In this corner is suave, nattily attired 66-year-old traditionalist John Hart. In the opposite corner is 37-year-old, analytics-driven Bear Stearns preppy Andrew Friedman.
They are the new presidents of baseball operations for the Braves and Dodgers, respectively. They couldn’t be more different, yet in some ways they are alike.
Friedman signed a record-breaking deal, reported by ESPN’s Buster Olney to be five years at $35 million plus bonuses for certain achievements, such as, oh, winning the World Series.
If Hart isn’t close to those numbers, he got robbed. He basically invented tying up younger players with long-term deals to buy up arbitration and some free agency years.
The practice was copied some 20 years later by Friedman in Tampa Bay when he tied up Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Matt Moore, and Chris Archer, the way Hart did in Cleveland with Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar Jr., Jim Thome, and Manny Ramirez.
Hart, who gave up the good life of golf and being an MLB Network analyst and part-time consultant with the Braves to become a full-time executive again, was known for his big offenses in Cleveland and Texas, and in that respect he’s perfect for the Braves, who were 29th in runs this season.
Friedman has his own challenges, even though he’s gone from pauper to prince. For instance, this Joe Maddon quandary.
Maddon opting out of his deal as Rays manager was Friedman’s first real test. And he handled it by immediately coming out and saying he was not interested in Maddon at this time. But how can it not be a quandary when the manager you’ve spent years with, who you believe in and trust more than anyone, is on the market after exercising a clause that centered around Friedman leaving for another job.
Ask Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein, Ruben Amaro Jr., and Ned Colletti how it is to oversee a team with a high payroll when expectations are through the roof. Every time you spend a lot and it doesn’t work out, you’re responsible, and boy do you hear about it.
The salary-dump deals Friedman made for James Shields and David Price, the free agents he had to let go such as B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford — Friedman will likely have to act in reverse with the Dodgers.
The max $80 million payroll he left has ballooned to more than $230 million. And you saw that even with that large payroll, the Dodgers, who won the National League West, were unable to flourish in the playoffs. Why? For one, all-world Clayton Kershaw pitched poorly in two games against the Cardinals. And Colletti failed to secure one more big piece in the bullpen (say, Andrew Miller) because he wouldn’t give up a pitching prospect. In other words, Colletti protected what Friedman always protects, young arms.
And so, Friedman will inherit that ridiculous Crawford contract he wouldn’t agree to in Tampa Bay.
And Hart is stuck with three more years of the ridiculous contract Friedman wouldn’t agree to with Upton. Former Braves general manager Frank Wren agreed to it, even with plenty of people around telling him not to. The Upton contract is one reason why Wren was replaced by Hart.
Yes, sometimes having lots of money can be a terrible thing.
There’s no doubt the Braves needed a redo, and they’ve done it with older, veteran leadership rather than the young route so many other teams have taken.
Hart and Friedman are different, of course, in that Friedman had built an analytical model for evaluating and valuing players during his tenure in Tampa Bay. It was akin to the Epstein model in Boston, and one Friedman will use in Los Angeles, but with a few more dollars to play with.
Friedman did well in identifying good value players such as Sean Rodriguez, James Loney, Matt Joyce, Jose Molina, Ryan Hanigan, and Joel Peralta. And the salary dumps returned Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, and Drew Smyly.
Friedman’s task now is to weed out some of the Dodgers’ deadwood, including too many overpriced outfielders such as Crawford, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp. Also, trying to figure out whether to try to re-sign Hanley Ramirez or let him go, getting another significant bullpen piece such as Miller, and whether to add a big-name pitcher, such as Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, or Shields.
Friedman still wants a homegrown type of team, but with significant accents where it’s evident the Dodgers are rich. He’s also committed to manager Don Mattingly, though he and Maddon couldn’t be more opposite in terms of using analytics.
Friedman has also been reunited with Jerry Hunsicker, his talent guy in Tampa Bay who is in a similar role with the Dodgers.
Hart probably has to think about what to do with the Upton brothers. Can he rid himself of B.J., who has produced a .198 average and .593 OPS in two seasons? If he does, he’ll have performed the same Houdini act Ben Cherington and the Red Sox did when Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Adrian Gonzalez were traded to LA.
