HUNSICKER OFF THE G.M. MERRY-GO-ROUND

By Murray Chass

October 9, 2011

Gerry Hunsicker. Remember the name. No, make that remember the name?

It has been six years since Hunsicker was a general manager. In Major League Baseball, six years is a lifetime, and as teams have changed general managers in that time lists of candidates have omitted the name Hunsicker.Gerry Hunsicker2 225

“I haven’t heard his name,” said a high-ranking major league official, who is attuned to club developments.

After serving as the Houston Astros general manager for nine years and building the team that played in the 2005 World Series, Hunsicker left that job because he grew tired of the owner Drayton McLane Jr.’s insufferable interference.

After a year as an Astros’ advisor, Hunsicker seemed to enter the witness protection program. He became an executive with the new regime in Tampa Bay, submerged his baseball ego into a neophyte organization and helped a band of inexperienced Wall Street experts create a contender.

I may be exaggerating his role with the Rays, but I don’t think they would have been in the playoffs for the third time in four years this year without Hunsicker’s guidance for general manager Andrew Friedman.

Interestingly, as Hunsicker continues to move invisibly beneath baseball’s radar, Friedman is being mentioned prominently in speculation about changes that may occur in the business in the coming month.

Boston’s Theo Epstein also has been mentioned as a general manager who could change employers. The Chicago Cubs, in fact, have asked the Red Sox for permission to talk to Epstein, who has one year left on his contract.

The Cubs need a general manager because they fired Jim Hendry in August after nine years on the job and with a season remaining on his contract.

There is also a vacancy in Anaheim, where the Angels seek a replacement for Tony Reagins, whom they dismissed at the end of the season after a four-year term.

“Arte has been unhappy for a while,” said a major league official of Arte Moreno, the Angels’ owner. Moreno may have interest in Omar Minaya, the former Mets’ general manager, a fellow Latino.

The Baltimore Orioles are also apparently in the market for a general manager, though they don’t use that title because owner Peter Angelos doesn’t like it and once bristled when I used it.

Andy MacPhail has been president of baseball operations since June 2007 but presumably has decided to leave the Orioles. They have made no announcement, but reports of MacPhail’s impending departure have cropped up in baseball circles.

One major league official said MacPhail “can’t take working for Angelos any more” and the addition of manager Buck Showalter, who likes to control everything in sight, has made matters worse.

“Between Angelos and Buck,” the executive said, “MacPhail feels neutered.” MacPhail did not return a call seeking comment, which has been typical of him since he began working for Angelos. MacPhail had previously been a cooperative and accessible executive.

No change is on the horizon in New York. Brian Cashman doesn’t have a contract for next season, but the Yankees are expected to sign him to one.

“We want him back and he has said he wants to come back,’’ Randy Levine, the club president, said Friday about 11 hours after Detroit knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs. “We like him and think he’s a good general manager.”

theo-epstein-world-seriesNo similar statement was forthcoming from Red Sox owners or officials about Epstein, the general manager of their World Series champions of 2004 and 2007. They remained mute on the subject.

John Henry, the principal owner, did not respond to e-mail questions about Epstein’s status with the Red Sox. Larry Lucchino, the club president, did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Epstein didn’t return calls either.

A baseball man close to the general manager scene said he thought that members of the news media friendly with Epstein were “pushing the Cubs idea.” However, a major league official confirmed that the Cubs have sought permission to talk to Epstein. Tom Ricketts, the Cubs’ owner, did not return a call for comment.

Another major league official said he was told that the Red Sox hierarchy was divided on Epstein. One side, presumably Henry, who has expressed fondness for Epstein, favored being aggressive and giving him an extension.

The other view, presumably held by Lucchino, who has had differences with Epstein, is he has a contract for 2012 and should complete it before a decision is made on his future. Tom Werner, the Red Sox chairman, was said to be in the middle, wherever that puts Epstein.

Both Epstein and the Red Sox hierarchy will have to make decisions sooner or later, as soon as the next few weeks, as late as sometime next season. The Cubs’ appeal to Epstein could be the chance to win a World Series with a team that has gone longer without winning one than the Red Sox had before 2004.

Lucchino, on the other hand, created a young Epstein as a general manager in 2002, just as he did with Kevin Towers in San Diego in 1996. He could do it again if Epstein were to leave Boston.

Friedman is not likely to leave Tampa Bay soon, if ever.Andrew Friedman2 225

People speculating about the possibility of his leaving the Rays think he might want the chance to find out what it would be like to run a team that has money. The Rays had the majors’ second smallest payroll this season.

However, an official who has known Friedman since he began working in baseball in 2006 said his relationship with owner Stu Sternberg is unique and so strong that he is not very likely to leave the Rays.

Hunsicker basically agreed.

“I think Andrew feels the way I do, even moreso’” he said in a telephone interview. “The owner, the president and the general manager knew each other before they got into baseball. It’s like they planned it out, dreamed about it.”

Hunsicker said everyone in the front office gets frustrated with the lack of resources, but he didn’t see that as becoming a problem for Friedman. “I’d be very surprised if he left,” Hunsicker said. “He’s got something too special here to jump into bed with an owner he doesn’t know who one day gets his nose out of joint.”

What about Hunsicker himself? Will he leave if a team wants him to be its general manager? Not even Hunsicker knows. I have asked him the question before, and his answer has been the same.

“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ve broached this subject in the past and I don’t feel any different. I feel I’m part of a special situation here. I don’t drive the train, but I don’t feel I have to drive the train. This is a unique situation. This means a whole lot more to me than running a baseball team under less than ideal circumstances.”

Hunsicker, however, doesn’t expect to open his door one day and see a line of owners waiting to talk to him about being their general manager.

“It’s been six years since I was a g.m.,” he said. “I’ve had a low profile. The new owners probably don’t know who I am. I don’t want to introduce myself. If I have to go out and promote myself for a job, that’s probably not a job for me. If someone comes after me and expresses interest, I’ll consider it but I’m not going out looking. It would have to be a unique circumstance where someone knows who I am.”

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