Epstein, who has wisely declined to comment on Showalter's little dig, would probably note that in addition to the demands of fans and owners who expect a constant winner, a big-market GM has to figure out how best to spend all that loot, and it requires a vastly different set of considerations than would face a small-market GM. Break the bank on a solid but not-quite-sure-thing pitcher like John Lackey? Not if you're in Kansas City, where a top-dollar free agent would pretty much have to carry the franchise. But a big-payroll team stays good not just because of its stars, but because its overpaid second-tier players are well above average. So the extra dough spent on third starters and middle relievers isn't as foolish as it seems, even if those guys don't live up to their salaries. They keep the team respectable even when the stars don't come through.
Epstein is paid to keep the Sox in the hunt, thereby creating excitement and justifying the high ticket prices. He's done a great job. But baseball scouts and GMs also like to measure themselves by their ability to spot future stars. By that measure, Epstein would deserve a lot more credit if Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the relatively unsung catcher he long coveted, turns in an All Star season, than Crawford, the speedster whom everyone acknowledges is at the top of his game, even though the Sox will keep paying him long after his legs begin to stiffen. Of course, even if Salty turns out to be stinky, the Sox will still win their share of games. And that's a margin of error that Epstein enjoys but his lower-budget counterparts do not. It's possible to love Theo and still admit the unevenness of baseball teams' finances.
Globe file photo: Theo Epstein in 2010.