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John Romano: Andrew Friedman has more to give before exiting from the Tampa Bay Rays

He's not going to Anaheim. He was never going to Chicago, and he definitely won't be going to Houston, either.

So you probably shouldn't waste any time worrying about the Rays losing executive vice president Andrew Friedman before the 2012 season.

Instead, save your angst for 2013. Or 2015.

Because the speculation is not going to disappear in the future, and eventually Friedman might be forced to consider leaving a situation he adores.

It wouldn't be about prestige. It wouldn't be about new challenges. It might eventually have something to do with salary, but if that was the only factor, he'd already be in Anaheim.

The reality is the franchise's uncertain future in Tampa Bay will lead to a lot of soul-searching for Friedman, and others in the organization, in the coming years.

So, for a moment, forget what you think about stadium location, taxes, attendance or the old black ops, double-cross marketing plan. Instead, look at this on a personal level.

If the owner is talking about selling, if the commissioner is preaching gloom, if the market is not responding in unison, wouldn't you worry about future working conditions?

I wrote three months ago that Friedman's relationship with owner Stuart Sternberg and team president Matt Silverman was the single biggest factor keeping him here, and I still believe that's true. The problem is Sternberg is sounding less and less committed to Tampa Bay, and that means Friedman, and others, must reassess their own situations.

This is a unique situation in Major League Baseball. Friedman works without a contract and is free to leave whenever he chooses.

There has been speculation that Friedman has an ownership stake in the Rays, but that does not appear to be the case. Sternberg was talking in more philosophical terms when he recently described Friedman as his partner in this endeavor.

To Sternberg, a partner is someone in whom he has placed his trust. Contracts are for business associates. Partnerships are more about a common understanding and a bond.

With that in mind, there may come a day when Sternberg tells his partner that circumstances have changed. That the payroll isn't going to be as flexible as it has been in the past. Or that the team might soon be on the open market.

If, or when, that day comes, Friedman will be the hottest commodity not in uniform. His work in Tampa Bay stands up to the performance of any GM in the free agent era.

Over the past four seasons, he has more playoff appearances than the Red Sox and as many as the Yankees, even though payrolls in Boston and New York have been triple and quadruple the size of Tampa Bay's.

Chances are also pretty good that Friedman's reputation will grow larger in 2012.

The Rays won 91 games this past season with a payroll around $41 million, and they stand to lose little production from that team. And despite Sternberg's recent warnings, I don't think he will let the window close on another opportunity to contend next year.

So don't be surprised if, given the right set of circumstances in potential trades, the payroll increases to the low 50s in 2012 and the Rays again win 90-95 games.

That, inevitably, would lead to more speculation about Friedman next year. And, by then, you might be able to add manager Joe Maddon and others to that list as well.

Maddon is going into the final season of his contract and may choose to keep his options open instead of signing an extension in the coming months.

The point is, the Rays have one of the finest management structures in the game. And the more the team wins, the more attention it will garner from other organizations.

That is true of any team that has success, but Tampa Bay is in a unique situation because there has not been corresponding success in revenues.

You need not worry about an exodus this season. And it may not happen next winter, either. But if the revenue situation does not change dramatically, someone will eventually blink. It could be Friedman. It could be Maddon. It could be a handful of others.

It's true, Friedman owes his career in baseball to Silverman and Sternberg. They gave him a chance he otherwise would never have gotten, and that means something to him. On the other hand, he has rewarded their faith beyond any reasonable expectations.

So what you have is a relationship that is unlike any other in baseball today. It is based on friendship, trust and shared experiences.

It is a partnership just strong enough to encourage someone to walk away if it's in their best interests.

John Romano: Andrew Friedman has more to give before exiting from the Tampa Bay Rays 10/26/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:51pm]
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