Justin Upton and Jayson Heyward are entering the final year of their contracts. Are either worth re-signing long term, or does Hart consider them part of the offensive struggle?
Justin Upton would likely draw some interest in the trade market, and don’t be surprised if Hart parlays that into something significant.
It will be interesting to watch how these two executives — different in age, style, and substance — try to guide their new teams to a prosperous 2015.
Red Sox have watched
Maeda and Kaneko
Maeda and Kaneko
If the Red Sox want to dabble again in the Japanese market, they have a good read on the two top-rated starting pitchers in Kenta Maeda and Chihiro Kaneko.
The Red Sox have had their Pacific Rim scouts watch both extensively, and vice president of player personnel Allard Baird has also seen both live.
The Red Sox seem to like both as middle-rotation types. Neither the Hiroshima Toyo Carp or the Orix Buffaloes, who employ Maeda and Kaneko, respectively, have committed to whether they will post the pitchers and accept the $25 million fee.
Kaneko, 30, was scheduled to stop by the World Series to check out American baseball. Maeda, 26, has mentioned to some Japanese media that he would love to pitch for the Yankees or Red Sox.
Maeda had a solid but pedestrian season compared with the 24-0 record of Masahiro Tanaka in 2013. Tanaka took the major leagues by storm with his 11-1 start for the Yankees, who committed a seven-year, $155 million contract to him only to have him break down with an elbow injury that felled him for most of the second half. Tanaka elected not to have Tommy John surgery but looked bad in a late-season start against the Red Sox.
Kaneko pitched 184 innings this season and allowed only seven home runs with a 1.91 ERA. He’s pitched nine years in Japan, which could be a red flag for teams after Tanaka’s breakdown.
There’s more proof that Japanese pitchers are experiencing more stressful innings in the major leagues. They are facing better hitters and also are pitching more frequently, every five days as opposed to every seven days in Japan.
The Red Sox have always felt they got burned by the Daisuke Matsuzaka contract. At the time, the Red Sox won the blind posting bid of $51 million. They signed Matsuzaka to a six-year, $52 million deal. Matsuzaka won 33 games in his first two seasons but declined rapidly thereafter.
The Red Sox have had success with reliever Junichi Tazawa, whom they originally signed to be a starter. He had Tommy John surgery early in his Red Sox career and became a reliever. Tazawa has expressed a desire to become a starter again, but the Sox have a plethora of young starting pitchers who will likely get priority.
Apropos of nothing
1. John Lowe, who has had a baseball writing career of great impact for the Detroit Free Press, has decided to retire. He will work with young journalism majors in Austin, Texas, where he will reside. Lowe invented the quality start stat (allowing three or fewer runs in six or more innings), not surprising from a quality human being.
2. Red Sox groundskeeper Dave Mellor is recovering from hip surgery, his 40th operation. Mellor, however, is already overseeing field preparations at Fenway for next April.
3. Loved this note, offered by reader Bill Rohland: Royals GM Dayton Moore, assistant GM J.J. Picollo, scouting director Lonnie Goldberg, and regional scout Ken Munoz were all members of the George Mason University baseball team in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Picollo, Goldberg, and Munoz played on teams that made the NCAA Tournament, and Moore was an assistant coach at the time after his playing career ended.
4. Ron Jackson, who presided over one of the most prolific offenses in Red Sox history in 2003, is trying to resume his career as a hitting coach and wouldn’t mind working at the minor league level. Here’s a guy who helped turn David Ortiz’s career around, whose instruction helped Bill Mueller win a batting title, and who coached Manny Ramirez.
5. A little mention for former mayor Tom Menino, who loves Apropos of Nothing. You’re a fighter.
6. Knew the late Al Forester for 30 years. Always a smile on his face. He loved life. What a treat for him when he drove the golf cart for Ted Williams at the 1999 All-Star Game.
7. We keep hearing the Yankees won’t dabble in the elite pitcher free agent market, twice burned on CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka. We’ll believe it only when it fails to happen. If they indeed don’t, that may not bode well for the Big Three — Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields — who depend on big market teams like the Yankees to drive up the price.
