INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Leaving no doubt that their future plans do not include Theo Epstein's return, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner and CEO Larry Lucchino yesterday interviewed three candidates for the general manager's job vacated last week by Epstein, including Jim Bowden, the Weston, Mass., native who wondered afterward if he could buy the house he grew up in if he was hired for his ''dream job."
''I have read all the rumors," Werner said last night, ''but as far as we're concerned, we're turning the page and we're looking for the next general manager of the Red Sox.
''We have read the rumors, and we completely discount them and are at a point where we turn the page."
Lucchino, meeting with reporters for the first time since Epstein's stunning departure Oct. 31, a decision for which Lucchino has received fierce criticism, also made it clear the team was moving on, saying he had not asked Epstein to reconsider.
''I believe his place in the history of the club is positive and secure, but his departure does not terminate the history of the club. You know, John [Henry, the principal owner], Tom, and I are optimistic about the future of the club. We have outstanding people filling roles throughout the organization. There's every reason to look forward to exciting times ahead, and I predict successful seasons."
Lucchino did not address the reasons he thought Epstein declined a three-year, $4.5 million contract extension to return.
''We were disappointed that Theo Epstein decided to decline the offer for a contract extension," Lucchino said. ''We worked hard to get an agreement that would work for the organization and would work for him. But he decided to take another path, so we wish him good luck wherever that path may take him.
''I've known him for a long time, 14 years. I admire him and have a lot of respect for his mind, his energy, his overall ability. But it's Theo's decision to decline our offers, and we're actively engaged in a process to move forward.
''People have asked me, you are asking me, to speculate on the reasons for Theo's decision. That I'm not going to do," Lucchino said. ''Theo characterized our meetings as honest discussions that were private. He made it clear his decision was based on various factors that were very personal, he said. I respect his privacy and won't speculate about the reasons for his decision."
Lucchino said he spoke with Epstein about transitional matters and other offseason agendas at the end of last week. But when asked if he'd asked Epstein to reconsider, he said, ''No, I have not."
Asked if he felt responsible for Epstein's decision -- to many observers, Epstein's departure was prompted by a rift with Lucchino over principles that Epstein felt he could no longer compromise -- Lucchino said, ''Theo is responsible for Theo's decisions but I was certainly a party to the negotiations and in that sense I had some role to play, and I'm sorry, did anyone ask about Dayton Moore?"
Moore, the assistant general manager of baseball operations for the Atlanta Braves since his promotion in August, was one of the three candidates interviewed here yesterday by Lucchino and Werner. Bowden, the general manager of the Washington Nationals, and Wayne Krivsky, the assistant GM of the Minnesota Twins, were the others. No interviews were scheduled for today -- Lucchino and Werner have other baseball business, they said, in Los Angeles, but they will return to Boston tomorrow to interview Jim Beattie, recently dismissed as executive vice president of baseball operations for the Baltimore Orioles.
''We think it's more important to find the right person than radically expedite the process," Lucchino said, though he added that the team would like to have someone in place before next month's winter meetings in Dallas.
The Sox, Lucchino said, have not asked for permission to interview Dodgers assistant GM Kim Ng. Two candidates -- Indians assistant general manager Chris Antonetti and Tony LaCava, Toronto's director of player personnel, were granted permission to interview but declined.
''I was flattered and gratified to be considered for this opportunity," said Antonetti, Mark Shapiro's highly regarded aide who declined to discuss his reasons for not interviewing but has had chances to interview elsewhere this fall and declined, suggesting he may believe there is unfinished business to take care of in Cleveland. LaCava told the Toronto Globe and Mail he preferred to remain in his current job, citing both personal and professional considerations.
Lucchino, in response to a question of whether the mentor-protege relationship he had with Epstein played a role in Epstein's departure, said it would be ''presumptuous" of him to think of himself as Epstein's mentor, as he has been widely characterized.
''I was someone who was smart enough to hire him and advance him in different places," Lucchino said.
Asked how personally wounded he was by all the criticism he has faced in the wake of Epstein's departure, Lucchino said:
''I was disappointed by it and some of the media coverage was very misleading, misled the public, and was very inaccurate, but it's part of the job, the business we have chosen."
Werner referenced Henry's expression of ''confidence in Larry," then added his own.
''What this organization has accomplished under Larry's leadership the last four years, you know as well as I do," Werner said. ''We're so confident of the improvements we've made in the organization, and it's all been under Larry's leadership. I reiterate that we've turned the page and we're excited about what we're doing."