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

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.

• One GM said he envisioned a $75 million, five-year deal for Rangers ace C.J. Wilson. He has been a bomb in this postseason but the laws of supply and demand still help. One GM suggested Wilson would do better with a non-playoff team because of his better regular-season performance. The Nationals seem like one possibility.

• Selig said that slotting -- limits on what to pay draft picks based on where they're selected -- is crucial for ownership in CBA talks. All signs are pointing to progress, but it would be an upset if the union accepted slotting. MLB honchos say major league players aren't all that interested in slotting. However, the union still sees it as a capping mechanism.

• One GM estimated that star Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish would cost a team about $100 million between posting price and salary, and another agreed that it will be "big bucks.'' But yet another said it shouldn't be that much. While scouts like Darvish even better ("better stuff and command,'' one said flatly), the tide has turned a bit against Japanese League pitching. The Yankees' scouts are said to like Darvish but are "gun shy'' after some notable Japanese League flops, most prominently Kei Igawa, the $46-million bust who has spent the past three seasons pitching in the minors.

• Hiroki Kuroda is liked as a free agent alternative. But he's "only solid,'' one exec said. And he didn't want to leave the Dodgers in the summer given the chance at the deadline. So what makes anyone think he'll want to leave L.A. this time?

• Oldtime Rangers scout Don Welke, who is treated like a beloved grandfather by the very young Rangers staff, is the one who first strongly suggested Adrian Beltre. "He brings great makeup, character, power and defense,'' Welke, who knew Beltre from his Dodgers days, said. Rangers president Nolan Ryan supported the switch off from Cliff Lee to Beltre. Rangers people are thrilled to have Welke here for the World Series. Daniels insisted Welke go the hospital this summer after he tried to work through leg pain, and it's a good thing, as he required leg procedures three times for diabetes-related issues.

• Daniels' father was aided last month by the Mets and in particular their trainer Ray Ramirez, who hustled Mark Daniels, who was suffering from a sudden staph infection in his neck, into the Hospital for Special Surgery for an immediate operation. Jon Daniels grew up in Bayside, Queens.

• Washington is going through a managerial search, which is mandated by MLB. But unless Davey Johnson, who took over as interim manager at midseason, changes his mind and decides he doesn't want the job, it's his.

• While there is a lot of general manager movement going on, the Yankees' talks with Brian Cashman are going well and will be done by the end of the month. Meanwhile, they expect to get started on discussions with CC Sabathia next week.

• As Joel Sherman (@JoelSherman1) of the New York Post reported, the Mets will listen to trades for David Wright. But I agree with Sherman that they can't expect too much back. Wright, who makes $15 million a year, has slipped a bit since the Mets moved to Citi Field. He can void the second year remaining on his contract if traded.

• The Mets indicated to star shortstop Jose Reyes they are very interested in bringing him back. But it's doubtful they'll go past five years. Almost any NL East team could end up with Jose Reyes, but it's doubtful the Braves or Phillies have $100-million-plus to commit to him. Other candidates to sign Reyes could be the Giants, Brewers or Cardinals (if they don't keep Albert Pujols or Rafael Furcal).

• Freddy Garcia enjoyed his time with the Yankees and would like to come back. A cut finger and six-man rotation cost him about five starts, so he finished with 25 starts and missed out on $1.75 million in bonuses ($750,000 for 28 starts, $1 million for 30).He did a nice job, and Yankees people liked him.

• How about ex-Mariners manager and current Blue Jays bench coach Don Wakamatsu for one of the managerial jobs?

• The Phillies love Jimmy Rollins and probably have no choice but to re-sign him. The one semi-negative in their mind is that he is on his own program.

• Octavio Dotel has played with 12 teams, meaning he needs one more team for the alltime record. But he said he still wants to stay with the Cardinals. Dotel, 37, said he wants to play two or three more years. He still can't believe he's finally in the World Series. "No, I don't believe it,'' he said.

• Mark McGwire has done a terrific job with Cardinals hitters, especially David Freese, Allen Craig and Lance Berkman. Though McGwire, St. Louis' hitting coach, takes no credit for Berkman. "The big thing is he has two legs under him. Last year he was basically playing on one leg,'' McGwire said. McGwire also said he sees a batting title in Freese's future. McGwire has done such a superb job there has been no talk of steroids in St. Louis.

• Nelson Cruz was on waivers soon after Texas got him. Both he and Josh Hamilton have been on waivers, so anyone could have had them for $20,000 apiece. Manager Ron Washington is very unlikely to move the badly injured Hamilton from the No. 3 hole because that isn't Washington's style.

• It was reported that prospective Astros owner Jim Crane wants to receive a $50 million discount to move the team to the American League, which suggests he might be more trouble than he's worth. He may have just realized that $600-million plus is too much for the beleaguered organization. There's a reason he has black marks on his resume and Selig didn't originally have the votes for approval, which is why the vote was delayed.

• The Royals are planning to offer prospects (though not Mike Moustakas or the very top guys) to try to land some frontline pitching. Chad Billingsley, John Danks and Gavin Floyd could be on their radar.

• Brewers GM Doug Melvin said he wants to improve defensively. That could put them in the market for a third baseman. In a year or two, second baseman Rickie Weeks might have to consider a move to the outfield.

• Ian Kinsler said he took the fantastic gamble of taking off for second base in the ninth inning against baseball's best throwing catcher, Yadier Molina, because he "saw something.'' Asked what he saw, Kinsler said, "I'm not telling you.''

• Michael Young's fabulous season continued with the game-winning sacrifice fly in Game 2 against Lance Lynn. In that situation, Young said his goal was to "stay short, stay quick and get it to the outfield.'' Mission accomplished.

• Tony La Russa seemed to drop 50 IQ points from Game 1, where he was said to have outmanaged Washington, to Game 2, when he removed closer Jason Motte for Arthur Rhodes, who was so bad for Texas that it released him back in August. Rangers people were too polite to say anything, but they had to be astounded to see that move by La Russa. He is a terrific manager. But that was a case of him being given too many toys (in this case, two lefthanded relievers).

• The traveling contingent of Japanese writers were left with a far less exciting assignment when Koji Uehara and Yoshinori Tateyama were both left off the Rangers' World Series roster.

• The Rangers are a delightful team, very cooperative and good-natured. Scott Feldman has to be one of the best interviews around. Of the Cardinals, Lance Berkman, Dotel and the player they call Scrabble (Marc Rzepczynski) are among the best interviews. A few other Cardinals, including Albert Pujols, didn't talk after the tough 2-1 Game 2 loss, drawing some criticism.

• With no big-market teams in the Series, the hope now is for a six- or seven-game Series. The split in St. Louis is a good step.

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