Posted: Friday October 21, 2011 12:45PM ; Updated: Friday October 21, 2011 12:45PM
Jon Heyman

Rays' Friedman is latest name to join busy GM merry-go-round

Story Highlights

Tampa Bay's Andrew Friedman was seen dining with Angels owner Arte Moreno

Padres GM Jed Hoyer will join Theo Epstein in Chicago with the Cubs

The Yankees' Brian Cashman looks like he will have a new contract in place soon

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Andrew Friedman
Andrew Friedman has built the Rays into an AL East power despite severe financial restrictions.

ST. LOUIS -- The surprise courting of hot young general manager Andrew Friedman by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim has begun even before Theo Epstein is officially signed, sealed and delivered to the Chicago Cubs. Though Friedman's name hadn't been tied to the Angels until someone tipped @DRaysBay that Friedman had been spotted dining in Tampa with Angels honchos Arte Moreno and John Carpino, it makes perfect sense as baseball owners are increasingly understanding how much more crucial the GM is to a team's success than a manager. Besides, as one AL exec put it, "Teams are copycats.'' Once one got Epstein (or is about to), it's no surprise another wanted the other hot available name.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is being universally applauded for his deal to sign the shrewd Epstein, a two-time World series winner for the Red Sox, once a similarly star-struck franchise, and Moreno is, in the words of yet another exec, "hungry for a title'' since he came to L.A./Anaheim the year after their 2002 World Series championship. He also knows Friedman is the very guy who pilfered the Angels when he stuck him with the overpriced Scott Kazmir, who burned out not long after he arrived in Anaheim, and the one who targeted and hired beloved former Angels coach Joe Maddon, who's become a managing sensation in Tampa Bay.

The general manager derbies are making an intriguing backdrop to the World Series, as the trade to send Epstein to the Cubs to become their club president of baseball operations (or some other high title) presumably will be completed sometime soon. That will trigger a monster three-GM move, with Padres GM Jed Hoyer moving to Chicago to become the Cubs' GM and Epstein's righthand man, Epstein's current assistant Ben Cherington being elevated to replace Epstein in Boston and Padres VP Josh Byrnes being promoted to replace Hoyer in San Diego. And now that Friedman dinner is triggering even more interest. Baseball insiders say they never would waste Friedman's time if they weren't about to offer him the job. The question is whether he'll go.

The Rays issued a statement refusing comment on the situation and Friedman declined to return a text, but a person close to Friedman characterized a move for the rising star was "possible but doubtful.'' But while Friedman, who works without a contract and thus wouldn't technically require compensation (whew!), is known to be extremely tight with Rays owner Stu Sternberg and president Matt Silverman, and some believe it's possible he could also wait to see what happens with his hometown Houston Astros. Friedman is also hampered by low revenues, a small payroll and a white elephant of a stadium in Tampa Bay.

Meanwhile, stability reigns in the front offices of the two World Series teams. Rangers GM Jon Daniels, 34, is the youngest hot GM in the game (he's a few months younger than Friedman) surely would have been among the coveted three (along with Epstein and Friedman) but he signed a four-year extension this summer, giving him five more years in Texas. He expressed no regret over that. "I didn't get invited to the GM swap meet,'' Daniels noted without a hint of upset. "We've got a good thing here. This organization has treated me great. Of greater concern is keeping our group together.''

To that end, the organization locked up assistant GM Thad Levine, VP A.J. Preller and other members of one of baseball's best front offices shortly after Daniels signed his deal this summer. Nonetheless, Levine's name has been connected to both the Angels and Orioles, who also have a GM opening after Andy MacPhail quietly resigned, though it's hard to imagine Levine re-uniting with Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who was fired by Daniels a year into Daniels' tenure with three years and $5-million-plus remaining on his Texas contract. It would be a tad ironic if Levine landed in Anaheim but that's a possibility. When the Rangers originally inquired about Mike Napoli, Angels GM Tony Reagins told them he hesitated to trade him to Texas because Napoli could come back to haunt him. Instead, Reagins traded Napoli to Toronto, and the Rangers swooped in to acquire Napoli four days later from the Blue Jays. So Napoli, the surprise Rangers leader in OPS, wound up haunting Reagins, anyway.

Some suggest Moreno won't pay what's necessary to lure Friedman, but he did bestow a $50-million, 10-year deal on his manager, Mike Scioscia, who is one of the best in the game. If Friedman does ultimately decide to stay, some see Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees' terrific scouting director, as a strong possibility for Anaheim. Rick Hahn would be a coup for any job, but he is entrenched with the White Sox for loyal owner Jerry Reinsdorf and has passed over interviews in the past. Jerry Di Poto, a possible favorite in Baltimore, Levine, the Yankees' Billy Eppler and Kim Ng, also from commissioner Bud Selig's office, are reported to be on the Angels' list. Di Poto may have two shots, as he interviewed in Baltimore and is thought to have a decent relationship with Showalter, who's holding a lot of power there. Blue Jays assistant Tony La Cava is a candidate there, while the Marlins' Dan Jennings and the Tigers' Al Avila have long-term assistants' deals that preclude outside interviews.

Friedman's ultimate decision will probably depend on how frustrated he is with the Rays' revenue and stadium issues (Selig summarized that stadium situation in one word: "bad''). The perception has been that the Angels' GM had been something of a puppet for Scioscia, but the Angels' efforts and strong list suggest they are trying to change that perception. Friedman, who has won wide praise for keeping the Rays in contention in the AL East, is known to be a wise delegator and has relied on a very strong staff in Tampa, which has drafted brilliantly under R.J. Harrison.

The reason for Hoyer's decision to go to Chicago for what seems to be less power on the surface hasn't been explained yet, but he gets a team with a bigger payroll and chance to reunite with Epstein. Jason McLeod, a Padres scouting guru, will reportedly go with Hoyer to Chicago -- though the Padres retain a strong staff with John Abbamondi, Fred Uhlman Jr. and Randy Smith among the holdovers. Padres owner Jeff Moorad has happily accepted Byrnes as his new GM, no surprise since Byrnes is the one who got a contract through 2015 from Moorad in Arizona after he took them to the NLCS in 2007.

Ultimately, Epstein has to go to the Cubs. So perhaps it is no surprise Selig called mediating the Epstein trade talks "a possibility,'' on Chris Russo's (@MadDogUnleashed) radio show on Sirius. If the Cubs are really balking on righthanded pitching prospect Trey McNutt then something's wrong. The Cubs have shown they believe Epstein is their savior yet are reluctant to include a pitching prospect with a 1.674 WHIP at Double-A Tennessee. Proven starting pitcher Matt Garza is understandable as an untouchable. But McNutt? At the moment McNutt (or someone similar) appears to be holding up three GM jobs, Chicago, San Diego and Boston. That's just mcnuts.
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