Erik mentioned last week that we are making a strong effort to bring you some more insight from in and around the world of baseball. Whether it's a columnist, player or executive, we hope to bring you more perspective about the Rays than just the DRaysBay staff. Of course, we'll continue with our up to the minute news and our analysis, but hope to bring you fresh views from other sources. This is one of those opportunities.
Recently, I had the privilege of picking the mind behind the Rays moves. In this interview, Rays VP of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman will chat about Carl Crawford's contract status, the status of his own contract as well as the perception of needing a veteran closer among other things. Instead of laying it all out for you, I'll just let Andrew take over from here...
Tommy Rancel: It's never publicized or talked about, but you do not have a contract with the Rays. What is the reason behind that?
Andrew Friedman: My situation here is fairly unique in the industry, but it has never been a source of concern for me. The relationship that I have with Stu and our ownership group is a very positive one, with open dialogue and rigorous thought and questioning. I value it and would expect it to be the case regardless of my contract status.
TR: Processes and results are two things we discuss heavily on the site. Good processes should lead to good results as bad processes are likely to lead to failure. We've heard numerous Rays use the terms process and
results this year. How big of a believer are you in the concept? And is it something that is taught throughout the organization?
AF: We are very focused on the process here. Of course it goes without saying that results are what matter in the end. But there is a lot of luck in this game and a lot of things beyond your control, both on the field and off. The more we concentrate on the things we can control, the better our results will be in the long run.
TR: Along with process/results, we often talk about regression to the mean. As the person in charge of making the moves, how much do you look at regression and things of that nature?
AF: Whenever a player's recent performance is very different from his established level, you have to consider the possibility that he will regress to where he was. Most of the time that is what happens. But often there are reasons to think that the new level of performance might continue, and we have to factor those in too.
TR: Without naming names, a few GMs are on record as saying they don't buy into defensive metrics or they still believe in fielding percentage. You, yourself, have said fielding percentage is the most overrated stat in the game. How is there still that kind of divide among peers with the amount of information that is not only public but held privately throughout an organization?
AF: Baseball is a tough game and there is no one path to success. Teams have won in many different ways, with different organizational philosophies. Evaluating defense is one of the more difficult things that we do and we know that the numbers cannot tell you everything. We try to have a sound process that makes sense and to stay open-minded to many sources of information.
TR: As one of the more sabermetric organizations in baseball, how do you feel about the publicly used stats like Defensive efficiency, UZR, Dewan's +/- and so on?
AF: This is a good time to be a baseball fan as there is a ton of data in the public sphere with a lot of validity. In a general sense, some of the publicly used methods are similar to what we do internally; of course, we also have trained eyes whose evaluations play an important role in our process.
TR: In addition to defensive metrics, PITCH F/X has revolutionized the way we analyze pitchers. With one of the pioneers of PITCH F/X, Josh Kalk, part of the organization, what are your thoughts on PITCH F/X?
AF: PITCH f/x can be a great source of information. The key is using it correctly, and in harmony with the other tools we have to evaluate players. With the amount of available information, the challenge often has less to do with finding more knowledge, and more to do with figuring out how to use it properly.
TR: There have been many stories written from mainstream media about the Rays "need" for a veteran closer and this being a major cause for concern. What are your thoughts about this and stated bullpen roles in general?
AF: An effective bullpen, especially at the end of the game, is a crucial part of almost every successful team, and it's a priority of ours this winter as it is every year. In our financial situation it is difficult to commit big dollars to an established veteran closer in his prime. But I think that if you look at recent history, the expensive veteran route has not always worked even for those clubs who could afford that luxury. Younger, less established relievers have been major cogs in winning teams, and great setup men and closers have come from many different places.
TR: Knowing how unpredictable and volatile bullpens are from year to year what is your take on long term contracts for relief pitchers?
AF: Whenever we enter into a long-term contract, there is risk. Our margin of error is very slim. When we make that sort of investment we need to feel comfortable both with the type of player and the type of person in whom we're investing. The volatility that you see in relief pitching is definitely a factor whenever we consider a long-term deal there.
TR: You've said that each draft is almost independent of the last. However with two extra picks next year because of the happenings this year, there is sort of a hangover. What lessons did you guys learn from this year's draft that will carry over into future drafts, if any?
AF:It was disappointing not to be able to sign our top two picks but we feel great about the talent we were able to bring into the organization (plus having the two extra picks in the 2010 draft). We took a calculated risk with our first two picks. With (Kenny) Diekroeger, we knew full well that there was a decent chance we would not be able to sign him, but that, at the very least, we would have the protection of same-slot compensation which is why taking him in the second round made more sense than the fourth.
We are really excited about the guys we did sign and think we still infused our system with a lot of talent.
TR: We couldn't help but notice the drafting of multiple players coming of various injuries in this draft. Was that a market inefficiency?
AF: It was not a deliberate focus of ours in this draft. That said, we have a lot of confidence in our medical team, both in terms of their involvement in the draft process and their ability to take care of our players once we sign them. The work that our scouts do is equally important in making sure we select players who are dedicated to getting and staying healthy.
TR: How big of a difference going from 1/1 overall to picking near the end of the round in just a year? Does your stance on going over slot money change because of the difference?
AF: Our focus is on selecting the best player whether we pick first or 30th. That said, sometimes players will set a price that's much higher than what we feel is appropriate for them, and that's something we have to factor in.
TR: For two straight deadlines the Rays have chosen not to make a move at the traditional trade deadline. However, the team has been active after during the waiver trading period. Is this another market inefficiency that teams are ignoring?
AF: I wouldn't characterize that as a market inefficiency. We are always considering any kind of move that can improve our club, and like every team, we've discussed many deals prior to the trade deadline that didn't ultimately happen. It's a matter of when in the year something lines up that makes sense. In the past two years, that has been in August.
TR: I know there is an organizational policy to not discuss on going contract negotiations, but it's no secret that Carl Crawford is coming up on the end of his contract. What are your plans going forward with CC?
AF: Carl has been a big part of our team for a very long time. It would be great to have him in left field for many more years and we're hopeful that something lines up there that makes sense for both us and CC.
TR: Are payroll restrictions as big of a factor as they seem to us on the outside looking in?
AF: The simple fact is that our market size, our stadium and our attendance don't generate the kind of revenue that our rivals have. We are as committed to winning as they are, but we have to operate differently because of that.
TR: There have been a few cases where a Rays player has gone outside the organization for additional help: Ben Zobrist training with Jaime Cevallos; Matt Garza and others visiting with Ken Ravizza; and more recently Scott Kazmir consulting with Rick Peterson. What is your feeling about a player going outside the organization for additional help?
AF:We'll be supportive of anything that helps our players. In many cases, when they have worked with outside help it has been with our blessing or even at our suggestion. In fact, to give just one example, Ken Ravizza worked with both our major and minor leaguers routinely throughout the 2009 season. As long as it squares with our beliefs on what's best for a player's future, we love to see our players so committed to getting better.
A tremendous hat tip goes out to Andrew Friedman (and his staff) for being so accessible as well as open and honest with us. I want to thank Andrew on behalf of the DRaysBay staff and community for granting the interview and giving us his candid, honest answers and opinions.