Astros must go all out to land Friedman

You’re Jim Crane. You just bought the Astros. You want Andrew Friedman to be your general manager.

What should you do?

Offer Friedman autonomy, the title of his choosing, a five-year, $20 million contract, maybe even equity in the club.

Yes, I am serious.

Friedman, 35, arguably is the game’s top GM. Give him more than the reported $18.5 million over five years that the Cubs gave Theo Epstein. And uh, less per year than the Pirates will pay their new shortstop, Clint Barmes.

The commissioner’s office, mindful of the executive salary structure, might freak out. But what is Bud Selig going to do, move the Astros to the American League?

Already done. And now that Crane is an owner — an owner of a large-market team coming off a club-record 106 losses — he can operate however he damn pleases.

OK, now you’re Andrew Friedman.

You’re close, extraordinarily close, with Rays owner Stuart Sternberg and club president Matt Silverman.

You know the grass is not necessarily greener somewhere else, even though you grew up in Houston rooting for the Astros.

And you’re understandably wary of joining a franchise that is far less competitive than your Rays, not to mention a year away from moving to the more competitive AL.

Why leave?

Friedman knows how good he has it with Sternberg and Silverman; he didn’t jump at the Angels’ GM job, a position that he probably could have landed after he met with owner Arte Moreno.

Crane is an unknown. All the money in the world won’t make Friedman happy if he is uncomfortable with his owner. And a comfort level cannot be established in one or two interviews; even if Crane made a strong initial impression, Friedman would be taking a risk.

OK, but think of the upside — and yes, it includes the money, guaranteed money that would at least force Friedman to think about coming home.

Sure, the Astros are at least three years away from contending, particularly since they will be competing against the Rangers and Angels in the AL West starting in 2013.

But the beauty of the job is that the Astros are practically a blank slate, the closest thing to an expansion team as there is in the game.

The new restraints on spending for amateur talent both domestically and internationally will hinder the Astros’ next GM, whoever it might be. But if there is one thing that Friedman has proved, it’s that he is skilled at maneuvering around obstacles. Perhaps no team faces greater obstacles than the Rays.

Oh, and by the way: What exactly is the Rays’ future, anyway?

While the addition of an extra wild card in each league by 2013 will enhance the Rays’ chances of remaining a postseason contender, the limits on amateur spending could produce just the opposite effect.

The AL East, if possible, is only becoming more competitive; the Yankees and Red Sox remain the big bullies, and the Blue Jays are a rising threat. The Rays’ three postseason appearances in the past four seasons amount to a near-miracle.

Friedman keeps the young talent coming, keeps making shrewd trades. But the Rays’ margin for error, never large, only is getting smaller. Not to mention they’re doomed in Tampa Bay, perhaps the least responsive market in the majors.

Three years from now the Rays figure to be in even greater crisis, if they haven’t relocated by then. Maybe some nirvana awaits them in another city. But in the current economy, try figuring out which city that might be.

No job is perfect. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. And the opportunity to return to Houston — if that is indeed meaningful to Friedman — might not come his way again.

At the very least, Crane could tempt Friedman with financial security — security that the Rays cannot presently offer, security that might persuade Sternberg to just say, “Andrew, you should go.”

If the Astros want Friedman, they will need to knock him out. Start with the money, then try to alleviate his other concerns.