The last time Andrew Friedman looked for a manager, I was right there. Ten years ago, I had just been hired as a 23-year old analyst by the team formerly called the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and I thought I knew way more about baseball than I actually did.
My first assignment came into my inbox. It was from team president Matt Silverman (with Andrew Friedman CCed) asking me to research several names they were considering for the team's managerial opening. While my job was supposed to be more focused on the business side of the organization, I relished the chance to help on the baseball side.
I researched at least 20 different potential candidates. The Rays acknowledged interviewing nine candidates - Angels bench coach Joe Maddon, Yankees bench coach Joe Girardi, former Tigers manager Alan Trammell, Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine, Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton, Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, and then-Rays coaches John McLaren, Tom Foley, and Billy Hatcher. The latter three had worked for Lou Piniella who parted ways with the organization after the 2005 season.
After a very impressive first interview, Girardi was the early frontrunner for the job. But Girardi dropped out of the search before the process really had a chance to unfold after he accepted the Marlins managerial job. I had my own preference though.
Growing up in Southern California, I knew all about Maddon and his time with the Angels. Maddon was an early pioneer of defensive shifts as he used to study spray charts and any other data he could find. Back then, he was one of the only on-field coaches in baseball who valued sabermetrics and other analytical methods that most old-school clubhouse guys shunned. But I had also heard that Maddon was one of the best guys that you could ever meet. He has a magnetic personality, and he seemed just as relaxed discussing ancient philosophy or vineyards as he did telling old baseball stories.
In my report on Maddon, I started by writing: "I have to confess that I'm a big Joe Maddon fan..." and I went on to essentially endorse him for the job. I actively searched for all the positive information on him that I could find. I was just a year out of college, and it certainly wasn't my place as a first-week employee to recommend someone. But I didn't understand corporate hierarchy, and I thought my opinion mattered to them. My admiration for Maddon quickly became a running joke among the top Rays executives.
Friedman and Silverman conducted an extremely thorough search. They interviewed both Maddon and McLaren three times, before finally deciding on Maddon. I'm sure their decision had nothing to do my own preference, but I always wanted to believe that it did.
A few weeks later, Silverman sent an e-mail to the office staff stating that all employees would receive a referral fee if they recommended a candidate who wound up being hired for a job inside the organization. I asked Silverman if I could earn the referral fee for recommending Maddon. He thought about it for a bit and then said "no."
Ten years later, Maddon has proven himself to be one of the best managers in the game. Friedman is now with the Dodgers getting ready to hire his own field general. This time around, I have no special insight into the search process. I only know what has been reported in the press.
Among the names that have been mentioned, I really like Dave Roberts, Dave Martinez, Ron Roenicke, and Tim Wallach. I think that any of them would do a terrific job managing the team. But if I were writing another report for Friedman, then I'd recommend Gabe Kapler.
When the Rays hired Maddon, I distinctly remember Friedman saying that he appreciated that the former Angels employee had once served as a farm director. Since the Rays were going to build with young players, having a manager who understood the player development process was quite valuable.
Kapler has served as the Dodgers farm director for the past year, and he also once managed a team in the minors. That experience could be valuable as the Dodgers look to get younger. But as a recently retired Major Leaguer, Kapler is also uniquely tuned into the veteran mindset of the some of the Dodgers older players.
Kapler is a workout freak who can set an example for the clubhouse. I like that he's a local guy who went to Taft High School, so he understands what it's like to be a Dodger fan. Last year, he served as an analyst for Fox Sports, and I thought he was one of the best TV commentators on the air as he displayed an understanding for new baseball ideas that few players have bothered to discern.
Yesterday, I heard AM 570's David Vassegh say that one concern about Kapler was that he was too close to the front office. He implied that the Dodgers might need someone to separate the players from management. But I don't think that should be an issue. The Dodgers don't want a culture in which the front office is an unapproachable holy entity that issues edicts from on high while never interfacing with players.
In Tampa Bay, Friedman often seemed like "one of the guys" when he was in the clubhouse. He got along extremely well with players, and he seemed like a natural fit in modern day baseball culture. The Dodgers should want a manager who executes in concert with the front office in order to realize the organization's vision for success.
Maddon and Friedman worked closely together and they were on the same page when it came to dealing with players. Given Kapler's work with Friedman over the last year, I'm confident that they will be on the same page if they work together as manager and GM too.