Andrew Friedman……Scavenger Hunter Extraordinaire
Have you checked out the new show on the History Channel on cable called “American Pickers” where a pair of average looking guys venture out around the country rummaging through people storage spaces, weed-infested backyards and barns on that endless quest to find the perfect pieces to put an accent on their collections or for a possible resale money bonanza.
Well, the guys on this show do seem to find some incredible items, and also seem to dig deep and find a few unforeseen treasures, but the show sometimes comes off as so analytically calculated, and borders on the outer realms of eccentricity, but the action does reminds me of the “digging beneath-the-surface” player searches and untapped player explorations that Tampa Bay Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman has become famous all around Major League Baseball for since he took over that spot with the Rays.
It has become the norm around the Major Leagues that Friedman always seems to be on the phone doing so-called “courtesy calls” to check-out every single player ever put up on the trade block, or any free agent that could potentially be a instant “plus” for the Rays. You only have to go back to 2007 when Friedman might have shocked a few people by signing First Baseman Carlos Pena to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite.
Friedman took a guy with such great potential when he was drafted by the Texas Rangers back in and made it to the MLB when he played for years with the Detroit Tigers, but had been hidden amongst the weeds in the minor league system and Friedman and his scouting staff could see the potential.The way he seemed to pick Pena out of that situation and we all quickly saw him rise again to MLB stardom is a testament to Friedman’s scavenger hunt mentality when seeking out players for the Rays. By Friedman keeping a watchful eye, and ear to the ground to aggressively seeking out that prized piece of personnel who could improve the Rays has become a trademark of his tenure with Tampa Bay.
Another great example might be the trade a few years ago with the Minnesota Twins where he sent a disgruntled Delmon Young, infielder Brendan Harris and minor leaguer outfielder Jason Pridie for the package of pitcher Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and reliever Eduardo Morlan. And it is still amazing that of that group, two members of that trade have formed the backbone of this team, and Bartlett has exploded to become one of the best shortstops in the American League.
But it is this scavenger mentality that maybe sets Friedman apart from his peers. That extra sense of looking deep and maybe even stepping back and then looking at a player again to find that special piece of the chemistry that might solidify the Rays roster. Friedman really reminds me of those people who weekly flock to the local Flea Markets or stroll around your own neighborhood feasting on Yard/Garage Sales and seems to find that one item just kind of loitering around the table, then he picks up at this item for a bargain basement price much our amazement.
But Friedman has also been laid out to dry a few times trying to sneak a player or get a bargain and then have it blow up in his face. All you have to do is mention the name Josh Hamilton to him and you see a bit of the fire die behind his eyes. That was an early wake-up call to Friedman that not everyone else was in awe of him, and if he made a mistake, there were more than a few people who are willing to pounce on his errors. With him trying to sneak Hamilton through the Rule 5 Draft with no one noticing might seem manic, but it was a calculated risk, and one that will haunt Friedman, but also made him wiser about the whole process.
And then you have the current bloodbath concerning Rays designated Hitter Pat Burrell, who came to the team with maybe some over blown expectations, but still did nothing to subdue the anger and frustrations of the Rays faithful to Burrell or Friedman with his abysmal hitting and injury concerns in 2009. But there is still another chapter to be written in that story, and if all the reports are true, Friedman is still actively trying to be another suitor for Burrell. But this one might stick to Friedman the way the “Hit Show” fiasco stuck to former Rays GM Chuck LaMar. And sometimes people forget that it is what you did just yesterday that people remember, not what you have consistently done during your entire time with a club.
And for that, I do consider Friedman one of the true great assets of the Rays. He might not get a chance to hit a walk-off homer like Friedman 2008 early pick-up Gabe Gross, or repay the Rays for their confidence in him by pitching a one-hitter like Garza, but this team is a constantly evolving and revolving sphere that is Friedman’s world. There was a recent article by Josh Fisher of “The Hardball Times” baseball blog that Friedman might be one of the best assets in baseball for what he does behind the scenes to improve, orchestrate and also balance this Rays franchise 365 days a year.
And it is real easy to throw stones at the ivory tower on the third floor of the Trop., but Friedman actually has an outstanding track record if you add all of his player moves and removals up on two sides of a sheet of paper. And maybe that is his best quality. Because if you do add some items to Column A or to Column B, you would ultimately see in front of you the true essence that he might be way ahead of the curve and has actually done some amazing things in such a short time. But it is the timing of some of these things that tend to stir the controversy pot for Friedman. Some hate the player discussion comment blackout where the team will not discuss any possible deals in the works until they are finalized, or tossed away.
And even if the Rays front office formulated a solid strategy to end all active arbitration figure exchanges at a predetermined point and it got some well focused anger from the new MLBPA head honcho Michael Weiner. But missing from those raging comments by Weiner is the actual facts that fellow MLB clubs, the Washington Nationals and Florida Marlins also put arbitration time limitations on their arbitration exchanges between the two parties. It is a bit unrealistic that Friedman is solely being hung out to dry on this factor, but that is the reality of the process. Sometimes the “hot name” or the “Golden Boy” get the shaft while the others scramble to do their own form of damage control before the heat hit them square in the jaw.
People around baseball are always looking for the next big name, or the hidden gem within the minor league systems of your competitors. And right now, Freidman and the Rays Scouting department might be a bit ahead of the curve. So the next time you hear a rumor about the Rays checking in on Chan Ho Park, Orlando Hudson or even Orlando native Johnny Damon, remember that it just might be a courtesy call from Friedman just checking on the status or asking price and nothing more. But with the Rays code of silence imposed until the signature is on the contract, there could be a few deals sitting on the shelf for consideration especially if there is deferred money involved right now.
And could today’s signing by the Rays of former San Deigo First Round Draft pick(2004) pitcher Matt Bush be another chapter of Friedman finding a talent buried within the minor leagues that could one day produce for the Rays. So if within the next 21 days a player like Damon, Park or another unseen player does fall into the Rays hands, you can be sure the Rays did their homework and poked and analyzed every angle of the equation before Friedman ever steps to the podium to talk about……..anything.