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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- One day Jon Daniels and Andrew Friedman will reflect upon their first general managers' meetings as a formative experience. At the moment it's all a blur of conversations, phone calls and tire-kicking sessions, interspersed with the occasional "isn't it past your bedtime joke?" from good-natured colleagues.


The phenomenon of young, aggressive "Moneyball" general managers, a hot topic in baseball these days, hits close to home in Texas and Tampa Bay. Daniels, 28, became the youngest GM in history when Rangers owner Tom Hicks named him to replace John Hart in October.


Jon Daniels

Daniels lacks experience -- but not intelligence.


And then, suddenly, there were two GMs born post-Watergate. Last week Friedman, also 28, assumed the role of executive vice president as part of Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg's nontraditional front-office structure. He will make the final calls with input from senior VP Gerry Hunsicker and veteran scouts Bart Braun and Tim Wilken.


At a combined age of 56, Daniels and Friedman surrender 12 years to Philadelphia's Pat Gillick and nine years to the Braves' John Schuerholz. But they're earning raves for their energy, intelligence and ability to stay grounded. They're humble enough to embrace the notion that they have a lot to learn.


Daniels routinely sat in on meetings and dealt with agents as Texas' No. 2 man under Hart. Still, he has discovered the dynamic is different for the man in the main chair.


"When you're not the ultimate decision maker, it's a lot easier to recommend something that's a little off the wall or riskier,'' Daniels said. "When it's your responsibility and your reputation, you let the emotions play into it. At the end of the day, the challenge is to make decisions based on what's in the best interests of the organization.''


Daniels, a New York native, grew up rooting for the Mets before heading off to Cornell, where he earned a degree in applied economics and management. He worked briefly in the business sector before taking an internship with the Colorado Rockies, which led to a baseball operations job in Texas.


Daniels' first move in his new role was to hire Colorado's Thad Levine, 33, as his top assistant. One of his biggest challenges might be dealing with manager Buck Showalter, who is known for wanting to have a hand in every facet of organizational planning. But Daniels calls that an "absolute nonissue.''


"I've worked with Buck for three years, and I understand what he's about,'' Daniels said. "I know his passion, how much he wants to win, and how deeply he cares about the Rangers and our players.


"I've been asked a few times, 'How are you going to deal with it?' My answer is, 'I'm going to embrace it.' I want players who want to win as badly as Buck does. He wants to do what he can to help make us better.''


In Texas, at the moment, that means stockpiling arms. The Rangers scored 865 runs to rank third in the American League behind Boston and the Yankees this season, but finished 12th in team ERA at 4.96.


While the infield is formidable with Mark Teixeira at first base, Alfonso Soriano at second, Michael Young at shortstop and Hank Blalock at third, the only sure thing in the rotation is Chris Young. After him, it's Kameron Loe, Juan Dominguez and R.A. Dickey, who recently traveled to the instructional league to work on a knuckleball with Charlie Hough.


? When you're not the ultimate decision maker, it's a lot easier to recommend something that's a little off the wall or riskier. When it's your responsibility and your reputation, you let the emotions play into it. At the end of the day, the challenge is to make decisions based on what's in the best interests of the organization. ?

? Rangers GM Jon Daniels


Unless Daniels thinks truly bold and trades Soriano -- a difficult task considering he'll be a free agent next winter -- Texas' biggest chips are outfielder Kevin Mench and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.


The Rangers are in the middle of the A.J. Burnett sweepstakes and are scouring the landscape for trade possibilities. According to reports in Dallas and San Diego, Daniels tried to package Gonzalez, outfielder Laynce Nix and catcher Gerald Laird in a deal for San Diego pitcher Adam Eaton. But a source told ESPN.com that Eaton, who is also a free agent next winter, has no interest in signing a long-term deal with the Rangers. So talks with the Padres have stalled.


Daniels has also talked to Kansas City, which likes Mench, and might have some common ground with the Pirates, who need offense and have some starting pitching to spare.


In Tampa, Friedman and Hunsicker are similarly pitching-obsessed. While the Devil Rays have more warm bodies than Texas (Scott Kazmir followed by Mark Hendrickson, Seth McClung, Doug Waechter, Casey Fossum and Dewon Brazelton), they need to upgrade a staff that ranked 13th in the league with a 5.39 ERA.


The Rays will do what they can to make life difficult for Boston and the Yankees while realistically pointing toward 2007 and 2008 as their best window of opportunity. "We're always going to have an eye towards building this thing the right way,'' Friedman said.


In the estimation of Hunsicker, who built four NL Central-title teams in Houston, Friedman has all the attributes to make his mark. "He has a photographic memory,'' said Hunsicker, "and he knows more baseball than a lot of people think.''


Friedman, a Houston native, played college baseball at Tulane and was working on Wall Street in 2003 when he was introduced to Matthew Silverman of Goldman Sachs by Stuart Sternberg. Now Silverman, 29, is the Devil Rays' president, Friedman is running the baseball operation, and Sternberg is winning back fans in the Tampa market with free parking, lower ticket prices and a definitive road map for success.


Over the long haul, Friedman wants to change the losing culture and make Tampa an attractive destination for players. Short-term, each new day brings another decision. On Thursday, Friedman signed outfielder Rocco Baldelli to a six-year, $32 million contract. The Devil Rays are searching for a farm director, and sometime in the next week they'll decide whether Joe Maddon or John McLaren will succeed Lou Piniella as manager.


"It's been a whirlwind,'' Friedman said. "Right now we're just going on fumes and working around the clock.''


