Every season Rays Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman is kind enough to spend a little time answering a few questions about the upcoming season with us. Let's get right to it.
DRaysBay: From the outside, it seems that you and Joe have a bit of a unique relationship. How much of what we as fans see on the field trickles down from the front office compared to what trickles up from Joe?
Andrew Friedman: We're fortunate here to have a manager who communicates extremely well not only with our players, but also with the front office. It's an ongoing conversation with a free flow of ideas going both ways, so I don't think you could rightly assign percentages as to how much of what goes on is the result of which party's contributions. We work as a team and just as Joe has a high level of trust in the information we provide, we also believe in Joe's ability to put that information into play on the field.
DRB: What are your thoughts on increased interleague play while continuing the unbalanced scheduling?
AF: The addition of the second wild card highlights the obvious problem with the unbalanced schedule, namely that teams are judged against each other while facing dramatically different quality of competition over the course of the season. Making the playoffs out of a tough division with five good clubs is that much more of an accomplishment under the current system. Interleague play adds an interesting wrinkle, but it's not nearly as important as the effect of the unbalanced schedule itself.
DRB: Now that we've played through one season under the new CBA, have you noticed any issues that you'd like to see addressed with the next CBA? Do you feel this CBA (particularly the draft structure) is more or less kind to small-market teams?
AF: It has always been hard to sustain success as a small-market team and the new CBA does not impact that very much. There are some interesting ideas within the new system but the overarching structure still tips the scales heavily in favor of the large markets (especially with growing revenue disparity). The key to changing that will be moving to a system that doesn't penalize small-market clubs-in the draft order, in the competitive balance lottery, in the international arena--for being successful.
DRB: Speaking of the CBA, how have the new rules affected your signing of veteran free agents?
AF: Free agency is a way for us to supplement our core but we can never operate in a fashion where we have to go to market for the core of our lineup or pitching staff. So I don't think the new rules have had much of an effect on how we approach the free agent market.
DRB: While the bullpen should be a strength once again this season, it's going to be nearly impossible to recreate the success of the 2012 group, especially with the subtraction of Wade Davis. What do you feel the strong point of the unit is as we head into spring training?
AF: There's no question that Wade's emergence last year really strengthened our bullpen, and what he did will be difficult to replicate. But we feel that we will have a deep and diverse group combining battle-tested veterans with less experienced but promising pitchers who are ready to take on larger roles.
DRB: He finished last season at shortstop due to necessity, but with the addition of Yunel Escobar that's no longer the case. Is there a defined plan for where Ben Zobrist will play this season?
AF: It's no secret that we value versatility and Ben might be our best example of how important it is. With Escobar on board, we obviously don't plan for Ben to see nearly as much time at shortstop as he did in 2012, but his ability to move around the diamond will continue to be an enormous asset for us. Ben is an extremely selfless player who will play anywhere as long as it helps the team win, and we're fortunate to have a player who is not only so versatile, but can also play the various positions at such a high level.
DRB: There are unsung employees in every front office; who are some of the people that help make the team the success it is who may not get the recognition they deserve?
AF: I can't say enough about the ability and passion of our baseball operations team--it takes an enormous amount of time and energy on the part of many people to make this go. It would be a disservice to name some names without naming others, and they are by no means limited to the front office. The work of our scouts and our development staff, both in the US and abroad, is the bedrock of our success. They, along with our research staff, remain out of the limelight but have played a huge role in the achievements of our players and club. They may be unsung to you, but we sing their praises internally. It truly is a team approach and effort.
Thanks again to Andrew for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with us.