When Los Angeles Dodgers ownership hired Andrew Friedman as president of baseball operations, they had just come off a bitter defeat in the 2014 National League Division Series.
A team talented enough to win the World Series, led by soon-to-be MVP Clayton Kershaw at the peak of his stardom, had mustered just one playoff win. The roster assembled by Friedman’s predecessor, general manager Ned Colletti, had plenty of stars but also flaws.
Most notably, the roster was full of veterans who did not all get along. Matt Kemp and Zack Greinke, in particular, had some public clashes with second-year right fielder Yasiel Puig.
Friedman had made his name using a data-heavy approach to transform the low-budget Tampa Bay Rays into a perennial postseason contender, but he knew that players and coaches are much more than spreadsheet entries.
While many of his moves while running the Dodgers have been analytically savvy, he has also turned over the roster from the bottom up, highlighted by his replacement of manager Don Mattingly with former Dodgers outfielder Dave Roberts after the 2015 season.
Those changes, especially the hiring of Roberts, had a lot more to do with personality than data. When he first arrived in Los Angeles, Friedman realized that he inherited a team with a clubhouse problem.
“My first offseason I spent a lot of time with people on the phone talking to people that had been here, that were here, and to a man everybody talked about how important it was for the culture to improve. So that was the No. 1 thing on our to-do list. As you guys know, it’s not something you can just flip a switch; it takes time and is organic. We made some changes and we continue to kind of nurture it.
“When we got Chase Utley in August of 2015, I think that was the first real step towards that. Obviously Dave Roberts coming on before ’16, with the coaches, the whole environment changed. It became about relentless competition and guys feeding off each other. I think it’s gotten better and better each year, and I also don’t think it’s anything we take for granted. We continue to try to nurture it and grow it and appreciate the importance of it.”
Only a handful of players remain from that 2014 team. Those that stayed, such as Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner, have become clubhouse leaders and veteran mentors to many of their younger teammates produced by the Dodgers’ revitalized player development system.
Friedman has given Roberts a deep roster of young players and veterans, and the manager has instilled a selfless, winning culture. The Dodgers have not missed a beat since Roberts took over as manager in 2016, winning the NL West every year he has been at the helm.
They have now won seven straight division titles, dating back to 2013.