Was Kazmir Andrew Friedman’s First Mistake?
After I got home last night after the Tampa Bay Rays victory, I did my usual routine of switching on the television after 1 am and the first thing to pop on the big screen was the celebration video of the Los Angeles Angels players partying like rock stars after they clinched the American League West. And within all that wild chaos on the video I saw a familiar face enjoying the moment. There among the red and white jerseys of his Angel teammates was their newest rotation member hoisting up a champagne bottle like he had done so many times before in the last year.
There jumping up and down and getting pelted time and time again with a jet stream of the bubbly sweet nectar was ex-Ray Scott Kazmir. It was a bitter sweet moment for a Rays fan like me to see him getting that chance to again shine on the playoff front. But the silent events that unfolded behind the scenes to complete this trade to the Angels might actually have been the first honest mistake of Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman’s Rays career.
There have been murmurs and innuendo coming from both Rays clubhouse and the 3rd floor offices since that trade transaction. That the Rays trade chattr device known to me as the “cloak of darkness” might have alienated not only fans, but some people within the Rays family. There have been more than idle chatter that the Rays Coaching staff was informed of the primary discussions, but as thing got more heated, they were left out of the loop in the process of this trade. Rays Manager Joe Maddon did have a hint of the Angels interest since they were biting at the bit back at the end of July for Kazmir. But during that latest development, it was thought he was on a “need to know” basis.
That most of the trade parameters were defined before Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s pre-game Press Conference, and the fact it was pushed back to 5:30 pm only heightened the anticipation of an “official” completion of the trade before that scheduled game against the Tigers. But what really showed the “cloak of darkness” in full effect might have been the disclosure by St. Petersburg Times writer Marc Topkins when he asked Kazmir in the Visitor’s locker room about the rumors, to hopefully dispel the rumors floatingf around, or get a great first reaction quote on the whole shebang, but Kazmir had no prior knowledge of anything brewing on anything at that moment.
The media “cloak” has found its way into the Visitor’s locker room, and did not even include the main trade piece knowing anything about the proposed trade yet. Since Stuart Sternberg’s hand-picked group took over the everyday activities of the Rays, they have always employed a complete media “blackout” from discussions or even knowledge of things in the works concerning personnel decisions. It almost brings you to mind the dealings of traders on Wall Street to do not try and let any information out so that they can skirt problems with the SEC, and retain any questions of wrongdoing from the onset of an announcement.
And on that faithful night in Detroit, the Rays were still rock solid in their “cloak of darkness” motif about any sniffing around of any impending situationbetween the Angels and Rays. But the National media was not going to just sit around waiting for Friedman to finally announce anything, so they went to their Plan “B” and quickly consulted their trusted Southern Cali sources to began to decode the impending trade, and stay off the toes of the Rays management. The hunt for this “exclusive scoop” and “first-hand” information out on the deal was there for the picking, and they ran with it without a confirmation from the Rays.
But even with the numerous reports filtering out of the Los Angeles area of a strong deal in place, the Rays just remained completely silent. And that is when the real fiasco began to finally get legs of its own and was plastered wall-to-wall all over the Internet by sources like ESPN.com, MLB.com and Sports Illustrated all throwing out Tweets and web postings reporting without a doubt that the Kazmir deal was going on and that it was entering its final stretch run. And all during this time Kazmir was frantically on his cellphone trying to get a hold of his agent to get some personal confirmation or denial of the event unfolding like a flag online. Becuase if the rumors were true, then he had to quickly get himself mentally and emotionally ready for any timely decision by the Rays.
And credit has to go to Kazmir for staying under control and doing his usual pre-game routine and not falling into the trap of getting baited to give out false information or any nibblet of quotes about things that were not made public. And that is where I think Friedman made his biggest honest mistake of the night.
Even if the discussion was just in the first chats or coming to the final tweaking phases, it was would have said volumes if Friedman had taken Kazmir aside and told him some of the parameters so he could at least play along with the Rays usual “cloak” during trade conditions until the official announcement later that evening.
But they left the young leftie out to dry, and even as he was out tossing the ball around with fellow leftie David Price before the game, the wheels were turning somewhere above him to finish this trade before the game. The Rays great idea of moving back Maddon’s pre-game chat with reporters was causing a flurry of activities to confirm or deny anything before the game. At this time, even a small reminder from Friedman or PR Vice President Rick Vaughn to the media that “Trade discussions and actions are not being played out in the media, and if we have something to say to you……we will call you” might have meant volumes to the anxious media crowd.
And so began a three hour flip flopping of Sports websites along the Internet super highway jockeying for position by both posting and pulling posts concerning the possible trade. The media giants were going forward and backwards at the same time trying to gain a foothold on this story, but without any confirmation, it was pure speculation at the time. I wish I had saved a bevy of the postings to a MS Word note pad about the hundreds of posting and retractions within that small period of time of credited media journalists that were at the mercy of their weak sources in this transaction.
