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Options and uncertainties for Epstein

Next stop could be in or out of baseball

In the basement offices at the intersection of Brookline Avenue and Yawkey Way, Theo Epstein and members of his baseball operations department gathered at about 8 Monday night. They opened a beer and reminisced about Epstein's brief and celebrated 35-month tenure as the 11th general manager in the Red Sox' 105-year existence.

Up the stairs, and just outside, camera crews gathered, seeking to capture Epstein leaving Fenway Park on the day he rejected a lucrative offer to extend his contract for three years at $1.5 million per season, choosing personal happiness over prestige and wealth. As the collection of young men brought together by baseball and bound by shared experience recounted their time together, they came to a most pressing question: How could they get Epstein out of the building without facing the camera crush?

Conveniently, Monday night happened to be Halloween night, and someone in the office happened to have a gorilla costume handy. Epstein, according to a baseball operations employee, slipped into the suit, walked out of Gate D, and strolled by the cameras, a smile on his concealed face.

That said, do not be shocked to see Epstein entering or leaving the glass door at 4 Yawkey Way this week. In his statement Monday night, Epstein said he would continue working for several days in preparation for the general managers' meetings, which begin Monday in Palm Springs, Calif. He was at Fenway yesterday and is expected to be working this week, both out of his Boston residence and his former Fenway office.

He is not, however, expected to attend the GM meetings, meaning that at some point this week -- Sunday is the likeliest day -- he'll leave Fenway feeling that his relationship with the club has indeed come to an end.

And then what? What comes next for the son of Brookline with an impeccable resume and a World Series ring, who turns 32 Dec. 29?

A baseball executive with a relationship with Epstein said last night that he believes there's only a ''10-20 percent chance" Epstein is completely out of baseball for the coming year. The executive said there's a ''60-70 percent chance" Epstein works in baseball this year in a non-GM capacity.

''Time off may be somewhat appealing to him," the executive said. ''That said, he realizes GM jobs are few, and he is far from burned out."

As of last night, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Associated Press were reporting that Pat Gillick had accepted the Phillies' GM job, leaving only two openings, in Los Angeles (the Dodgers) and Tampa Bay.

Does Epstein work with a team in an advisory role, to remain plugged into the game until a GM job to his liking opens? Or, does he leave baseball entirely, and do something less glamorous but personally satisfying, such as social work, the occupation of his twin brother, Paul?

Epstein doesn't figure to fit in Los Angeles or Tampa Bay. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, a Boston native, recently fired GM Paul DePodesta, even though three years remained on DePodesta's contract. DePodesta, 32, is a Harvard graduate who served his apprenticeship under Billy Beane in Oakland, and indications are that McCourt isn't likely to hire a replacement who would be viewed publicly as similar in nature and background to DePodesta.

Therefore, a Yale graduate who never played baseball above high school doesn't figure to be appealing, even if Epstein does have a World Series ring, three postseason appearances, and three 95-win seasons on his resume. Furthermore, Epstein likely would be wary about the patience level of Dodgers ownership, given that DePodesta was let go two seasons into a five-year deal.

Tampa Bay doesn't seem to fit, either, and that has little to do with the club's losing ways or tight budget. Rather, the foremost issue for any incoming GM would be the presence of 28-year-old director of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. The Devil Rays appear to be seeking an adviser/caretaker to share power with Friedman, whom the club is grooming for the position of general manager. It isn't even clear whether the team will assign someone the title of general manager.

The great unknown is the Washington Nationals. The team is for sale, and GM Jim Bowden recently was signed to an extension through April, ensuring that the club makes it through the offseason, spring training, and the season's first month with some measure of stability.

The consensus within the baseball community is that when the Nationals are sold, they would present a very appealing opportunity, for a number of reasons. Good city? Check. Good ownership? When they're finally found, check. A new ballpark? Check (if they find local ownership to build one). A supportive fan base excited to have a baseball team? Check.

Another possible landing spot for Epstein as GM could be San Diego, if Padres GM Kevin Towers, Epstein's former mentor, were to be wooed to Boston and reunited with Larry Lucchino, whom Towers worked under in San Diego.

As for consulting opportunities, an obvious possibility would be to work for Josh Byrnes in Arizona in some capacity. Byrnes, Epstein's former assistant, was recently hired in Arizona as general manager. It's unlikely that Epstein would accept a job as Byrnes's assistant GM. But if he took a consulting role, he'd be able to remain in the business without having to relocate or commit to something long-term.

Epstein will break his silence today at 1 p.m. when he meets the media at Fenway, speaking as the former general manager of the Boston Red Sox.

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