1. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay Rays
Although Friedman’s real position with the Rays is Vice President of Baseball Operations, Friedman performs all the tasks of a General Manager. Since assuming the role in 2005, he has turned the Rays from basement dwellers to perennial contenders in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. He has also done this with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball because the Rays play in a small market with one of the worst stadiums in the Majors. This has not stopped Andrew Friedman from building a contender year in and year out as he has been able to field a quality team by strengthening the farm system and making brilliant business decisions (e.g. Extending his young stars). In his time with the Rays, Friedman has taken the Rays to the postseason three times including one World Series. His first and possibly his best move was hiring Joe Maddon as the Rays’ manager. This may seem insignificant, but Maddon’s unconventional style fit very well with the Front Office’s approach and he was able to change the culture in the clubhouse. Friedman’s top move related to players was drafting and extending Evan Longoria. The Rays took Evan Longoria in the first round of the 2006 season and then in 2008, just six games into his Major League career, Longoria signed a six year $17.5 million extension that had club options to make it as long as a 9 year deal. Friedman has also been able to continually replenish the Rays’ farm system by trading his top Major Leaguers, who are nearing free agency. Such trades have netted the Rays Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer and Hak-Ju-Lee, all among the Rays’ top prospects.
2. Billy Beane, Oakland Athletics
Maybe the most well-known GM in the game following the movie, Moneyball, but he certainly deserves to be on this list as he has maintained success with a small market team for 17 years. Beane revolutionized the game of baseball with his use of sabermetrics and his ability to find attributes that other teams undervalue. The Athletics have made the playoffs six times under Beane, but have not reached the World Series since 1990. He is known for being able to make smart trades and key free agent signings at a low price. The greatest example of this is in 2006 when Beane signed Frank Thomas for a mere $500,000 plus incentives and Thomas rewarded him with 39 hrs, 114 RBI and a .381 OBP. This signing propelled the A’s into the postseason eventually reaching the ALCS. Many of Beane’s top trades came prior to the 2012 season when Beane traded away two of his top, young starting pitchers and his young closer. At the time, many viewed these trades as Beane giving up on the 2012 season; however, the returns that Beane received in these deals carried the A’s to become champions of the AL West. In return for his young pitchers, Beane received starting pitcher, Jarrod Parker; reliever, Ryan Cook; starting pitcher, Tommy Milone; catcher, Derek Norris; and Right Fielder, Josh Reddick. All of whom made great contributions to the team’s success last season and are all under 28 years old, which means they likely have not yet reached their prime.
3. John Mozeliak, St. Louis Cardinals
John Mozeliak was promoted to General Manager of the Cardinals in 2007 and took over for a team that had the worst farm system in baseball. Since then, Mozeliak has turned the Cardinals farm system into the best in baseball; although much of this success is due to former Scouting Director, Jeff Luhnow, Mozeliak still orchestrated many of the drafts. The Cardinals have made the playoffs three times under Mozeliak including a World Series Championship in 2011. Mozeliak’s first big move was trading an aging star in Jim Edmonds for David Freese. At the time this trade seemed insignificant, but Freese has developed into a tremendous third baseman and was the World Series MVP in 2011. In 2009, making a play for the postseason, he traded top prospect Brett Wallace and other minor leaguers to the Athletics for Matt Holliday. The Cardinals went on the make the postseason and then Mozeliak signed Holliday to a 7 year extension. Mozeliak made arguably his best move when he traded Colby Rasmus and others to the Blue Jays for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski and Corey Patterson. This trade propelled the Cardinals to the postseason and eventually to their 11th World Series Championship in team history. Only Marc Rzepczynski remained with the team beyond 2011, but the Cardinals received draft picks for Jackson and Dotel signing elsewhere. Mozeliak has been very conservative on the free agent market, only signing one player not already on the Cardinals’ roster to a multi-year deal. However, he did sign Lance Berkman to a one year deal when many others thought he was done and Berkman helped the Cardinals win the World Series in 2011. Following the 2011 season, Mozeliak made the bold decision to not pay superstar Albert Pujols, who went on to sign with the Los Angeles Angels. This choice set a precedent of allowing a team’s superstar to sign elsewhere. The Rangers’ GM, Jon Daniels, followed this precedent following the 2012 season, when he refused to match the Angels’ offer to Josh Hamilton.
4. Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers
When Jon Daniels took over as GM of the Rangers in 2005, he became the youngest GM in baseball history at the age of 28. The Rangers have made the postseason each of the past three seasons under Jon Daniels including two World Series appearances. Jon Daniels is most known for his aggressiveness on the trade market and that is where he has had his most success. Jon Daniels’s biggest move might have been trading superstar Mark Teixeira to the Braves for Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Beau Jones. Every player from the trade has appeared in the Major Leagues with the Rangers except for Beau Jones. Andrus, Harrison and Naftali Feliz are all still with the Rangers and a huge part of the Rangers’ young core of players. That same year, 2007, Daniels traded top pitching prospect Edison Volquez and Daniel Ray Herrera to the Reds for Josh Hamilton. Hamilton had just posted a strong first Major League season after being placed on the restricted list for drug abuse. Hamilton went on to become the face of the franchise until he signed with the Angels this past offseason. Daniels’s biggest free agent signing was Adrian Beltre prior to the 2011 season, who has put together two tremendous seasons for the Rangers since coming over. Jon Daniels was recently promoted to President of Baseball Operations for the Rangers.
5. Brian Sabean, San Francisco Giants
Brian Sabean is the longest tenured GM in baseball, having held the position since 1996. The Giants have only made the postseason six times in Sabean’s sixteen year tenure, but have won the World Series in two of the past three seasons. Sabean’s top trade came in 1996 when he dealt aging star and fan favorite Matt Williams for Jeff Kent and others. Kent was one of the best hitting second basemen of all-time and posted six consecutive 100 RBI seasons and won a MVP award in 2000. In 2001, Sabean made another astute trade when he sent Ryan Vogelsong and Armando Rios for Jason Schmidt. Schmidt pitched six seasons with the Giants and finished second in Cy Young voting in 2003 when he pitched to a 2.34 ERA. Sabean had to undergo a rebuilding period from 2004-2008, during which Sabean built up his farm system by success in the Amateur Draft. During these years, Sabean drafted Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey. These three players are all current stars of the Giants and at least two seem likely to remain for the foreseeable future. Prior to the 2012 season, Sabean traded Andres Torres for Angel Pagan in what seemed to be a change-of-scenery deal, but the Giants made out like bandits as Pagan posted career numbers in route to a 4 year, $40 million extension. Torres on the other hand had a .230/.327/.337 (Avg./Obp./Slg.) triple slash line.