Friedman, who is Jewish, was born in Houston, Texas. His father Ken Friedman, a lawyer, had played college baseball for Tulane. Friedman attended and played baseball as a center fielder and leadoff hitter for Episcopal High School in Houston.
He subsequently attended Tulane University on a baseball scholarship, where he played center field for the Green Wave but was hit by a pitch that broke his left hand in the fall of his freshman year, and then after returning from that injury the following year separated his left shoulder while sliding headfirst into third base. He earned a B.S. in management with a concentration in finance at Tulane's Freeman School of Business in 1999.
Friedman was then an analyst with Bear Stearns from 1999–2002, and then was an associate at MidMark Capital, a private equity firm, from 2002-04.
He and his wife, Robin, live in Pasadena, California, with their sons Ethan Jack and Zachary Evan, and their daughter Sadie Rose.
In 2003, Friedman met Stuart Sternberg, the new owner of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. They realized they had similar ideas about the game and wanted to work together.
From 2004 to 2005, Friedman served as the Director of Baseball Development for the Rays. He was promoted to the position of Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager after the 2005 season, at the age of 28, replacing the club's first general manager, Chuck LaMar, who was fired following the club's eighth losing season in its eight years of existence.
Friedman gradually rebuilt the team, and it paid off in 2008 when the Rays made the postseason for the first time in franchise history, and advanced all the way to the World Series. For his efforts, he was named as Baseball Executive of the Year by Sporting News. They also made the playoffs in 2010, 2011 and 2013 under his tenure.
On October 14, 2014, it was announced that Friedman had left the Rays to become the President of Baseball Operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers. His contract with the Dodgers was reported at $35 million for five years, making him the highest-paid front-office executive in baseball. Upon joining the Dodgers Kasten called Friedman "one of the youngest and brightest minds in the game today."
Friedman hired former Oakland Athletics executive Farhan Zaidi as the Dodgers' new general manager and brought in former Padres general manager Josh Byrnes as Vice President of Baseball Operations. All former GMs, Friedman, Zaidi, and Byrnes augmented an already highly accomplished front office consisting of Stan Kasten and Ned Colletti.
In his first offseason with the Dodgers, Friedman and the new front office made a huge splash. Through free agency or trades, the Dodgers parted ways with shortstop Hanley Ramírez, outfielder Matt Kemp, second baseman Dee Gordon, and pitchers Brian Wilson and Dan Haren. However, they bolstered their farm system and added key players such as catcher Yasmani Grandal, infielders Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins, and pitchers Brett Anderson & Mike Bolsinger. Friedman helped lead the Dodgers to their third straight National League West division title in 2015, his first season, but the team fell to the New York Mets in the National League Division Series (NLDS), 3–2.
After the 2015 season, MLB penalized the Dodgers with a record $43 million luxury tax after determining their payroll was nearly $300 million, also an all-time record. The Dodgers mutually parted ways with manager Don Mattingly following the 2015 season, and Friedman hired former Dodgers outfielder Dave Roberts to succeed Mattingly as manager. Starting pitcher Zack Greinke left the Dodgers for the Arizona Diamondbacks in free agency, and Friedman responded by signing pitchers Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda. The Dodgers, Reds, and White Sox completed a three-team trade, that netted the Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson, among others. For the first time since 2014, Friedman returned to Tropicana Field on May 3, 2016, when the Dodgers played the Rays. The Dodgers won their fourth straight National League West division title in 2016, in part due to mid-season trades for pitchers Rich Hill and Josh Fields and outfielder Josh Reddick. The Dodgers won the NLDS against the Nationals in 5 games, but fell to the Cubs in the NLCS.
The Dodgers opted not to spend big money on any outside free agents after the 2016 season, and instead re-signed their own three notable free agents: Rich Hill, Kenley Jansen, and Justin Turner. The 2017 Dodgers opened the season 35-25, but then won 44 of their next 51 games. Friedman's front office was again aggressive at the non-waiver trade deadline, trading for ace pitcher Yu Darvish and left-handed relievers Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani.
Much of the Dodgers success under Friedman has been due to young players that Friedman refused to include in trades, including infielders Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger, outfielder Joc Pederson, and pitcher Julio Urias. The Dodgers' farm system is consistently ranked among the best in the MLB.