And all the while, Friedman remained silent and out of sight. In reality, he was probably boxed up in a suite upstairs away from media ears and eyes to finalize this with a minmal of trouble. He might have been aware of the media storm brewing below him, but it was minor compared to the deal he was trying to complete at the moment. The episode took on a huge life of its own for a few hours, and even during the pre-game analysis with the FSNFlorida/ Rays television announcers, you could see a sense of nervous energy bouncing off of them as they tried to make sense of all the drama being played out on the electronic media sources.
And in the end, it was not even Friedman that told us of the trade, it was Rays “walk-about” guru Todd Kalas after the team issued a formal Press Release on the transaction during the Rays post-game show. I am sorry, but I wanted to hear it from Friedman’s own lips. That Kazmir was no longer a member of the Rays. I wanted to see his reaction to the room when the news broke “officially”. At that time, Kazmir was no longer in the Visitor’s locker room at Comerica Park. He had left to go back to the Rays team hotel and get things sorted out for his next step in the morning.
Even with all the multiple postings and various retractions of comments by the media giants, the deal went on and was completed before the end of the Rays game against the Tigers. But what a circus it must have been in the Press Box between the first to the last inning. You wonder how many of the assembled media people felt slighted, and how many of them were proud of their skills to at least sense the deal and report on it accordingly to the public. But in the end, the Rays silence might have cost them a bit of trust with the public.
People, do forget the true magnitude of getting that deal completed and not waiting until the next morning. The deal had to be sign, sealed and delivered to the MLB Offices in New York so that the Angels could choose the option of putting Kazmir on the post season roster. On September 1st, he would not have been able to be included on the roster. Could this deal have actually taken almost a month to complete? Could this whole thing have been on the back burner since the July 31st Trade Deadline with an eye on how Kazmir would rebounded on the mound, and both teams letting that deadline pass with no resolution on Kazmir, knowing they still had time to work out a deal?
I can understand, and in a small way admire Friedman for trying to keep the Rays business quiet and uncomplicated until the final results were hashed out completely. But in this odd case of leaked intel, since the proposed deal had flowed through the seams of the Los Angeles Times, I would have thought it merited a little smoldering of the fire before it got out of control. And it quickly festered into a media frenzy that no one could get an honest answer good or bad out of the Rays camp. And in that moment, a simple seed of deception was planted within some people’s minds.
With the episode done and gone now for almost a month, I look back and see the perils and the pitfalls that the Rays could have avoided and not made the Rays fans, and some of their own team feel alienated by their front office. Sure there are still unanswered questions that plague the event of that night. You want to know Friedman’s true reasoning for not even shooting down the untrue rumors or even acknowledging the truth after it was put out in the open. You want to believe all was done to protect Kazmir and the organization from unfounded speculations and rumors.
But the true fact is now it brings Friedman down to earth in my mind. He is no longer the “boy genius” some people have labeled him. Like so many other MLB GM’s before and after him, this is going to be a event that will follow him for a long time. Some things might have been played different, but in the end, some will see this whole episode as a honest mistake in keeping the Rays party line strong and not bending to the media wants and desires.
Opinions will vary on if the trade was done the right way from top to bottom. My personal opinion is that it made him human, it made him someone who might do it a bit different if he does it again, and that is part of the learning process of his chosen position. Even if he stays solid in the belief of the present “cloak”, he will know the pros and cons now of such a move, and what backlash or opinion might rise up after such a move. Moving a popular player will not be viewed the same by everyone. Some might feel betrayed, other open minded to a change if it is positive.
Sure, you and I might have taken both Maddon and Kazmir aside before Batting Practice that day and just gave them a small “head’s up” on what might go down in the next few hours. What finally told me that the deal was done was the simple fact Kazmir was in the dugout with the team for a few innings, then vanished from sight. If you have watched him at all over the season, he doesn’t go into the clubhouse and sit at all during the game unless he needs treatment. He is always out on the dugout rail or on the bench with the other pitchers watching those games. The absence of Kazmir from the dugout spoke volumes to me at that moment.
So in last night’s video you see Kazmir enjoying the moment, spraying his new teammates and relishing the fact he is going to make another trip to the playoffs. You know on his way home he probably called a few of his former Rays mates and told them he wished they were there with him, and was both excited and upset that he was not in a Rays uniform and celebrating with his old team that night. But what is done is done, and Kazmir now can go on and help his new team try and take the same American League Pennant his old squad hoisted into the rafters in April.
Kazmir might not be here anymore in body, but the smiling good-natured spirit of Kazmir is alive and well in the hearts and mind of Rays fans, who genuinely are proud he has another shot at the big prize. The Rays may stay within their “cloak of darkness” theory involving discussions and trade in the future, but hopefully this event showed them that when another source is openly discussing your business and boldly showing your hand, you have to man-up and also put your cards on the table. Andrew, the media went around you and called your bluff that day and you held the cards tight, but in the process, you might have lost some firm supporters both in the stands and within the organization. And that my friend, is not a winning hand at any time.