It's been a bevy of offseason changes for Rays
Originally Published: December 4, 2007By Jonah Keri | Special to ESPN.com
Matthew Silverman and Andrew Friedman hope they have the answers. Two years ago, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg turned to Wall Street, wooing Silverman away from Goldman Sachs to be the team's new president. Sternberg also hired Andrew Friedman as the team's GM (vice president of baseball operations, officially), following Friedman's own stints in the financial world at Bear Stearns and MidMark Capital. The Rays' brain trust has made a number of innovative moves, including a performance-based system to calculate payments for players with up to three years of major league service time. Here's what Silverman and Friedman had to say in a recent interview, not long after trading Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie to the Twins for Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan: Jonah Keri: How do you think your Wall Street backgrounds prepared you for running a baseball team? Were there any advantages to be had from being outsiders, being so inexperienced in the baseball world when you both took the job? Silverman: Our backgrounds forced us to be as open-minded and inquisitive as possible. We entered this industry without any preconceived notions. That has been a benefit to us. We were also involved in working for highly successful businesses, with great organizational structures. We hope to emulate many of those qualities here in Tampa Bay. Keri: Was there a moment that stood out to you early on where you just sort of stopped and said, "How did I end up here?" Silverman: There have definitely been a number of instances when you recognize how different life has become. A couple of times it's occurred on the team charter, flying late at night across the country. We're sitting with Don Zimmer or Joe Maddon, talking about the game, and you realize this is work, this is our profession. It's certainly a big contrast to what life was like in New York City. Keri: The last time we spoke, in April of last year, you were optimistic that you could attract fans to Tropicana Field. Here's what you said: "The stadium is not a hindrance to creating a successful business. The empty seats are opportunities for us." That's all well and good, but I'm guessing when you saw a chance to build another AT&T Park, you had to take it, right? Silverman: We all recognize that a new ballpark has a positive economic effect on a team and also has a great effect upon its fans. We expect the ballpark we've designed will really resonate with our fans and it's an opportunity we're compelled to pursue. It's only possible because Tropicana Field and its parking lots have development value and economic value to the city and county. We see an opportunity for a win-win-win for the city, the county and the Rays. We connect the ballpark to the owner's long-term vision for the franchise, that baseball will thrive in Tampa Bay. It's a concept we envisioned several years ago, and we've devoted a lot of energy to getting the finances in order and building a ballpark. There's nothing wrong with Tropicana Field, this just happens to be an opportunity for everyone. But if the answer from the city ends up being no, we've put a lot of money into Tropicana Field to make it a good place to watch a game, and we have 20 years left on our lease. Keri: The footprint's much smaller than it is for other major league parks -- can the team fit a park into a parcel as small as you're proposing? It seems like you could actually create some of that intimate feel other teams keep talking about but aren't able to achieve given how big their stadiums end up being. Silverman: It's a waterfront site, where our spring training park, Al Lang Field, sits right now. It's roughly 11 acres, so just a bit smaller than AT&T Park in San Francisco. But yes, we've designed a ballpark that fits snugly into that space. It has a contemporary design, all the modern amenities, and an environmentally friendly feel to it. It also has the feature of a deep home run to right field potentially landing in the bay. We had Carlos Pena come out when we introduced the plan, and he hit one into the water from a spot right around where home plate will be. Keri: So the big news, of course, is the Delmon Young trade. We're talking about a player who finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, who was considered the top prospect in baseball a year or two ago. Obviously you got quality in the trade -- but what kind of shortcomings did you see in Young before you made the deal? Friedman: This was certainly not a bet against Delmon Young. We feel like this was an exchange of good, young players. It met multiple needs for us, and I think the Twins feel the exact same way. Keri: OK, let's discuss this from another angle. The team had a surplus of outfielders a year ago too. In fact, a year ago, Elijah Dukes hadn't had those additional problems yet, there was at least a little more optimism over Rocco Baldelli's health -- if anything you may have had more of a surplus then. You could argue that Young's perceived value may have even been a bit higher a year ago. If you were going to trade Young for young pitching, why not do it a year earlier? Friedman: Last year we certainly had a lot of conversations. Obviously we didn't find a situation that was compelling. 2007 was very valuable for us in terms of answering questions, identifying areas we needed to target. Our roster is a lot more mature, and some of our better prospects are now in upper minor leagues. The trade we made was for the present, not the future. Obviously it was not without factoring in future ramifications. But we were able to acquire players who could help us right away, and also be part of our nucleus for seasons to come.
AP PhotoIn 2008, Andrew Friedman will enter his third season as the Tampa Bay Rays' vice president of baseball operations.
Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) is a staff writer for Grantland. His book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First, is a national best seller. His new book Up, Up, and Away, on the history of the Montreal Expos, is now available for preorder.