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How Andrew Friedman Keeps Making the Dodgers Higher


There was no fanfare in early August when the Los Angeles Dodgers earned their seventieth victory of the season. They held a double-digit lead within the National League West and had outscored their opponents by a whole lot of runs. It was a part of a 12-game winning streak in a season of 111 victories, essentially the most within the N.L. since 1909.

For Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, 70 wins was once a milestone. Not less than it was to his team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who had never reached that mark of their young history. It was 2004, Friedman’s first season in baseball, and he didn’t need his finance background to calculate that 70-91 was a terrible record.

“They won 70 games, and so they did a Champagne toast after it,” Friedman said. “And I remember pondering: This is de facto not something to have fun. We’ve got loftier goals than that.”

Soon the rebranded Rays would do greater than just meet Friedman’s initial goal of playing meaningful games in September. They raced all of the option to the World Series in 2008, setting a latest standard for efficiency and innovation, and making Friedman a star.

When the Dodgers hired him after the 2014 season, Friedman had a jewel franchise in a significant market to sculpt as he wished. The result’s an annual masterpiece, with the most recent edition hosting the San Diego Padres on Tuesday within the opener of a National League division series.

“It’s pretty amazing, really,” said first baseman Freddie Freeman, who starred in his first yr as a Dodger. “If you happen to take a step back and see the success that’s been sustained — that’s so hard to do, especially in sports on the whole, to maintain running a ship that produces talent. Nevertheless it’s just what they do.”

The Dodgers are the primary team to win at the least 106 games in three consecutive full seasons. They recently accomplished the most effective 1,000-game stretch of any team within the expansion era, which began in 1969, with 636 victories. This yr, they outscored opponents by 334 runs, the widest run differential for any team because the 1939 Yankees.

Those Yankees, led by a young Joe DiMaggio, might need been the best team in baseball history. They advanced on to the World Series — playoffs were still a long time away — and won their fourth title in a row.

And that’s where the Dodgers’ legacy gets complicated. They’ve won the N.L. West in nine of the last 10 seasons, and went 106-56 as a wild card last yr. Yet they’ve captured only one World Series title in three appearances in that point, against the Rays in 2020. Their mandate never changes.

“The Dodgers must proceed to indicate the world that it wasn’t just that single ring that they got,” said Pedro Martinez, the Hall of Fame pitcher and postseason analyst for TBS. “They’re too good. They’re too deep. They’ve invested so much to make that franchise the type of franchise that they’re.”

Friedman, 45, grew up in Houston rooting for the Astros. He still laments a wrenching loss to the Mets within the 1986 N.L. Championship Series, when the Astros’ 16-inning home loss robbed their ace of a likelihood to win the pennant.

“Little Andrew was crestfallen in that crazy extra-inning Game 6,” he said. “Mike Scott was teed as much as pitch Game 7.”

It was an early lesson within the capricious nature of the baseball postseason, which now includes six teams and 4 rounds per league, though the Dodgers got a bye from the brand new wild-card series. In seven postseasons under Friedman, the Dodgers have gone 46-36 within the postseason — impressive enough, considering the competition, but light on championship bling.

“I attempt to compartmentalize that as much as possible,” Friedman said. “We’ve a regular-season goal, which is to win the division, which puts us in a greater position to perform our ultimate goal. But I can’t subscribe to the idea that there are 29 failures every year and just one success.”

It is crucial, Friedman added, to understand “the art of attempting to do all you possibly can to be as successful as you possibly can in that current yr, but keeping yourselves in the most effective position possible to find a way to keep up. We’ve seen a whole lot of large-revenue teams go on a run of success and fall off the side of a cliff.”

The Mets eliminated the Dodgers in 2015 but haven’t won a division title since. The Chicago Cubs knocked out the Dodgers in 2016, but now are mired in a rebuild. The Boston Red Sox stomped the Dodgers within the 2018 World Series, but have finished in last place in two of the last three seasons. (Let’s not even mention the woes of the neighboring Angels.)

The team that comes closest to approaching the Dodgers’ high-level consistency has just one title itself: the Astros, who edged the Dodgers within the World Series in 2017, the yr of their electronic sign-stealing scheme.

Friedman could have made more win-now trades early in his tenure, however the mission then was so as to add depth to the farm system while holding on to top prospects like Julio Urías, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager. By 2017, high-impact talent began arriving often in trades: Yu Darvish, Manny Machado, Mookie Betts, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner.

