Andrew Friedman faces a tough decision
August, 21, 2011
By Buster Olney | ESPN Insider
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman once aptly compared his work to that of Sisyphus, the king doomed to constantly push a boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back down. Year after year, Cashman and Boston general manager Theo Epstein are now expected to construct teams with the ability to win a championship.
But they have the tools to do it. It's as if the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have bulldozers, while Tampa Bay Rays general manager Andrew Friedman is working with a shovel. You couldn't blame him if he began to suffer from American League East fatigue, trying to squeeze production out of every nickel of his payroll, while knowing that the Yankees and Red Sox will always have the wherewithal to paper over mistakes with dollars.
AP Photo/Steven SenneAndrew Friedman may leave the Tampa Bay Rays.
Friedman and those who work with him have probably done their jobs as well or better than any organization in the majors over the past five years, and yet most years, the odds are that Tampa Bay will be exactly where they are today: They are good, but not great enough to keep up with two division rivals that have staggering resources. And no matter how well the Rays develop players and run their finances, they will almost never retain their best players if they reach free agency.
Friedman, then, will have interesting choices this offseason, when he presumably will be offered the opportunity to take over the baseball operations of the Houston Astros, and perhaps the chance to run the Chicago Cubs.
With the Rays, he works among people he has come to know and trust, among people who know and trust him, the kind of work environment that nobody should take for granted. On the other hand, he does his work knowing that he can do everything perfectly within his means -- picking the best available players and maximizing value -- and the Rays may still finish a dozen games out of first place most seasons, well into the future. Because right now, Tampa Bay has roughly the same chance of getting a new ballpark as the U.S. has of balancing its budget. It's not close.
If Friedman goes to Houston, he would be reconstructing the Astros almost from the ground up. If he went to the Cubs, he would be taking on a franchise that hasn't won a championship in more than a century.
But from Friedman's point of view, leaving the AL East would be like going from the final table at the World Series of Poker to a neighborhood card game. There are no monster payrolls to contend with; in fact, if Friedman were to become GM of the Chicago Cubs, he would be the guy with the big stack of chips in front of him. The Pirates are improving, but they're still limited, and the Cardinals' budget may never go beyond $110 million. The Brewers are going to draw 3 million this season, to their great credit, but owner Mark Attanasio does have limits to how far he'll take his payroll, and rightly so; he bid aggressively on CC Sabathia and still was outbid by about 40 percent.
The 2011 payrolls for the NL Central teams in April, according to The Associated Press, and their respective rankings among the 30 teams:
Chicago Cubs $125.5 million (sixth)
St. Louis Cardinals $105.4 million (11th)
Milwaukee Brewers $85.5 million (17th)
Cincinnati Reds $76.2 million (19th)
Houston Astros $70.7 million (20th)
Pittsburgh Pirates $46 million (27th)
What Friedman will have to consider, too, is that this could be the best time for him to move. Right now, he is to baseball what Bill Belichick was to football in 2002. Nobody knows what could change in five years. Friedman may never again have the opportunity to take over the Astros, his hometown team. He may never again have the chance to pursue a chance like the one he would get with the Cubs -- a franchise with more than a century of history, excellent resources and a fan base prepared to bestow sainthood upon the executive who leads the next Cubs world championship victory parade.
A decade ago, Billy Beane -- who would also make sense as a candidate to run the Cubs now -- was in a similar situation that Friedman is in now, passing up the chance to take over the Red Sox. Beane made his choice for personal reasons, to remain close to his daughter from his first marriage, and he has no regret over that decision.
But almost a decade later, Beane is working in a place where he may never have a chance to win, in a bad ballpark, for an owner he really likes and respects in Lew Wolff.
Pat Gillick, Beane, Epstein, Cashman and Friedman all got into baseball because they love the sport -- but also because they are highly competitive people. And in the coming weeks, Friedman must ask himself how important it will be to him to consistently compete on a relatively level playing field in the years ahead.
If that's something he really wants, his best opportunity to leave Tampa Bay could be right now.
Friedman's candidacy has been endorsed by Matt Garza.
The comments by Tom Ricketts would seem to rule out assistant GMs from consideration, writes Dave van Dyck.
The Cubs want to have a GM in place by Oct. 1 to begin the offseason, and keep in mind that Cashman's contract does not expire until Oct. 31.
• The Cardinals hit into a couple of more double plays Saturday in their loss to the Cubs, bringing their season total to a whopping 136, or about 40 percent higher than that of any other National League team; they're currently on pace to hit into 174 double plays this season, which would shatter the NL record. From Katie Sharp of ESPN Stats & Info, the most DP groundouts in National League history (a statistic that wasn't kept until 1933):
As Katie notes: St. Louis is actually on pace to match the MLB record, which is 174 by the 1990 Red Sox (records only go back to 1939 for AL).
• A.J. Burnett said something as he left Saturday's game, and the questions about this really irked Joe Girardi, as David Waldstein writes.
I'm not sure how it helps Girardi to handle this in the way that he did; the cover up is always worse than the crime. Burnett confirmed that Girardi wondered if the profanity he said was directed at him; the Yankees manager had the same exact same question that reporters asked.
Burnett was terrible again, Mark Feinsand writes.
Girardi can't let Burnett off the hook after his latest outburst. From Bob Klapisch's story:
- The manager and Burnett stuck to an absurd story they'd cooked up, claiming the blow-up was rooted in a close pitch to Joe Mauer that wasn't called a strike. No one bought it, not even the YES announcers. Ken Singleton, following what he called the "old-school" code of conduct, stated the obvious: Burnett showed up his manager in front of millions of viewers.