Peter Gammons: Dodgers, Cubs Headline Front Office Dream Teams On The Rise

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We should grasp Stu Sternberg’s frustrations that are a realistic dilemma, put there on his St. Petersburg island. While a press conference was held yesterday in Montreal promoting the Blue Jays games with the Reds to be played in Montreal next season it turned into a rally to bring the Rays to that great city. Montreal’s problem is similar to that of Tampa Bay: a house is not a home.

So in a short period of time, Sternberg has lost Andrew Friedman, effectively one of the most creative, brilliant baseball CEOs in the game, to a $35M, seven year deal with the Dodgers. He has lost Joe Maddon, one of the most creative, essential managers in the game, to the Cubs, for $25M over five years.

This has nothing to do with the way either man felt about Sternberg, Matt Silverman or anyone in the Tampa Bay management team. “But you can’t blame them for exercising their rights and opting out,” says one National League executive. “But the trend this off-season is a very dangerous trend for the small market teams. Andrew has gone to Los Angeles and is putting together what most of us in the industry see as a dream team organization. Getting Farhan Zaidi from Oakland as his General Manager is incredible, to have Josh Byrnes there just for baseball and hearing some of his other potential hires is scary. The same goes with what Theo Epstein is assembling with the Cubs, beyond bringing in Joe Maddon. In many ways, the same applies to the Red Sox being able to go get Chili Davis and pay him three times what they could have paid in Oakland.”

If one is a Dodger fan, what Stan Kasten and Dodger ownership is allowing Friedman to build for a long-term organizational infrastructure is advanced 21st Century Branch Rickeyism, especially if you know how well Friedman treats those with whom he works, and how brilliant a core executive he happens to be. This is not about making the Dodgers a baseball Rodeo Drive and buying up the glitziest free agents their television audience can watch, this is about sustained creative and hardcore baseball excellence.

If one is a Cub fan, this is not simply hiring a manager of record, like Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker. Maddon comprehends the larger picture of how every job in an organization is related. In Tampa, he never told Friedman he had to have some young player in the minors, instead, he deferred to those in development who best knew and understood the players and the dangers of rushing them. In Chicago, he joins a complex web of baseball minds; this is a place where it matters that they hired Derek Johnson as minor league pitching coordinator, a man, teams like the Indians tried to hire in the majors but whose salary at Vanderbilt at the time made him higher paid that more than two-thirds of the major league pitching coaches.

As Bobby Cox predicted when he took over the Braves baseball operations in November, 1985, it takes a minimum of six years to build an organization that has sustainable success, something Neal Huntington and Dayton Moore understood and accepted in molding successful small market teams in Pittsburgh and Kansas City. What will the Cubs do this winter? Most likely, try to sign Russell Martin for his leadership and development of young pitching, then next winter—when their farm system is unfurling talent and there are 5-10 big free agent pitchers available—they will strike for the finishing pitching tools.

This is the consistent model the Cleveland Indians have stood by, and extending Terry Francona yesterday was a part of that. What Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti have done is accept that in a city somewhere in the 40’s in terms of population, one without Fortune 500 wealth, they can do the best they can by building trust and an atmosphere where Francona, coaches, development people and scouts are treated as invested partners. But, with what we’re seeing in Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field, if other large market teams start grasping the bigger picture of organizational business, can the Indians keep rising baseball stars like Mike Chernof and Derek Falvey in Cleveland? It has been David Forst’s choice to remain in Oakland, but he is one of the brightest and the best and could move on to a number of other franchises if he so chose.

The system as it now exists is a Mt. Whitney to climb, for well-run small market teams in terms of acquiring amateur talent, which they must do to succeed. They cannot compete for the Cuban and Japanese talent. They cannot go out and compete for Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or Pablo Sandoval. The draft and international caps do not allow for a Tampa, Cleveland or Kansas City to get a leg up on the Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox.

Now the Dodgers and Cubs have figured out that Andrew Friedman and Theo Epstein are more important long-term investments than a free agent player. One of Epstein’s daily mantras is to ask “what are we missing?” and peel away the Cubby Bear Lounge, and the whine of the 1908 tires, and one finds layers of voices and minds that can and will answer him.

And the Dodgers? Farhan Zaidi is one of the best minds—baseball, behavioral economics, anything—in the business. So is Josh Byrnes. And, knowing some of the folks that Friedman is recruiting, this could be what one AL GM calls “The Dream Team,” one that makes decisions like what to do with all the outfielders or the dilemma created if Hanley Ramirez accepts his qualifying offer seem awfully small in the larger picture of a very large market franchise.

But if you’re Stuart Sternberg, reality crossing the Gandy Bridge is that no matter what great strides Bud Selig made in terms of revenue sharing and leveling the playing field, what the Dodgers and Cubs are doing with Friedman and Epstein are what allowed the Athletics to survive successfully all these years. Moneyball to the third degree. Or, as they would say when Zaidi was a freshman at MIT, moneyballXpi to the third…

And when we’re a fifth of the way through the 21st Century, it will all seem very obvious.

Comments

  1. Charles Adler says:

    Money doesn’t buy WS. I have to give credit to THEO for building a system . He also has money to work with. i respect the Rays more and KC for what they have done with less money. Look at the Yanks with $200+ payroll. When is the last time they won a WS? In a way the RS have overspent too.

  2. 3 Championships in 10 years. Time to rebuild.