When I was a child I was absolutely convinced Bill Nye was the smartest man alive. Now, as an adult (arguable), I am convinced the GM of the Tampa Bay Rays, Andrew Friedman, has stolen that title from the man who taught me what gravity was, made artificial volcanoes, and scientifically parodied some of my favorite songs. Everyone knows how the Rays have become a powerhouse in baseball with one of the smallest payrolls. Not to mention in the AL East where a rival’s third baseman makes roughly half their annual budget. Everyone knows the Kazmir trade and the development of Carl Crawford, James Shields, Evan Longoria, David Price, and B.J. Upton. And much like the “Science Guy”, Friedman has tried his fair share of experiments. For instance, signing a career journeyman in Carlos Pena or a foreign second baseman in Akinori Iwamura. However, his experiment over the past year holds all the signs of a mad scientist.
Friedman chose to compete for the pennant in 2010 rather than sell-off expiring veteran contracts for young prospects. This proved a wise choice as the Rays made the playoffs. The, due to the superb player development within Tampa Bay’s system, the veterans who went to free agency were good enough to be classified as type-A free agents; meaning Tampa gets the first round pick of the team where each of these players sign. The aforementioned free agents included relievers Grant Balfour and Rafael Soriano, outfielder and now Red Sock Carl Crawford, and Cubs’ first baseman Carlos Pena. Thanks to these free agents and 6 others, the Tampa Bay Rays will have 10 picks before the second round in this spring’s Rule IV Player Draft. To see what’s possible with this type of early dominance in a first year player draft, check out this article on the Rays’, by a Red Sox fan, for a Yankees’ blog. It’s nice to see everyone getting along.
Andrew Friedman and the Tampa Bay organization should serve as a perfect example for teams trying to build from within such as the Astros, Brewers, and Padres. The Royals have been moving towards this system ever since the contracts of Jose Guillen and Gil Meche and they now have the best farm system in baseball (until this spring’s draft anyway). As for the ‘Smartest Man in the World’ title, the jury is still out. Sure, Andrew Friedman can construct a strong farm system, but can he construct a paper-mache solar system?