Minus Andrew Friedman, Rays’ vision still lives with Matt Silverman
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — In his first day as the Tampa Bay Rays’ president of baseball operations, Matt Silverman spent about 10 hours with his head pressed against a phone.
His ear hurt. His elbow turned sore.
On Tuesday, he had received a taste of his new professional life as the man tabbed to take over baseball operations after Andrew Friedman. Silverman’s former colleague and long-time friend chose to join the Los Angeles Dodgers as their president of baseball operations. An early lesson was gained.
"I need to get one of those hands-free devices," Silverman said Wednesday. "It’s going to be a lot of phone conversations. It’s going to be a lot of direct contact with agents and with teams."
Long workdays are ahead for Silverman, and he’s about to become more known by Rays fans and those who follow the American League East.
Tampa Bay’s transition from Friedman to Silverman, and to a larger extent, with Brian Auld moving from the Rays’ vice president of business operations to Silverman’s old job as team president, has felt like a drama-free changing of the guard.
That’s the sign of a healthy franchise. That maturity in doing business is partly why the Rays have stayed competitive in the past six years against much larger spenders rich in dollars but sometimes poor in baseball sense.
Silverman’s duty, above all, is to preserve Tampa Bay’s "well-oiled machine," as he calls it. He has become one of its valued cogs in watching the organization transform from the Devil Rays’ darkest hours to a franchise that expects to enjoy late September and early October champagne showers. The responsibility before him isn’t lost.
"There’s no way to replace Andrew or fill his shoes, and I’m not going to try to," Silverman said. "My goal is to help make sure we get the most out of the department and mine all of the great ideas and the work that we do and help it translate into wins. I have a different style. I have a different personality. I happen to be great friends with Andrew, but we’re different people, and I think my lack of exact experience and my absence of being in the role day-to-day for the last 10 years gives others in the department the opportunity to do more to add more than they otherwise might have. And I’m excited to see that take place."
Silverman has the background to maintain the Rays’ way, even if he will have a different management style than Friedman. Silverman has worked with the Rays since 2004, first serving as director of strategic planning before becoming team president the following year. He and Friedman are close, and Friedman’s departure affected Silverman, enough so that Silverman said Tuesday was "filled with sadness as one of my best friends in life has moved away."
Still, fresh eyes can be good. Silverman witnessed Friedman’s methods. The Dodgers’ new hope rose to become one of baseball’s top young executives in recent years. Tampa Bay’s gains drew the envy of many with larger payrolls but bigger frustrations come late September.
Silverman is capable of continuing the Rays’ momentum and confidence earned through one unlikely success after another since 2008: The two American League East titles; the five seasons with at least 90 regular-season victories; the World Series appearance in 2008; and the AL Division Series berths in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
That history is a testament to a creative and resourceful past. But it also serves as fuel for the future.
"He hates to lose, and I think that certainly will serve him well," Auld said of Silverman. "He will be motivated to get every edge that he possibly can in every discussion and every bit of information technology that we can deploy. And he’s going to analyze things thoroughly and thoughtfully."
I believe our best days are ahead of us. And I want to look back 10 years from now and see even greater accomplishments in that 10-year period than we’ve experienced in this 10-year period. And it’s been quite a remarkable 10-year run.
And what makes Silverman different?
"It’s almost like he’s looking at the Earth’s spin from a 30-degree angle off," Auld said, "and he can see where it’s going a little bit before the rest of us can."
Friedman has a similar trait, and it made him a shrewd trade partner often in his time with Tampa Bay. There was the Aubrey Huff deal with the Houston Astros that netted Ben Zobrist. There was the Delmon Young deal with the Minnesota Twins that delivered Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. There was the Garza move with the Chicago Cubs that allowed the Rays to gain Chris Archer, Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer, Robinson Chirinos and Hak-Ju Lee.
He also made mistakes that stand out — drafting Tim Beckham instead of Buster Posey and signing Grant Balfour to a two-year, $12 million contract before last season.
Silverman will have missteps as well. Running baseball operations is a human endeavor that requires incredible patience. Unlike the NFL or NBA, verdicts on personnel decisions take longer to be formed.
There are strikeouts to go with the home runs. Silverman won’t be perfect, and a spotless record shouldn’t be expected.
"The unity is there," Silverman said of the current roster. "I think everyone in the organization on the baseball side can breathe a sigh of relief that there aren’t sweeping changes, that we get to keep doing the same things that we’ve been doing. It’s been successful in the past, and it should be successful in the future."
The lack of sweeping change is what has stood out about the past 24 hours. Friedman’s loss can’t be undervalued, but Silverman is aware of Tampa Bay’s way of doing business. He expects Joe Maddon to be the manager next season and for many more years after his current contract expires following the 2015 campaign. No general manager will be named from within or hired from the outside.
Silverman’s goal is to make the Rays as Rays-like as possible come report day at Charlotte Sports Park next spring. Only minus the man the Dodgers found valuable enough to pry away.
"I believe our best days are ahead of us," Silverman said. "And I want to look back 10 years from now and see even greater accomplishments in that 10-year period than we’ve experienced in this 10-year period. And it’s been quite a remarkable 10-year run."
Many days close to a phone await him with a long-time friend now in transit to tackle the challenges of life on Chavez Ravine. But Silverman can make Tampa Bay’s trusted vision live.