Friedman, Kasten Lead LA Through Turbulent Season

Friedman, Kasten Lead LA Through Turbulent Season

The pair of Jewish front office executives have masterfully navigated an injury-riddled campaign to lead LA to the NL West title.

(Left) Stan Kasten and Andrew Friedman, of the Los Angeles Dodgers
(Left) Stan Kasten and Andrew Friedman, of the Los Angeles Dodgers

For the past couple months, it has been widely assumed that the only thing standing in the way of the Atlanta Braves capturing their second National League pennant in three years is the Los Angeles Dodgers. While playoff baseball isn’t an exact science — last year, a 111-win Dodgers team was expected to meet the Braves in the NLCS before the San Diego Padres, managed by Jewish skipper Bob Melvin, and Philadelphia Phillies crashed the postseason party — both teams ran away with their respective division titles this summer and entered October baseball as the heavy favorites to advance past this week’s NLDS.

But for the Dodgers, a franchise led by President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and President and CEO Stan Kasten, both of whom are members of the Los Angeles Jewish community, the relative ease with which they captured their tenth NL West title in the past 11seasons has belied some internal issues engulfing the ballclub all year long.

The primary culprit has been the team’s pitching staff, which has been decimated by injuries (impending free agent/longtime staff ace Clayton Kershaw only made 24 starts this year) and the unceremonious departure of two veteran pitchers, Trevor Bauer and Julio Urias, the former being released back in the winter amidst sexual misconduct allegations; the latter placed on administrative leave by Major League Baseball due to allegations of domestic battery.

Subsequently, when the Aug. 1 trade deadline loomed, Friedman, who formerly served as the executive vice president of baseball operations for the Tampa Bay Rays, following a career in corporate finance, was expected to green-light a trade for a big-ticket pitcher such as future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander to support a rock-steady lineup anchored by former Brave Freddie Freeman. Ultimately, no blockbuster trade went down — a situation eerily similar to this past off-season when the Dodgers were notably outspent by the Padres — and the perennial NL West champs entered the stretch run without any splashy upgrades. (The Dodgers had agreed to acquire Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez before the veteran southpaw invoked his no-trade clause to nix the deadline deal.)

Ever since he transitioned from Wall Street to Major League Baseball front offices in the mid-2000s, Andrew Friedman has been one of the most innovative and successful executives in the sport / Photo Courtesy of Los Angeles Dodgers

When speaking to reporters in the Dodgers’ dugout shortly after the trade deadline passed, Friedman said, “For us, the top end of the market, we were aggressive in pursuing. From our standpoint, we knew that with one of those top-end guys, it was going to be really challenging, especially if one other team was involved. From our standpoint, we feel really good about the team that we have.”

Apparently, Friedman’s hunch was correct as the Dodgers, without having to part ways with prized prospects, got so hot in August that they essentially wrapped up the NL West title by the time the Braves came to town for their Labor Day weekend showdown. A couple weeks later during an extra-inning win in Seattle, Los Angeles extended its decade-long run of regular season dominance by once again clinching the NL West — something that was certainly not considered a foregone conclusion back in April when the team was playing .500 ball following an uneventful off-season.

“The amount that this group has overcome — it’s hard to compare years to other years — but this feels as together and united of a group that I’ve ever been around,” said Friedman minutes after the Dodgers clinched their eighth division title under his stewardship, which began in 2015. “It’s been a really special year, with what feels like a lot of things we’ve dealt with.”

It hasn’t been all doom and gloom away from the diamond for one of baseball’s legacy franchises. Following a 2022 season in which the club unveiled the marvelous Sandy Koufax statue outside of venerable Dodger Stadium before hosting the 2022 All-Star Game, another franchise icon, Fernando Valenzuela, was rightfully honored by having his jersey number ‘34’ retired this past August as part of a three-day festival, appropriately dubbed “Fernandomania.”

As chronicled in Erik Sherman’s book, “Daybreak at Chavez Ravine,” Valenzuela was a transcendent figure who single handedly galvanized Southern California’s Mexican American community and, in so doing, transformed the cultural make-up of Dodger Stadium for eternity.

A longtime Atlanta sports executive, Stan Kasten, 71, is hoping to shepherd the Dodgers to their second World Series title in four seasons this October // Photo Courtesy of Los Angeles Dodgers

It was, in fact, Kasten, a man with strong Atlanta roots dating back to 1979 when, as a 27-year-old, he became the youngest general manager in NBA history by being tabbed GM of the Atlanta Hawks before later becoming president of the Braves and Atlanta Thrashers, who was a particularly staunch advocate of such an honor being bestowed upon the cult hero lefty affectionately known as “El Toro.”

This did mean, however, maneuvering around the organization’s unofficial policy of only retiring uniform numbers of players who were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Fernando [Valenzuela] means as much to me as he does to any fan,” a choked up Kasten told a gaggle of reporters during the team’s FanFest event back in early February when the official announcement was made. “He really does. I was running another team way back during his heyday. As a businessperson, I marveled at the phenomenon of ‘Fernandomania.’ And as a competitor, I was terrified in those years of having to face him.

“If you’re a baseball fan of any kind, you appreciate how exceptional Fernando has been. And if you’re a Los Angeles fan, you realize how exceptional Fernando’s connection has been to this fan base.”

The ebullience that the current Dodgers fan base experienced during the Valenzuela celebration didn’t entirely dim the pockets of lingering discontent over the front office passing on a big-time trade. But, as Friedman pointed out in the aforementioned press conference, this season, even more so than last when the expanded playoff format was first introduced, quite a few teams were trying to figure out whether they were serious contenders who could justify parting with promising farmhands; naturally, more potential buyers drove up the asking price for acquiring coveted stars.

Both the Braves and Dodgers, of course, were not in such a mid-season predicament, as October baseball was all but a given. And ultimately, both clubs did pass on making any above-the-fold moves before storming through the balance of the regular season en route to the postseason.

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