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They're All Threats

(Ed. note: complete realignment would change some of the specifics below, but not the general idea.)

In a neat twist, our own DRays Bay broke a story that has since been confirmed: Rays general manager Andrew Friedman recently had dinner with two top Angels executives. More, rumor has it that Friedman is atop the Angels' current wish list of GM candidates. The Angels, you remember, recently fired Tony Reagins, and are in the market for a replacement. Friedman wasn't considered a candidate before, but now he's thought to be #1.

My first thought was, well, there's no guarantee that Friedman leaves Tampa Bay for southern California. Maybe he doesn't want to. Maybe he likes his situation. Maybe he likes the challenge of trying to take down the beasts of the East. Maybe he doesn't want to work with an influential Mike Scioscia. Or maybe Friedman's open to the idea of leaving, but the Rays themselves won't let him. Friedman's still under contract, after all, and he's a valuable guy. Why should the Rays let him leave for a competitor?

My second thought was, even if Friedman were to leave the Rays and join the Angels, there's no guarantee that he'd have success. Certainly no guarantee that he'd have the same degree of success that he's had in Florida. A GM is just one man. An organization's success hinges on more than one man. Friedman would seem like a good hire, but it wouldn't be certain that it would work out as well as hoped.

But what's important here isn't the Friedman situation, specifically. It's that the Angels are considering someone like Friedman, and highly interested in someone like Friedman. The Angels' previous front office, while maybe not awful, definitely wasn't good. Now it seems the organization is open to moving in a different direction. A more frightening direction, from where I sit.

And this story has reminded me of the importance of keeping the Mariners' divisional context in mind. Not just this story, of course. There's also the whole thing about the Rangers being in their second straight World Series. That's relevant, too.

It's really easy for us, as Mariners fans, to focus on the Mariners. Almost exclusively on the Mariners. What can the Mariners do to fix this problem? Will this guy be able to do this? In what kind of shape is the farm system? Will ownership increase the team's payroll? And so on.

But the context is critical. The Mariners play in a division with - currently - three other teams, Those are their biggest competitors, and while they aren't the only competitors on account of the Wild Card, it's against those teams that the Mariners want to be able to match up. It's not just about being good; it's about being good, relative to the others.

And the Mariners are facing some tough competition. Obviously, we can start with the Rangers. What the Rangers have right now, literally right now, is a terrifyingly complete active roster. They're better than the Cardinals, even if they end up on the losing end. But they also have a roster that'll be good for a while, and an excellent farm system, and an excellent front office, and a pile of money that's only going to get bigger. The Rangers are one of the best organizations in baseball from top to bottom, and it doesn't look like they're going to go away for a long long time.

The Angels sputtered in 2011, but even the sputtering Angels won 86 games, and they spent a ton of money. According to USA Today, their Opening Day payroll was the fourth-highest in the league, about $50 million higher than Seattle's. The Angels are a big-budget team with a big-budget owner, and now they're looking for an improvement in the front office over what they'd had for a few years before. That's scary, and it doesn't help that the Angels might have the most valuable young player in the world. The Angels have the potential to become a powerhouse (again).

And the A's - well it's easy to forget about the A's, since they haven't finished over .500 since 2006, but it's not like the A's are some embarrassment. There's a lot of talent already on the roster, there's a lot of talent coming through the system, and the front office has a pretty good idea of what it's doing. The A's are kind of trapped in their situation, but they do all right despite it, and God only knows of how much they could be capable if they ever get the San Jose issue sorted out.

It's simple to just follow the Mariners and monitor the progress that they make, but that progress isn't made in a vacuum. The Mariners are trying to make progress while the Mariners' competition is trying to make progress, and the Mariners have some fierce competition, competition that could grow more fierce depending on who the Angels hire to run their ballclub.

Ultimately, we can only invest so much energy in this, and the overwhelming bulk of that energy will go towards paying attention to the Mariners. The Mariners are the team with the most control over how the Mariners do. But it's a good idea to understand the competition they face, because it underscores the importance of always moving forward. The Mariners don't need to try to win 90 games. The Mariners need to try to catch up to the Rangers. It's a tall task.