The general managers meetings are one week away in Phoenix, and it remains to be seen who will join new Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman on the trip. One possibility might be current Athletics assistant general manager and director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, with whom the Dodgers have discussed a front office job per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
The Dodgers have at least three front office spots open - general manager, amateur scouting director and head of player development - but given that Zaidi is currently employed as an assistant GM it seems likely he would be the general manager in Los Angeles, whatever that means with the Dodgers' hierarchy.
Though as Rosenthal points out, getting Zaidi won't be easy.
"…small circle of people, loyal and trusting in each other." Same is true of #Rays. But remember, Friedman turned down others before LAD.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 3, 2014
Zaidi has been with Oakland for 10 years, with 2014 his first season as assistant general manager. The 37-year-old has a Ph.D in economics from Berkeley and a bachelor of science at MIT. His specialty is statistical analysis, which he used in Oakland to evaluate players in the draft, in free agency as well as trade targets.
He also assists in arbitration cases and minor league contracts, and analyzes data from advance scouts to present to the coaching staff. This is essentially a lot of the duties currently performed by Dodgers assistant GM Alex Tamin.
Zaidi was instrumental in the A's signing Yoenis Cespedes out of Cuba, and, as profiled by Susan Slusser in the San Francisco Chronicle in August, seems like a blend of old and new school:
The sabermetrics crowd would be stunned to learn that Zaidi is now called the "Tools Police" in the A's draft room - not because he disdains tools, the emphasis scouts often place on physical abilities such as running, throwing and power, but because he is such a proponent of them. "Moneyball" was about looking beyond tools, but Zaidi sees their value, to the point that he has a toy siren he hits whenever he hears reports that have too many stats.
"Our scouts started to think all we wanted was numbers, so our draft emphasis was too much on performance and we weren't getting the impact prospects other clubs were," Zaidi said. "The siren was a little comic relief, half joking, to serve as a reminder not to get too focused on the numbers."
"Obviously Farhan is not your prototypical baseball guy when you look at him, but that's why the A's are so good, Billy finds these guys," left-hander Brett Anderson said before being traded to the Rockies in December. "Farhan is ungodly smart, and he's also really sarcastic and witty, it's fun to be around him. You can ask him questions, have a conversation. Brandon McCarthy liked to go into the video room and ask him about obscure stats, and then I'd have to go Google whatever it was to figure out what they were talking about."
Zaidi spoke at the Sloan Analytics Conference in 2013. FanGraphs had a summary of his talk, which included this philosophy on cleaning up in the margins:
"We approach improvement from the bottom-up. We talk a lot about bang for the buck — marginal runs and marginal wins per dollar spent. We’ve found that the best ways to improve our team were to limit the downside. We manage the roster from the bottom.
"A back-up catcher that plays once a week isn’t a guy you’d necessarily see as a focal point of your team, but over the course of a season, or even a half season, having an average player there as opposed to a replacement-level player there can make a difference. That was one of the reasons we went out and got George Kottaras last year. Our back-up catching situation wasn’t good, and he had some value.