Andrew Friedman Already Under Intense Pressure in 1st Dodgers Offseason

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistNovember 3, 2014

Andrew Friedman, left, a 37-year-old former Wall Street analyst, speaks after being introduced by Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten, right, as the new Los Angeles Dodger president of baseball operations at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Nick Ut/Associated Press

There will be no honeymoon period for Andrew Friedman. The ink is barely dry on his $35 million contract, and the Los Angeles Dodgers' new president of baseball operations is already in the hot seat.

So it goes when you're handed a budget north of $250 million and a fanbase and ownership group ready—nay, itching—to see their team take the next step.

That next step would be a Commissioner's Trophy, which L.A.'s hated rivals to the north just hoisted for the third time in five seasons. During that same time frame, the Dodgers have made the postseason twice but never advanced past the National League Championship Series.

Friedman, the 37-year-old wunderkind who built the Tampa Bay Rays into a small-market success, is tasked with changing that—fast. And he has work to do.

Yes, the Dodgers are coming off a 94-win season. And yes, they have Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball. There are some gaping holes on this club, though, which were exposed during their division series defeat against the St. Louis Cardinals.

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With the Friedman hire, general manager Ned Colletti was moved to a "senior advisor" position, per The Associated Press (via USA Today). It's easy to draw a distinction between the two; where Colletti is old school, Friedman is a sabermetrics guy, part of baseball's analytical new wave. 

Philosophy aside, the bottom line will be results. Friedman won't have the leeway he enjoyed with Tampa Bay, where every success was evidence of his genius and every failure could be chalked up to the shoestring budget. He's got a nearly bottomless wallet now and the pressure that comes with it.

As Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times put it, "He will be the director of 'Moneyball meets Money, Money, Money Ball,' and the Dodgers are betting big on a blockbuster."

With that in mind, let's take a look at a few of the toughest choices Friedman faces right away and how he might address them.

The Mattingly Question

From the moment Joe Maddon opted out of his contract as manager of the Rays, speculation swirled that he might be headed for a reunion with Friedman. The pair spent a decade building a relationship in Tampa Bay, after all. When Maddon agreed to a deal with the Chicago Cubs, that ended that.

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

What won't end are the questions surrounding Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly. Despite posting a 354-293 record in four seasons with L.A., Mattingly has been a target of criticism for his in-game strategy and juggling of players and clubhouse egos.

So far, Friedman is standing behind his manager.

"I'm going into it with the mindset we're going to work together for a long time," he told the Los Angeles Times' Steve Dilbeck when asked about Mattingly. 

If the Dodgers stumble, that could change in a hurry. For now, it looks like Friedman is throwing his lot in with Donnie Ballgame.

Bolstering the Bullpen

If you want to find a scapegoat for the Dodgers' early postseason exit, look no further than the bullpen. A unit that posted a 3.80 ERA in the regular season and looked frequently shaky outside of closer Kenley Jansen and left-hander J.P. Howell coughed up six runs in 8.2 innings during the National League Division Series.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

An array of middling arms—Jamey Wright, Paul Maholm, Kevin Correia—could walk via free agency. The challenge for Friedman will be finding bullpen relief on the market without overpaying, always a tall order. One intriguing option? Sergio Romo, who just won his third ring with the San Francisco Giants.

The 31-year-old Romo lost his gig as the Giants closer this season but finished with a solid 0.948 WHIP and held right-handers to a .172 batting average. When he's on, his slider is among the most devastating in the game.

And let's not forget the extra points inherent in stealing a key piece away from the orange and black.

  

Shoring Up the Rotation

The top three of Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu are set. After that, it gets dicey in a hurry.

Josh Beckett announced his retirement, Dan Haren posted a 4.02 ERA in 32 starts and will turn 35 next season, and the Dodgers' system is thin on MLB-ready talent.

That would seem to point toward L.A. throwing cash at one of the offseason's top-tier starters, potential game-changers like Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields.

However, as ESPNLosAngeles.com's Mark Saxon notes:

Before the team picked up Andrew Friedman from Tampa Bay to run its front office, the organization's thinking was to pursue second- and third-tier starting pitchers who aren't connected to draft picks. ... They seem to have enough overripe contracts on the books. ...

If anything, Friedman’s arrival figures to signal lower payrolls, reinforcing the notion the Dodgers will be looking for bargains, not big-headline splashes. 

Maybe so. But Friedman, despite his admirable emphasis on building a strong farm system and avoiding albatross deals, will be expected to field a contender right away. And that'll be tough to do with two-fifths of the starting corps up in the air.

Re-Sign Ramirez?

Hanley Ramirez is a defensive liability—he posted the second-worst Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) among MLB shortstops, per FanGraphs—and he missed significant time due to injury. On the other hand, his .283/.369/.448 slash line, while off his career averages, remains a plus.

And the market isn't brimming with alternatives. Despite the red flags, Ramirez looks like this winter's premier free-agent shortstop, meaning he'll likely command a significant deal.

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

The Dodgers will almost surely extend Ramirez the qualifying offer of $15.3 million, CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman reports, but Hanley may be after something more in line with the seven-year, $130 million contract the Texas Rangers gave Shin-Soo Choo last offseason.

That's a lot of coin for a creaky 31-year-old with declining numbers. Dilbeck thinks it "doesn't figure" Friedman will extend Ramirez a multiyear offer. 

Whatever the logic, if he lets one of the Dodgers' key offensive weapons walk, he'd better have a viable replacement ready and waiting. Otherwise, this marriage could sour before the honeymoon gets started.

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.