Six years and six days before Game 1 of the 2020 World Series, Andrew Friedman left his longtime post running the Tampa Bay Rays’ front office to become the Los Angeles Dodgers’ president of baseball operations.
He departed with a promise disguised as friendly banter, one that will be fulfilled when his current team lines up against his former club on Tuesday night in Game 1 of the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington.
“We joked when I left the team that we were going to meet up in the World Series one day,” Friedman said, “and for it actually to happen is surreal.”
After taking over as Tampa Bay’s general manager in 2005, Friedman guided the Rays to their first World Series appearance in ‘08. The club continued to thrive in the American League East, reaching the postseason in ‘10, ’11 and ’13 as Friedman and his staff outmaneuvered higher-spending competition with shrewd moves, innovative tactics and a cohesive culture from owner Stuart Sternberg down to the clubhouse.
That small-market success made Friedman appealing to the Dodgers, who could complement his savvy with financial might. On Oct. 14, 2014, Friedman officially left Tampa Bay for Los Angeles. Consider the impact of that decision, which is still resonating in the baseball industry.
• The Dodgers have enjoyed sustainable success under Friedman, winning six straight National League West titles while reaching the World Series three times.
• Friedman’s departure from the Rays triggered a little-known contract clause that allowed then-manager Joe Maddon to opt out of his deal with the Rays. Maddon then signed with the Cubs and led them to a World Series championship in 2016.
• Without the architect of their roster, the Rays promoted Erik Neander (now their general manager) and Chaim Bloom (now running the Red Sox’s baseball operations department) to more prominent roles in the front office. (James Click, now the Astros’ GM, was further elevated when Bloom left for Boston.)
• Without the well-known leader in their clubhouse, team president Matt Silverman began a managerial search that led the Rays to Kevin Cash, who owns a higher winning percentage (.522) in Tampa Bay than even Maddon (.517).
One way or another, Friedman’s move six years ago will lead to someone winning a World Series within the next 10 days. And, yes, he has kept an eye on the Rays since then.
“I think Kevin Cash does a tremendous job of just continuously putting his players in the best position to succeed, so I think there are a lot of similarities and it will be really interesting going up against them,” Friedman said during a Zoom call on Monday. “Obviously, over the years, I’ve watched them play a lot. Kevin Cash came to the Rays after I left, but it’s been really fun watching him manage games and just the relationships he has with his players and the trust and the culture that is in place. I think that, more often than not, leads to success, and it’s been fun watching them do what they’ve done.”
Friedman remains in touch with Neander and others in the organization, and the time-zone difference has allowed him to watch Tampa Bay’s games before the Dodgers take the field. He caught the end of their victory over the Astros in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series on Saturday night, only to immediately shift his focus to the Dodgers’ NLCS clincher on Sunday.
On Monday, Friedman let it sink in that he’s facing his former team -- and many of his friends -- with a World Series championship on the line.
“It kind of hit me today, waking up and processing all the text messages and questions about it,” Friedman said. “It’s definitely surreal. Some of my best friends in life are there.
“Just kind of growing up in the game with the people that I did, working with the Rays. We all started together and went to each other’s weddings and were there when our kids were born. It was just an amazing chapter of my life, and the success that we were able to have, especially in the division that we played in, was incredibly rewarding. And I’ll always think back on those times with the fondest of memories.”
Both clubs bear the mark of Friedman’s roster construction, even if he’s not responsible for acquiring many of the Rays’ current players. They feature exceptionally deep rosters, versatile position players, strong defensive play, flexible pitching staffs and tight-knit clubhouses.
Players from both teams speak similarly about the atmosphere in each organization, believing they perform better on the field because they’re comfortable off the field – something Sternberg preached to Friedman more than a decade ago.
“It was the same environment when I showed up,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “Guys come over here and say that the environment, everything we do in the clubhouse behind closed doors, it’s incredible to be a part of. I’ve got to thank the players that were here before me, because this is all I know. And I just wanted to do my part, along with other guys who have come into the organization over the years, to maintain that.”