the Rays interviewed a Hall of Famer (Mike Schmidt), a future Hall of Famer (Alan Trammel), a former MVP (Terry Pendleton), a pennant-winning manager (Bobby Valentine) and five others. They eventually settled on a bench coach who had been passed over for managerial positions a handful of times. His name was Joe Maddon.