Amiel Sawdaye on Arizona’s New Boston Culture

The Diamondbacks are building a Boston culture in the desert. That’s according to Amiel Sawdaye, who has the title of Senior Vice President, Assistant General Manager. Sawdaye came to Arizona over the offseason along with Mike Hazen, who stepped into the GM role in October. Both had long tenures with the Red Sox, with Sawdaye most recently serving as Vice President of Amateur and International Scouting.

They didn’t travel west alone. Jared Porter was with the Red Sox for over a decade before spending last season as Director of Professional Scouting for the Chicago Cubs. His title with the D-Backs is the same as Sawdaye’s. Meanwhile, Torey Lovullo, Arizona’s new manager, was Boston’s bench coach the past four seasons.

Sawdaye explained what the foursome’s Boston roots mean for the organization, including its use of analytics and the adaptation of a flat hierarchy.

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Sawdaye on coming to Arizona from Boston: “From the standpoint of coming here, we’re in a different league — we have to look at things a little differently — but despite what people might think, a lot of things were being done really well. A lot of good was happening behind the scenes. There are some really good people here. Mike Bell, who oversees the player development department, has done a great job.
 
“There are a lot of really good young people in the front office. We may have shifted some responsibilities, but hopefully we’ve put them on the right path for the way we see them impacting the organization.”
 
On building a culture of collaboration: “We’re trying to build a culture similar to the one we were used to in Boston, and the one Jared [Porter] experienced for a year in Chicago, which I think was pretty consistent with what we had in Boston. It starts with Mike [Hazen]. We want people to want to come to work. We want them to be open with each other and communicate well. A lot of good decisions are made that way — in conjunction with other’s opinions. We don’t want people to be afraid to push back, or to ask questions. We want people to feel comfortable. When you build that culture and have trust, you’ll organically get that out of people.
 
“We’ve worked on implementing that. It’s something that was maybe not here in the past, or at least it was a little different. I believe in more of a flat hierarchy. I don’t think guys need to always report through their boss to that person’s boss. Mike sees it the same way. People throughout the organization should be comfortable talking to the general manager, the assistant general manager, the farm director, and not just to their direct report. That’s not to say hierarchy isn’t needed in certain areas, but from a decision-making process, you get a lot of really good feedback from people who aren’t always involved in the insulated discussions of an upper-level group of people.”
 
On infrastructure and analytics: “[The Diamondbacks] had their own systems — there’s a decent infrastructure — but we want to add a little bit of our own element. I think they valued different things… they valued elements of that system differently than we do. Obviously, any time you have change, and have a different group of people at the top, they’re going to want to do it their way. It’s not the only way, but it’s what they’re comfortable with.
 
“We’ve placed a stronger emphasis on analytics. They had an analytics department here, and we want to help that grow. We want to take it in another direction. We went out and hired a director of analytics, Mike Fitzgerald, who has already done a great job in areas we want to focus on. Mike replaced Ed Lewis. Any time you change leadership in a department, you probably also change… each leader has different goals and agendas. We believe in what Mike believes in, and how he views the long term health of that department.
 
“We’re going to continue to grow that, whether it’s bringing in in-house developers, or analysts. We have two really skilled young analysts in Cody Callahan and Max Glick, and a data architect in John Krazit who works tirelessly to ensure  all our systems up and running.
 
“Long term, we want to build our own models and projection systems. Again, any time you come into a new place, you want to kind of put your own stamp on it. That’s definitely a focus for us moving forward, although it’s not going to happen overnight.”
 
On scouting and player development: “I mentioned Mike Bell earlier. He’s got a really strong department. Mike has been here for quite awhile and has a strong grasp of the organization. On the scouting side, Deric Ladnier has a great staff and led that group very well. I’ve gotten to know a lot of these guys from being on the road over the last 10-15 years, so that makes the transition easier. Jared Porter oversees our pro-scouting endeavors and they’ve already helped out our major-league team with acquisitions through trades and free agency. There may be some tweaks here and there, from a process perspective — ideology in some ways — but at the core, we’re going out to scout the right players, and we’re looking for players with tools. We’re not looking to reinvent the wheel, by any stretch.
 
“We brought in Cesar Geronimo, Jr. to head up our Latin America scouting. He’s working in conjunction with the people who were already in place. Junior Noboa has had a lot of success, and he’s helping Cesar as kind of a senior advisor, special-assistant type of guy. Junior is also overseeing our day to day operations in Latin America. That allows Cesar to focus on staff development and really get to know not only the players, but also our scouts.”
 
“It’s more or less status quo with the structure of our reporting system. There are always going to be differences in how reports are put together, but I think you have to be careful when you come into a new organization. You don’t want to just change things. Our goal was to get a unified system across the pro, amateur, and international levels, so we’ve just made a few small tweaks.The reports were pretty consistent with what you’d see in most organizations,and it’s easier for two or three people to adjust than to try to make 100 people adjust.”
 
On the Taijuan Walker deal and objectivity; “The Taijuan Walker deal was the first one we made, and in some ways, not being here last year was probably a little helpful. Jean Segura had an unbelievable year, and because we don’t have that history with him, it was more of ‘How do we view the players we’re giving up, and the players we’re taking on, and the money involved?’
 
“We were looking to build some pitching depth, and we feel have some good middle-infield candidates to fill in that spot. Again, having not been here to see how good Segura was, day in and day out, took any bias out. We were able to be more objective with our assessment.”
 
On the potential of the 2017 Diamondbacks: “If you look at our team, our major-league team, there are some really good young players. I think most people identify with Goldschmidt and Greinke and Pollock — those guys are great players — but if you look down at the crux of the roster, we have Drury and Lamb and Owings and Ahmed. We have Corbin, Ray, Bradley… I mean, the list goes on and on. There’s a lot of good happening at the major-league level, and hopefully we can take advantage of that this year.
 
“I think we have a chance to have a bounce-back season. I believe these guys have a chance to kind of tell their own story, and create… it would be unfair to compare it to what happened in Boston in 2013, but in some ways I believe the ability is there to bounce back and prove people wrong. We have a lot of talented players.”

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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A Red Sox culture yes. But definitely not a ‘Boston’ culture.