The on-field product is a mixed bag. The Devil Rays finished 28 games out of first place in the AL East at 67-95, but came on strong after the All-Star break (39-34). Jorge Cantu drove in 117 runs. Jonny Gomes finished third in the Rookie of the Year balloting. Carl Crawford and Baldelli make for two-thirds of a dynamic outfield, and the Devil Rays think top prospect Delmon Young could be ready to contribute by the All-Star break, if not sooner.


With a budget believed to be in the low $30 million range, Friedman will focus on adding pitching and a third baseman. The Rays have an interest in Bill Mueller, and if they pursue a free-agent starter, it's going to be someone in the Esteban Loaiza-Brett Tomko category.


Andrew Friedman

It won't be easy, but Friedman is intent on improving the Devil Rays.


It's also likely that Tampa Bay will be part of multiple trade scenarios. Atlanta has an interest in Devil Rays shortstop Julio Lugo as a potential replacement for Rafael Furcal. Danys Baez is an option for several teams with closer issues. And Aubrey Huff, Brazelton, Toby Hall and speed burner Joey Gathright will be bandied about in speculation this winter.


Part of the challenge for Friedman is digging out from the mistakes of the Chuck LaMar regime. The Devil Rays won't get a smidgen of production from Greg Vaughn, Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman, but the organization is still on the hook for roughly $8 million to those departed players in 2006.


Friedman approaches his challenges with a can-do attitude and infectious enthusiasm. During the meetings at the Hyatt Grand Champions resort, he routinely retired at 2:30 or 3 in the morning and was back at work by 7 a.m. Ask him how many hours he spent on his cell phone, and he laughs.


"That's hard to say,'' Friedman said. "If I add it all up in my head, it comes out to more than 24 hours a day.''


When you're 28 years old and running a team so desperate to make up for lost time, rest is a luxury you simply can't afford.


Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider. His book "License To Deal" has been published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.




Another article


Gerry Hunsicker, Tampa Bay's new senior vice president, has the biggest name and most impressive portfolio in the team's revamped front office. All he lacks is the ultimate authority on moves: That designation belongs to Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman, a 28-year-old Tulane graduate who worked on Wall Street before gravitating to baseball.


Friedman and club president Matt Silverman, 29, are bound to invite skepticism from the old guard that's growing tired of front-office whiz kids. If the Hunsicker hiring shows anything, it's that they're smart enough to realize they don't know everything.


Hunsicker, who led the Astros to a 701-595 record and four National League Central titles as general manager, arrives in Tampa in a sort of mentor/adviser/sounding board role. Can he work effectively with Friedman? There's a fine line between a mentor helping to cultivate a prot?g? and smothering him (for evidence, check out the Admin Lucchino-Theo Epstein rift in Boston). But you wonder whether Paul DePodesta would have benefited from a similar front-office veteran to help him through the rough times in Los Angeles.


"Gerry was No. 1 on our list all along," Friedman said today after the press conference to announce Hunsicker's hiring.


As of Tuesday, the feeling wasn't quite mutual. Hunsicker, a Pennsylvania native, badly wanted the Phillies' GM job but was passed over for Pat Gillick. According to one version making the rounds, Hunsicker scared off Phillies president David Montgomery, the cautious sort, by proposing significant changes in Philadelphia, both on and off the field.


It's also believed that Houston owner Drayton McLane gave Hunsicker less than a glowing recommendation. While Hunsicker has strong opinions and a relatively healthy ego, some Astros watchers think McLane chafed over his general manager receiving a disproportionate share of the credit for the team's success.


Office politics aside, Hunsicker is pretty darned good. He was one of the few executives out there with the stature, pedigree and big-market media savvy to be a possible fit in Boston or Los Angeles. Now that he's off the board, the Red Sox and Dodgers will have to pick their next GM from an even thinner pool of candidates.


Despite their checkered history, the Rays are far from a catastrophe. Lots of teams would love to have Carl Crawford, Scott Kazmir, Jonny Gomes, Jorge Cantu, Rocco Baldelli and Delmon Young in their talent stable. The Rays went 39-34 after the All-Star break and made life extremely difficult for both the Yankees and the Indians.


Problem is, the franchise has always had a knack for making enough missteps to undermine the good. No. 1 draft pick Josh Hamilton had a drug problem. Lou Piniella was a bad fit. The Jose Canseco-Fred McGriff-Greg Vaughn-Vinny Castilla "Hit Show" experiment was a fiasco. And you have to question whether the Rays have taken the right approach in their development efforts with B.J. Upton.


Now that Hunsicker is in the fold, a managerial hiring comes next. Although Bobby Valentine is ostensibly in the mix, the choice will almost certainly come down to either Angels bench coach Joe Maddon or John McLaren, who has been the Rays' bench coach for the last three seasons. Friedman said he expects to make that call in the next 10 days to two weeks.


Meanwhile, a franchise that's accustomed to bad press has been generating more positive vibes of late. New owner Stuart Sternberg earned goodwill points with Devil Rays fans by lowering the average ticket price at Tropicana Field, introducing free parking and lifting a ban that prohibited fans from bringing food into the ballpark.


As for the baseball operation, Sternberg has made it clear he doesn't mind Friedman and Hunsicker agreeing to disagree on moves. The same opinionated, strong-willed personality that might have scared off the Phillies makes Hunsicker a good fit in Tampa Bay, where he can provide some cover while Friedman learns on the job.


And after the emotional ordeal of working with the notoriously hands-on McLane in Houston, Hunsicker, 55, might not mind taking a step back and letting his young colleague deal with the headaches.


"Gerry's experience and success speak for itself," Friedman said. "The fact that he was a strong candidate in multiple searches validates him being here."


His arrival is good news for a franchise that needs all the credibility it can get.



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