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Andrew Friedman's best under-the-radar moves with the Rays

Everyone lauds David Price and Evan Longoria, but these under-the-radar moves by Andrew Friedman are what really made the difference for the Rays.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

When the Los Angeles Dodgers landed Andrew Friedman last week, their fans knew they were getting a guy that helped Tampa Bay rise from the bottom to the top. Following a last place finish in 2005, Friedman was promoted from Director of Baseball Development to the club's Vice President and General Manager. In just his third season as the Rays' GM, Friedman saw his Rays reach the World Series for the first time in the franchise's young history.

Friedman's success was even more impressive when you consider Tampa Bay had the smallest payroll in the American League. The team was built on homegrown talent, with names like Evan Longoria, David Price, and James Shields. The value of those players cannot be overstated, but lets take a look at some great under the radar moves we saw from Andrew Friedman:

Carlos Pena

A former 1st round pick in 1998, Carlos Pena had hit hard times in 2006. Pena spent most of 2006 in AAA with the New York Yankees organization, only to be claimed by the Red Sox in mid August after being DFA'd by the Yankees. Pena had a grand total of 37 PA's at the MLB level in 2006, and was promptly released by the Red Sox after the season came to an end. Pena, known for his raw power and high BB rate, signed on with Tampa Bay for a one year deal worth $800,000. In the previous season, Andrew Friedman saw the team's starting 1B Travis Lee put up a .676 OPS with just 24 extra base hits. According to Fangraphs, Lee's 78 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) was dead last among MLB first basemen with at least 350 PA.

Enter Pena.

In Pena's first season with Tampa Bay, he put up a slash line of .282/.411/.627 with 46 homers. His 76 extra base hits more than tripled Travis Lee's total for the '06 Devil Rays. Pena's breakout season was rewarded with a three year contract extension that bought out one year of free agency. From 2007-2010 (he came back for one season in 2012), Pena put up a slash line of .238/.368/.516 with 144 HR. One can't help but wonder if the 2006 Yankees regret leaving Pena in AAA while giving Andy Phillips (.676 OPS) 96 starts at first base with the big club.

Casey Kotchman

After Pena hit free agency following the 2010 season, Friedman found himself once again looking for a cheap, yet productive option at first base. Casey Kotchman had just finished up the final year of his contract with the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners had recently acquired top prospect Justin Smoak, and had no interest in bringing back Kotchman after a disappointing .616 OPS and a 69 wRC+. In January 2011, Friedman signed Kotchman to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. Classic high risk, high reward? No. Classic Andrew Friedman.

Friedman looked deeper into that 2010 season with the Mariners. While Kotchman's slash line was terrible, his batting average on balls in play (BAPIP) showed a year of bad luck. According to Fangraphs, Kotchman's .229 BAPIP was the 4th worst among MLB hitters with at least 400 PA. Tampa Bay offered Kotchman a clean slate, and hopefully some better luck. For 2011, Kotchman put up a slash line of .306/.378/.422. The .378 OBP was good for 20th in all of baseball. The total price? Just above league minimum.

Matt Joyce

Following the Rays' 2008 World Series appearance, the Rays entered the offseason with strong pitching depth and the need for  some help in right field. The RF for the majority of 2008 was Gabe Gross. A respectable bench bat for much of his career, his .676 OPS was clearly the weakness of the Rays 2008 outfield. Carl Crawford had established himself as a premier leadoff hitter, and BJ Upton was coming off a fantastic playoff performance in 2008. Another key performer in the 2008 playoffs was LHP David Price. He had spent October coming out of the bullpen, but was primed for a spot in the Tampa Bay rotation for years to come. Friedman decided to capitalize on the value of another young pitcher: Edwin Jackson. Jackson was a hard throwing right hander with a sharp slider, and he was only 25 years old. The Detroit Tigers were anxious to add another pitcher to join Justin Verlander at the top of the Tigers' rotation. The Tigers decided to pull the trigger on Friedman's offer: Edwin Jackson for OF Matt Joyce.

Joyce was widely viewed as one of the Tigers' top 10 prospects in 2008, and he split the 2008 season between AAA and Detroit. In 277 PA in 2008, Joyce put up an .831 OPS with 12 HR. On top of Joyce's power, he was also noted for having a strong arm in RF (20 OF assists in 2007 with AA Erie). Since joining Tampa in 2009, Joyce has put up a .777 OPS and helped solidify what was once a weak spot in the Tampa lineup. The last Tampa Bay RF to top Joyce's 2010 .837 OPS was Aubrey Huff, all the way back in 2003.

Fernando Rodney

After the 2011 season, 34 year old reliever Fernando Rodney hit the free agent market. He was coming off 9 years (7 with Detroit and 2 with LAA) of mainly middle relief work to the tune of a 4.29 ERA. An injury plagued 2011 season limited Rodney to just 32 innings pitched, and his upcoming contract would likely be nowhere near the $5M salary he had in each of the previous two seasons. Tampa signed Rodney for a team friendly deal for just over $4M over the next two years. In that time frame, Rodney looked like a completely different pitcher. Over 144 games, Rodney's 1.91 ERA was more than 2 runs better than his ERA over the previous 452 MLB games. Over the previous 50 years, no one had topped Rodney's 0.60 ERA in 2012 (min. 70 IP). Andrew Friedman had found an over the hill middle reliever, and saw that pitcher turn into an elite closer before his eyes.


No one can doubt the fact that Friedman will have more financial advantages in his new job with the Dodgers, but let's not forget this man's eye for talent. Whether Friedman has virtually unlimited funds, or whether he's working with a tight budget, Friedman has always put together strong teams. As for the Dodgers' future? The sky is the limit.