“Over the past five years, we’ve been as aggressive, if no more so, than every other team in baseball when it comes to trading away young talent, and we’ve obviously held on to some key ones,” Friedman said. “I can’t say enough about our amateur and pro scouting department, in addition to our player development group, for our ability to trade as many young players as now we have and still have our farm system in as strong of a position because it is — especially with the present system that’s designed to make that next to unimaginable.”

In Friedman’s first two drafts, the Dodgers found two on a regular basis players (catcher Will Smith and second baseman Gavin Lux) and a two-time All-Star starter (Walker Buehler) while picking no higher than twentieth. They’ve unlocked the potential of previously marginal position players — Max Muncy, Chris Taylor — and, more recently, relievers who had struggled elsewhere, like Yency Almonte and Evan Phillips.

The Rays did this form of thing repeatedly under Friedman, which helped them contend despite a low payroll. They were among the many pioneers of a philosophy that now seems obvious: tailoring instruction to focus on a player’s specific strengths.

“It’s far more difficult than simply having a blanket statement of: ‘Everybody’s going to do X and also you’re never going to do Y,’” said Brandon Gomes, who works under Friedman because the Dodgers’ general manager and pitched for him with the Rays.

“I used to be drafted by San Diego, and I enjoyed my time there, but it surely was far more like, ‘Hey, that is how we view pitching’ or ‘That is how we view hitting.’ And, look, it does work for a whole lot of guys, but there’s just a few guys that it doesn’t. That’s why there’s a better yield now on drafted players attending to the large leagues.”

Producing higher prospects has obvious advantages: more payroll space for superstars and more inventory for trades. And if a rival team misreads its own talent and needs to trade you prospects for overrated veterans, you allow them to do it.

In December 2018, the Dodgers shipped two famous but flawed sluggers — Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig — and two other players to the Cincinnati Reds. The Dodgers assumed the contract of pitcher Homer Bailey, who was immediately released, but still saved enough money to reset their luxury tax rate. Additionally they got two prospects — Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray — who helped them turbocharge their success.

Friedman used Downs within the trade package with Boston for Betts. He put Gray within the take care of Washington for Scherzer and Turner. While Scherzer left for the Mets in free agency last off-season, Turner has helped for 2 playoff runs — and Betts signed a 12-year, $365 million contract extension before his first game with the Dodgers.

“I talked to those guys so much in regards to the future: ‘OK, are we going to proceed to place in resources to win?’” Betts said. “Obviously, they won so over and over before I came so it was apparent they were going to proceed to try this. Nevertheless it was just ensuring. Once I used to be assured they desired to proceed to win, it was pretty easy.”

The Dodgers’ resources — polite baseball-speak for money — have been prodigious: a payroll of about $248 million in 2021 and $281 million in 2022, each the very best within the majors. Those riches, nevertheless, led to a notorious overreach: a three-year, $102 million contract in 2021 for pitcher Trevor Bauer.

The Mets also tried to sign Bauer, whom the Dodgers didn’t actually need; they were coming off a championship and already had a deep staff. Bauer made 17 starts last season and is now serving a two-year, unpaid suspension for violating baseball’s domestic violence policy. Friedman wouldn’t comment on Bauer, citing Bauer’s unresolved appeal.

Last off-season, the Dodgers made a safer high-end investment: Freeman, who got a six-year, $162 million deal to depart Atlanta, where he had deep roots as a franchise cornerstone. From the beginning, Freeman said, the Dodgers empathized with him and didn’t attempt to rush his transition. His tearful news conference in Atlanta, when the Dodgers played there in June, was a turning point.

“I called Andrew and I used to be like, ‘I’m sorry it took three months,’” Freeman said. “And he said, ‘Sorry? I didn’t think you were going to do it for a yr, to get that closure.’ That’s just how wonderful they’re. They knew what I used to be going through. They let me undergo my feelings. And I believe that’s why I played so well, due to how amazing they were with me and my family in getting us acclimated.”

Paying Freeman — who ended up leading the N.L. in hits, runs, doubles and on-base percentage — was the straightforward part. The trick was constructing an infrastructure where Freeman and so many others could thrive. That’s the reason the Dodgers have the most effective likelihood to toast an entire lot greater than 70 wins this November.

Scott Miller contributed reporting.

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