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In two months, Major League Baseball’s free agency season will begin, and all eyes will be on Albert Pujols and whether he will stay with the St. Louis Cardinals. But while Pujols will likely sign one of the biggest contracts in baseball history he is not baseball’s most important free agent.That honour belongs to Tampa Bay Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman.
With the Chicago Cubs looking for a new General Manager, speculation has already begun that Friedman will be at the top of their wish list. And the new owner of Friedman’s hometown Houston Astros, Jim Crane, has reportedly made hiring Friedman his top priority.
When asked about the Astros job, Friedman said he “happy in [his] job,” where he is close to his fellow former Wall Streeters Stuart Sternberg (owner) and Matt Silverman (president). But Friedman has also reportedly told friends that he would love to be the next GM of the Astros.
Friedman, who works along side former Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker, is regularly credited as the brains behind the surprising emergence of the Rays in the toughest division in baseball. In the last four seasons, the Rays have had a winning record each year and have won the division more times (2) than the Red Sox have won in the last 15 years (1). And he did that with an average payroll of $55 million, or about one-fourth what the Yankees spend each year.
It is unknown how much Friedman makes with the Rays, as he works without a contract. But it is easy to imagine he makes a lot less than Brian Cashman of the Yankees who makes $2 million and Theo Epstein makes $1.5 million under their contracts.
If the Cubs, Astros, and possibly other teams get into a bidding war, it is easy to see an offer coming Friedman’s way that is $3-5 million per year. And that seems like a bargain compared to what Pujols will make.
Can Friedman turn that type of money down to stay in the comfort zone with his Wall Street buddies? Baseball’s most important free agent will be forced to make that decision soon.