THE AMAZING Rays have vaulted over the Red Sox and the Yankees with baseball's second-cheapest and sixth-youngest roster. Consequently, Tampa Bay executive vice president Andrew Friedman, 31, who helped pull off this miracle and shares many of the traits of the roster he constructed—young, anonymous, going places—heads my list of the year's best executives.
Handpicked in November 2005 by club president Matt Silverman (who's 32), Friedman, a onetime Bear Stearns analyst, has smarts, a sense of humor (a prerequisite for any Rays exec), near-photographic recall and little ego. His off-season trade of outfielder Delmon Young to the Twins for hard-throwing righthander Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett rounded out an emerging rotation, shored up the defense and improved chemistry in the clubhouse, which was further fortified by the free-agent signing of personable veteran Cliff Floyd.
Tampa Bay has also benefited from the rapid development of rookie third baseman Evan Longoria—Friedman's first-round selection in 2006—and the bargain purchases of second baseman Akinori Iwamura (before the start of '07) and utilityman Eric Hinske (before the start of '08). Manager Joe Maddon's spring training motto 9 = 8, his belief that nine players going all-out for nine innings could land the Rays one of eight playoff spots, looks prescient now. "We are very pleased," says Friedman, "but at this point we are greedy."
The following are the best of the rest of the execs:
Ken Williams, White Sox. Last winter Williams announced that he wasn't acquiring just any outfielder but the Carlos Quentin, giving rise to the nickname TCQ. Well, TCQ may still be the MVP despite a September wrist injury. The trade for Ken Griffey Jr. looks like a vanity acquisition, but Williams's other pickups in the last two years have outperformed expectations: reliever Scott Linebrink and burgeoning star starters John Danks and Gavin Floyd.
Tony Reagins, Angels. The rookie G.M. built on two strengths, the rotation (trading for Jon Garland) and the outfield (the signing of Torii Hunter). By landing much-needed power hitter Mark Teixeira (and becoming the first Angels G.M. in years to surrender a young homegrown talent in Casey Kotchman), Reagins could join Fred Claire (Dodgers 1988) and Bill Stoneman (Angels 2002) as L.A.-area G.M.'s to win titles early in their tenures.
Theo Epstein, Red Sox. Epstein made the best of the Manny Meltdown by acquiring solid Jason Bay. His post--July 31 pickup of righthander Paul Byrd has paid off too, and the team continues to reap the benefits of superb recent drafts, which included pitchers Jon Lester and Justin Masterson, shortstop Jed Lowrie and MVP candidate Dustin Pedroia. Just Theo being Theo.
Jim Hendry, Cubs. Hendry addressed Chicago's one preseason weakness (overhyped centerfielder Felix Pie) by importing not one but two strong replacements, Jim Edmonds and Reed Johnson. The deal for ultratalented Rich Harden was a worthy answer to Milwaukee's acquisition of CC Sabathia.
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POWER ARMS Matt Garza + GOOD GLOVES Jason Bartlett + YOUNG STARS Evan Longoria = GENIUS Andrew Friedman
DILIP VISHWANAT (GARZA)
HEINZ KLUETMEIER (BARTLETT)
HEINZ KLUETMEIER (LONGORIA)
CHUCK SOLOMON (FRIEDMAN)