The Los Angeles Dodgers are known for fetching the highest price ever paid for a Major League Baseball franchise, at $2 billion. After going on a front office hiring spree this fall the Dodgers laid claim to one other record and possibly a third, the highest salary ever awarded a MLB General Manager and having the most current or former General Managers in a team’s employ.
First, the Dodgers kicked their incumbent GM, Ned Colletti to the curb, creating a new position and assigning him the title of Senior Advisor to the President Stan Kasten. During Colletti’s nine years as GM the Dodgers made the playoffs five times. But they never played in a World Series and in sports the bottom line is winning. Kasten could have fired Colletti but that would have been interpreted as unsentimental and crass for a team with unlimited resources.
So the Dodgers put Colletti out to pasture and quickly held a press conference to announce the news. Colletti was a willing participant in the charade saying all the right things to the media. He stayed because he believed in the organization, he wanted to be around when the Dodgers won it all, yada, yada, yada. Hey, the pay is good and the benefits aren’t bad either.
Kasten’s next move was to hire Andrew Friedman, the former wunderkind GM of the Tampa Bay Rays. Friedman, still only 37, became the Rays GM the same year Colletti was hired to run the Dodgers. But Friedman wasn’t handed the GM’s title. Instead the Dodgers gave him another new title, President of Baseball Operations. Friedman’s contract is for five years and a guaranteed $35 million, plus incentives, which is the second record the Dodgers now hold. No General Manager in MLB history has ever made $7 million per year, a sum that could reach $10 million if all the incentives are reached.
Friedman’s first move was to hire Oakland A’s Assistant General Manager Farhan Zaidi, who was the mastermind behind Billy Beane’s Moneyball theories, i.e. the heavy reliance on statistical analysis in baseball. This time, rather than create another new title, Zaidi was given the traditional title of GM. That left the Dodgers with three current or former GMs in their employ, but they weren’t done yet. Josh Byrnes, former GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres, joined Colletti, Friedman and Zaidi in the front office. Byrnes will supervise scouting and player development while Zaidi focuses on the Major League roster.
The presumed record of four general managers in one front office presents a number of potential problems even if we exclude the possibility of bruised egos. The first issue is the chain of command – who reports to whom? On paper at least, the answer is clear. Friedman reports to Kasten. Colletti also reports to Kasten but is expected to give input to Friedman. Both Zaidi and Byrnes report to Friedman. But what happens in the real world? Will either Zaidi or Byrnes circumvent Friedman and go directly to Kasten? If the Dodgers don’t win the World Series and Kasten becomes impatient, will he circumvent Friedman and ask Zaidi and/or Byrnes for their opinions? And will the presence of everyone’s potential successor make for a toxic work environment?
Another question that is bound to crop up is who should outsiders – other teams and agents – deal with? If another MLB team wants to talk trade, do they go to Zaidi or Friedman? And if they agree on a deal with Zaidi that is subsequently quashed by Friedman, how will that impact future relations between the clubs? The same conundrum exists for agents negotiating deals for their clients.
Where Kasten sees a front office dream team primed for success, others see an experiment that is doomed to fail. Someone needs to be ultimately responsible for decisions and its essential for the outside world to know who that individual is.
Amid the chaos that arose after President Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981, General Haig announced to the world – incorrectly as anyone who is familiar with government succession knows – that he was in control. The Dodgers better hope their chain of command is just as clear.
(Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com. Jordan can be reached at email@example.com.)