8. I saw Kevin Millar, working for MLB Network at the World Series. He was wearing a nice shirt with fancy pockets and collar. “Story behind this shirt,” Millar said. I guess Millar went out to dinner with Jonny Gomes one night and afterward they decided to swap shirts. Millar was wearing Gomes’s shirt. What did Gomes get? “One of those ugly dress shirts,” said Millar.
Updates on nine
1. Jason Garcia, RHP, Red Sox — Scouts raved about Garcia in the instructional league. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery. In three outings, as seen by one American League scout, Garcia threw 93-98 with a nasty slider and “average” changeup but just “blew away hitters,” including Baltimore’s Chris Davis, who was working in Sarasota during his suspension. Garcia’s fastball was “jumping” and he was definitely one of the more impressive arms. Garcia was a 17th-round pick in the 2010 draft that also produced pitchers Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman.
2. James Shields, RHP, Royals — Scouts who have seen Shields over his career feel he’s changed from a fastball/changeup pitcher to a fastball/cutter pitcher. Scouts remember the changeup being unhittable and now the cutter has taken over, and at times it is hittable. Still effective, but there is some bewilderment over Shields’s repertoire and where he goes from here after a poor postseason.
3. Mark Buehrle, LHP, Blue Jays — Buehrle will be made available in a trade, though his $19 million contract will likely be a deterrent unless the Jays are willing to assume part of it. The Jays need to replenish their player depth and the quick-working Buehrle might be a way to do it. Buehrle seems more tradable than knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. The Jays will have youngsters Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez in their rotation to go along with J.A. Happ.
4. John Danks, LHP, White Sox — The White Sox would love to move Danks, but the two years at $28.5 million will be a deterrent to teams. White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper still believes Danks, who has experienced reduced velocity, could become the second coming of Buehrle and pitch effectively in the mid-to-high 80s.
5. Juan Uribe, 3B, Dodgers — Uribe played a very good third base for LA and also had a good offensive season. Is he a long-term solution for the Dodgers? Obviously not. With Andrew Friedman taking over, you wonder if having newfound money compared with his Tampa Bay days will yield an upgrade. Pablo Sandoval is the hot third base name, and the Red Sox, Marlins, and possibly the Dodgers could vie for him. The Dodgers could also re-sign Hanley Ramirez and switch him to third. Uribe has been an effective utilityman over the years and one wonders if that’s the role he goes back to.
6. Bronson Arroyo, RHP, Diamondbacks — Agent Terry Bross says that Arroyo is recovering well from Tommy John surgery and should be ready by Opening Day. Arroyo signed a two-year deal last offseason but didn’t pitch well and suffered elbow discomfort. It marked the first time in Arroyo’s long career that he had been injured. Arroyo’s absence certainly contributed to changes being made in the Diamondbacks’ front office, which led to Kevin Towers being fired as GM.
7. Torey Lovullo, bench coach, Red Sox — When the Red Sox extended the Twins’ window to speak to Lovullo regarding their managerial job, it seemed to come with the understanding that Lovullo would receive a second interview. That has not occurred yet, which is odd since an extension was asked for. The speculation is strong that Paul Molitor is the front-runner. Announcements can’t be made during the World Series, but Lovullo hasn’t been told he’s out of the hunt.
8. Alan Nero, agent — Big move putting the Andrew Friedman clause in Joe Maddon’s contract. It was built in at the time of Maddon’s last negotiation when the Rays advised him they couldn’t afford to make him one of the top five highest-paid managers. So Nero suggested a clause that if Friedman left for another job, Maddon could opt out. Nero had put an opt-out clause in Lou Piniella’s Tampa Bay contract years before. Both worked out fine.
9. Ben Zobrist, 2B/RF, Rays — Look for Zobrist to get a lot of play this offseason. The Rays could move him to create salary relief, and don’t bet against Friedman having some interest in a player he can move around the infield and outfield. The Dodgers could use good chemistry and Zobrist has it.
From the Bill Chuck files — “In 2013, the Red Sox scored 106 runs in the first inning. In 2014, the Red Sox scored 64 runs in the first inning and 64 more in the second inning.” . . . “The Kansas City Royals and Washington Nationals (nee Montreal Expos) each came into existence in 1969. Since that time, the Royals have won 3,528 regular-season games and the Nationals/Expos have won 3,527.” . . . Happy birthday, Dave Coleman (64) and Zach Crouch (49).Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.