If America is going to celebrate fake holidays like, say, Valentine's Day, then I think the day pitcher's and catcher's report should be included as well. Baseball is back. It's about time. What better way to ring in the "new year" than with an interview with the man responsible for building the team we love, Rays' Vice President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman.
Mr. Friedman was kind enough to answer a few questions about roster construction, instant replay, Joe Maddon, and this upcoming season, among other things. We appreciate his time and we hope you do as well. Enjoy.
Andrew Friedman: Our roster has undergone some significant changes, but we feel good about where we are going into Spring Training, both for 2011 and for the seasons ahead. While there have been key departures, many concentrated in the bullpen, we've been able to bring on some players who will be additive to our club. Some are on short term deals like Farnsworth, Peralta, Damon and Ramirez; others, like the players we got in return for Bartlett and Garza, are guys we control for many years. The silver lining with the departures is the collection of the extra picks we'll have in the draft. All in all, we feel we've moved aggressively to secure our future, both short-term and long-term. And, if you take a snapshot of the guys who will be a part of 2011, it's a very compelling club, even in the AL East.
EH: Would you consider building a successful bullpen the most challenging aspect of creating a roster? If not, then what?
AF: In our situation, there are many challenges in putting together a roster, but the most important one is making sure we have a constant flow of young talent to help our major league club. There are some things that are difficult or impossible to replace on the open market if we don't develop them ourselves: starting pitching, position players who can help you on both sides of the ball, and impact talent up the middle. Our constant challenge is to make sure we keep ourselves stocked with young players who can meaningfully impact our big league team.
EH: Joe Maddon draws lots of ire from local fans due to his untraditional approach to managing. We feel the opposite: we love that he's so open-minded and that he puts such thought into all his decisions. After working with him for five seasons, what's your opinion on Maddon? We've heard that he uses information provided by the front office when making his decisions - how open is the communication between him and the front office? How much input does he have in roster moves, like deciding when to call up or send down players?
AF: Joe and I have a great relationship and part of that is because of how candidly we can communicate. We pride ourselves on working hard to find every advantage that we can, no matter how small, and Joe is always open to anything that can help us win games. In making roster moves, I value input from many different sources, including our pro scouts and our player development staff. Without question, Joe is an important voice as well, especially on the role a player will have on our 25-man, and how we can maximize his ability.
EH: There were a couple close calls in the ALDS that seemed to go against the Rays. What is your opinion on expanding instant replay?
AF: The Texas Rangers, not the umpires, beat us in October; they're a very good team and they deserved to win. As far as instant replay in general, some of the details would still need to be worked out, but with so much riding on these games the most important thing should be to get the calls right.
EH: Could you go into how the organization assess a catcher's defense? Are there any aspects, throwing arm, blocking balls, errors etc, that you weigh more heavily than others?
AF: Catching is so important that it's hard to say any one or two aspects are the most critical. Aside from physical talent, because our pitching staff is generally a younger one, we really stress the importance of running a good game, the work put in on the advance scouting front and helping the pitcher execute his game plan and stay focused and efficient.
EH: In the book Moneyball, Michael Lewis goes into great detail about Billy Beane's borderline anxiety attacks during games. Do you ever find yourself becoming too emotionally involved during a game?
AF: It's hard not to, and it's something that's definitely a challenge for me. When it comes to making decisions we do everything we can to be deliberate and rational. But in the heat of the moment you can get pretty worked up.
EH: It seems almost assured that MLB will be adding another Wild Card team in each league in 2012. What is your opinion regarding that?
AF: We'll support anything that MLB can do to increase competitive balance and allow us to compete on a more level playing field with the other teams in our division.
EH: The organization obviously values draft picks very highly. You're going to have a bounty of picks within the top 100 of the 2011 draft (R.J. Harrison has to be drooling). How much of an edge do you feel that gives you over other teams?
AF: June 6, 7 and 8 will be among the most important days in the history of this franchise. Because young players are so important to us, we have a chance in this year's draft to impact our future in a way that's unprecedented. It's a tremendous opportunity and R.J. and his staff have already been working overtime to capitalize on it.
EH: In your opinion, how well do the advanced defensive metrics (UZR, Total Zone, etc) do in evaluating a player's defensive value?
AF: Defense is very difficult to evaluate. To get a complete picture, you need to rely on many different types of information. It's an area of baseball analysis where the publicly available metrics have done a lot to advance the discussion, because there are so many aspects of defense that so-called traditional statistics can't help evaluate.
Again, a big thank you to Andrew Friedman for taking the time to answer our questions.