Who’s running my team: The Los Angeles Dodgers

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 1: Dave Roberts #30 of the Los Angeles Dodgers with Andrew Friedman President of Baseball Operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers during a workout prior to game one of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 01, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 1: Dave Roberts #30 of the Los Angeles Dodgers with Andrew Friedman President of Baseball Operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers during a workout prior to game one of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 01, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images) /

Our series of articles looking at the front office structure of each major league team continues as we look at the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Owner: Guggenheim Partners (Mark Walter)
  • President (Stan Kasten)
  • President of Baseball Operations: Andrew Friedman

Is any executive in all of Major League Baseball in a better position than Andrew Friedman?

The answer is: Maybe Brian Cashman with the Yankees…but that’s about it. Combining track record with resources and the authority to use them, Friedman is at the top of the game’s food chain.

Nominally, he answers to Walter and Kasten, the faces of a 10-person consortium – which also includes Billie Jean King and Magic Johnson – who purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2 billion from Frank McCourt in 2012.

As a practical matter, though, the Guggenheim investors’ role in the team consists of getting out of Friedman’s way. It is a rewarding occupation because since his hiring away from Tampa Bay following the 2014 season, Friedman has delivered post-season appearances to Los Angeles with the regularity of the United States Postal Service.

Since Friedman’s arrival, the Dodgers have won 60 percent of their regular season games, pocketing all five NL West championships and by an average margin of six games.

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The obvious rap on Friedman’s has been their inability to win a World Series. That’s inarguable. But it is worth keeping in mind that the present multi-layered playoff system vastly increases the role of chance in determining the overall champion, so to some real extent faulting Friedman for not building a World Series winner is faulting him for not winning the lottery. He’s purchased plenty of tickets.

The Dodgers have resources to commit to winning, and they have committed them.  The team’s $3.30 million valuation (based on research by Forbes) is the game’s second highest, trailing only the Yankees. That’s up a nifty 65 percent from when Guggenheim bought the team from McCourt in 2014, and up a staggering 453 percent over the past decade.

They made a team record $549 million in 2019, a 222 percent growth rate over the decade and up 187 percent since the ownership/front office changes.

So assiduous have the Dodgers been in committing those resources to player development that they have often forgotten to actually turn a profit. It is a testament to the ownership’s desire to produce a consistent winner that until 2018 the Guggenheim-Friedman group never actually made money, although that has turned around nicely. In 2019, gross pre-tax earnings equaled $95 million.

LA benefits in all the free-market ways that make the disadvantaged envious of the advantaged. At $1.617 billion, their market productivity ranks second behind the Yankees. They are also second only to New York in brand revenues ($554 million), and at $577 million, they are fifth overall in stadium revenue.

Just to make matters less equitable, they command $552 million in revenue sharing funds, the game’s 11th largest share.

Dodger fans pay dearly for the privilege of basking in all this success. At $79, the Los Angeles Dodgers rank seventh in average revenue per attendee.

Aside from the raw revenue advantages, the plan works because Friedman is a certified genius at what he does. Considering his performance both in Tampa and Los Angeles, it is entirely plausible to construct a case for Friedman as one of the 25 best team builders in the game’s lengthy history. Until 2018, he did so in Los Angeles atop a front office structure that also featured Farhan Zaidi as general manager. But when Zaidi left for San Francisco, Friedman left that position vacant and assumed GM duties himself.

He came to the game from an investment background following graduation from Tulane, where he played college ball.

Shortly after Stu Sternberg’s purchase of the moribund Rays in 2005, Sternberg went looking for new, young energetic leadership and found Friedman, at the time the team’s director of baseball development. It was a stroke of genius; within two seasons Friedman took a team that had never topped 70 victories to the World Series.

From 2008 through his departure following the 2014 season, Friedman’s Rays won 55 percent of their games – playing in the tough AL East – and appeared in four post-seasons.

Working both with Zaidi and since 2019 on his own, the Los Angeles Dodgers system has become legendary for its productivity. Since Friedman’s arrival, that system has produced Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, and Alex Verdugo. Beyond that, another touted class including Gavin Lux and Tony Gonsolin is poised to make its mark this season. As a group, the 31 Friedman callups to date have generated +16.4 WAA* for the team’s cause.

During the 2019 season – operating solo – Friedman was responsible for 34 decisions that impacted the Dodger roster.  The net impact of those 34 decisions was +9.4 games, the third best total of any of the game’s 30 chief execs.**

When critics want to shoot at Friedman’s operation, they aim for his relative hesitancy to dabble in the big-name free agent market. Although the club is perceived to have been involved in bidding for such top-line stars as Gerrit Cole, they have not actually landed a big name from outside the team on Friedman’s watch.

In this area, Friedman’s caution may stem from an absence of need – the Dodgers have, after all, averaged 97 wins – or from having been burned previously. LA signed two relatively big-name free agents prior to 2019, pitcher Joe Kelly (three years, $25 million) and outfielder A.J. Pollock (four years, $55 million), and neither panned out.

Easily Friedman’s two best outside free agent signings were less higher-profile. Following the 2015 season he went to Japan to sign pitcher Kenta Maeda to an eight-year, $25 million deal. Then entering 2018 the Los Angeles Dodgers picked up Oakland reject Max Muncy at close to the league minimum.  In his first two seasons, Muncy has generated 70 home runs.

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*This calculation is obtained by determining the net impact of all player transactions on team performance for the season(s) in question. Wins Above Average is a zero-based offshoot of Wins Above Replacement; thus, the final figure suggests the degree of positive or negative movement in the standings attributable to front office moves.

**Alex Anthopoulos rated +15.1 in Atlanta, and Thad Levine was +11.5 in Minnesota.