Tuesday’s events, which included a three-team deal between the Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks, was an uncommon jolt of hot stove action that surprised even the Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations.
Friedman discussed those offseason events, plus more, in a teleconference with Tampa Bay media Wednesday afternoon in advance of the winter meetings Dec. 9-12 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Here are some of the highlights …
Do you feel like your top priority is putting a quality team on the field?
Friedman: Yeah, but I don’t really think that differs from us and the other 29 markets. I think we’re all tasked with trying to be as competitive as we can be and operate within the various limitations that we all have. Each market is very different (with) those different operating principles. But for the most part, everyone is tasked with trying to put together the most competitive team they can. I don’t feel like we’re any different in that respect.
Do you think the fan base misunderstands that when they fall in love with a certain player?
Friedman: I definitely get it. It’s part of sports. It’s hard for us and really for all teams in professional sports. There’s a human element that you develop relationships with people. You grow to respect them a lot as a player and a person, and I think there are times where a certain player doesn’t necessarily fit with a composition of a roster. But I don’t think it’s unique to us. All teams in all professional sports are kind of confronted with it. It’s something I definitely get the fans’ sentiments on. I think what we as a front office work really hard to do is to create trust with our fans that we always have the purest motivations at heart, which is to win as many games as we can and try to win a championship for this region.
You talked at the GM meetings about what your goals and priorities were. Can you reset that after the moves you’ve made so far?
Friedman: I don’t really know. I’m trying to keep up with the pace of game right now. … First base is an area we absolutely have to address. We’ll have to figure out the configuration of our bench. Beyond that, it’s just being opportunistic and being creative in terms of how we can maximize our resources in putting together the best team we can. I think there are certain things that are more obvious that we need to do — then there are other things where we’ll continue to work and be as creative as we can be to continue to get better.
Are you set at reliever?
Friedman: I don’t think we ever look at it as set or not set. It’s about trying to be as good as we can be. I think we have very capable people to fill out both the starting rotation and the bullpen. If the season opened tomorrow, I think we would feel pretty confident about our ability to keep runs off the board. That being said, fortunately we have almost four months until Opening Day, and we have a lot of time to try to figure out how we can continue to get better.
Do you feel like you’re covered now (at reliever)?
Friedman: If the season could start tomorrow, we would feel like we would be good at keeping runs off the board.
Is James Loney still very much in play here?
Friedman: It’s difficult for us to get into specifics, but we’re obviously looking for a first baseman. We need to figure out what we’re going to do there. But it’s very premature to speculate from our standpoint of which direction we’re going to go. What he meant to us last year and the way he fit has been very well documented. I just don’t have a very good feel right now for how things are going to evolve.
Were you surprised about the big moves that happened this week?
Friedman: I don’t think I’ve seen a day like yesterday. In the eight, nine years I’ve been doing this, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a day like that. I had a sense of some of them. When you have enough conversations with different teams, you get a feel for certain things that are going on. I definitely did not anticipate all of those things happening on the same day. It was crazy. It was an extremely busy day.
What was the biggest surprise?
Friedman: I don’t know, because from our standpoint, we don’t tend to look at it like surprises as much what it means for us, what the trickle-down effect is. Which guys are potentially impacted, both positively and negatively. We just try to figure out what the fallout within the market is. What factors will go into deciding whether to trade David Price?
Friedman: It makes no difference in what I talked about at the end of the season and what we talked about at the GM meetings in Orlando. Obviously, we don’t comment about specific players. But I think the most over-arching comment that I always make when asked about specific players is, simply said, our goal is to be as good as we can be in 2014 and be as well-positioned as possible to sustain that success into the future. Certain players make that much more difficult than others and so it’s just something we weigh and balance in everything we do every day of the year.
When do you know what the trickle-down effect of a day like Tuesday is for you?
Friedman: It depends. I think there are certain things that are obvious that are affected, both good and bad, and there are other things that may take us a few days to kind of connect the dots in an obscure way. I think it just gets back to how information is king and having as much information as we possibly can allows us the best chance to kind of navigate the market and to understand and appreciate it. When things happen, I think there are times where the effects are very apparent and other times where it takes a little while for us to be able to connect the dots.
What did your scouting staff tell you to convince you that you can get Heath Bell pitching to the level he was pitching a couple years ago?
Friedman: It’s more about the ingredients he has in place. His stuff is virtually as good as it was when he was a dominant closer with the Padres. He missed a lot of bats last year. He commanded the ball better than he had in previous years. He’s just got a lot of things in place that give him a chance to be really good, and it’s about trying to sync them all up. But as far as risk/reward, we feel like he has a chance to contribute a very big year. There are no absolutes in what we do. We’re just trying to weigh risk/reward and upside. And we feel like he definitely has upside with the stuff he has in place, and his ability to miss bats (is good), which is a really good place to start with a reliever.
Will his role be determined in spring training?
Friedman: Yeah, it’s something that fortunately we don’t have to decide right now, and we can get into spring training and get a feel for our personnel and then talk through it as a staff and try to figure out what makes the most sense.
How far away did you see Jose Molina re-signed and Ryan Hanigan traded for on consecutive days?
Friedman: Jose was announced Monday. We had agreed to terms — it’s hard for me to keep track of days right now — but well in advance of Monday. … We’ve had conversations ongoing (about Ryan Hanigan). We didn’t necessarily think we’d be in a position to sign him until within the last week.