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Hot Stove: Rays reportedly interested in OF Josh Willingham 12.06.11 at 11:43 am ET
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Josh Willingham

The Rays are reportedly interested in making free agent outfielder Josh Willingham their designated hitter in 2012. Willingham had a career season last year, hitting 29 home runs and 98 RBIs for the Athletics, both seasonal highs.

Willingham spent the first five years of his career with the Marlins. He was traded to the Nationals following the 2008 season. At the end of 2010, Willingham was dealt to the Athletics. The 32-year-old has hit at least 20 home runs in every season in which he has played 133 games or more.

The right-handed hitting Willingham has also reportedly received interest from the Red Sox.

The Rays also will likely retain Andrew Friedman as their GM and executive vice president of baseball operations, as Friedman withdrew his name from the Astros general manager search.

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Hot Stove: Astros get permission to interview Rays GM Andrew Friedman 11.29.11 at 8:58 am ET
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Rays GM Andrew Friedman (right) may be a candidate for the open Astros general manager position. (AP)

Just a couple of days after the of firings general manager Ed Wade and team president Tal Smith, the Astros have set their sights on who many consider to be one of the best general managers in baseball. The Houston Chronicle is reporting that the Astros have received permission to interview Rays GM Andrew Friedman.

Houston will also interview Rangers executives Thad Levine and A.J. Preller, but it appears that Friedman is the top choice for new team owner Jim Crane and president/CEO George Postolos. While it will be difficult to pry Friedman away from the Rays, they may be banking on the fact that Friedman is a native of Houston and grew up rooting for the Astros.

Friedman was hired as Director of Baseball Operations for Tampa Bay in 2004 and was quickly elevated to GM in 2005. Under his guidance, Tampa was rebuilt from a perennial bottom-feeder into a contender in the AL East. Friedman was named Sporting News Executive of the Year in 2008 after the Rays won the AL East for the first time in franchise history.

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Potential Red Sox GM candidates to replace Theo Epstein 10.12.11 at 12:26 pm ET
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Theo Epstein reportedly has accepted a deal with the Cubs, leaving the Red Sox with an open general manager position. (AP)

With Dennis & Callahan breaking the news Wednesday that Theo Epstein has finalized a deal with the Cubs, the question arises as to who will replace the Red Sox general manager.

Epstein has had the most successful run of any Boston GM, guiding the team to two World Series in his nine years with the team. He was the youngest GM in the history of baseball when the Red Sox hired him at the age of 28 at the end of 2002. Epstein famously resigned after the 2005 season but was rehired in January of 2006. While Epstein will be remembered for the World Series victories in 2004 and 2007, he also will forever be linked to the Red Sox’ 2011 collapse.

There are a number of potential candidates to replace Epstein from both within and outside the organization. Here is a look at some of those possibilities.

Ben Cherington — Seemingly the heir apparent to Epstein, Cherington has been part of the Red Sox organization since 1998, when then-GM Dan Duquette brough Cherington into the fold. Cherington has served in a number of positions, including both amateur scout and international scout, before he was raised to assistant director of player development in 2002 when Epstein became GM. During Epstein’s brief hiatus in 2005, Cherington served as co-GM before being becoming vice president of player personnel upon Epstein’s return. Cherington was made assistant GM in 2009, where he gained experience in contract negotiations at the highest level. If Epstein does indeed go to Chicago, Cherington is widely considered to be the most obvious replacement. For a more thorough look at Cherington’s professional development, read Alex Speier‘s story.

Allard Baird — Another internal option for Boston, Baird is VP of player personnel and professional scouting. Baird joined Boston in 2006, when he was initially hired as assistant to the general manager. Before his time with the Red Sox, Baird was general manager of the Royals between 2000-06.

Jed Hoyer — Hoyer has been the executive VP and general manager of the Padres since October of 2009. Before that, Hoyer spent eight years with the Red Sox, serving first as assistant to the general manager before being named assistant GM in 2005. Hoyer joined Epstein in a visit to Curt Schilling‘s Arizona home in 2003 to persuade the pitcher to join Boston.

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