It is becoming an increasingly badly kept secret that the Chicago Cubs’ top choice for the open general manager position is Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. That Tampa Bay Rays’ GM Andrew Friedman is number two on the list is similarly becoming a given.
So, while we wait on the Red Sox’s decision about whether to allow the Cubs to interview Epstein (which, of course, may have already happened, and we simply don’t yet know), the Cubs are probably working double time pursuing Friedman, whose Rays were bounced from the ALDS this week.
And, if Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg were working for the Cubs on the pitch to Friedman, he couldn’t have done much better than he did yesterday. In public. To everyone.
“When I came here, I was confident we could put a winning team on the field, and that would do it,” Sternberg said to reporters after the Rays’ playoff loss. “We won, and we won, and we won and we won … and it didn’t do it. Whatever it is, there are 29 other teams passing us like we’re going in reverse now. Except on the field, and at some point, that changes.
“As the owner, I could have affected things today. Today, and a couple of games where a thumper would thump. I could decide to mortgage the future and trade all the young guys, but the truth is that we would only get $9.82 extra at the gate. So what’s the sense?”
Sternberg is, of course, talking about the Rays’ embarrassing attendance problems, even in the face of back-to-back-to-back very good teams (the Rays’ attendance for Tuesday’s playoff game, 28,229, is less than the Cubs average for a random, meaningless August game against the Pirates). Without an improved revenue stream, Sternberg doesn’t think the Rays can add the players they need via free agency or trade. Indeed, he doesn’t think the franchise can even survive long term.
“It won’t be my decision, or solely my decision,” Sternberg said, with the reported look of a man who had been punched in the gut. “But eventually, major-league baseball is going to vaporize this team. It could go on nine, 10, 12 more years. But between now and then, it’s going to vaporize this team. Maybe a check gets written locally, maybe someone writes me a check [to buy the team]. But it’s going to get vaporized.”
It’s a sad state of things in Tampa Bay, and it’s actually a complex knotting of reasons why the team cannot get the local support it needs to put the on-field product over the top. And Sternberg is probably right: how much longer can an organization, even one run by the brightest minds in baseball, stay competitive with such a disadvantage? I’m not looking to dance on the Rays’ grave here.
But dance we must.
Sternberg’s incisive words have to speak loudest to his GM, Andrew Friedman, who scrambles year in and year out to put a competitive team on the field on a shoe-string budget. When his boss and friend tells the world that the franchise is dying a slow death in spite of those efforts, surely Friedman will have to consider his options.
And, with the Cubs undoubtedly at least reaching out, how could Friedman not listen? Unlike Epstein, Friedman works without a contract, so he’s free to speak to the Cubs any time he chooses.
Given the state of affairs in Tampa Bay, my guess is he chooses, at least, to have that conversation.