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Dan Shaughnessy

Epstein has the look of a winner

Email|Print| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / February 15, 2008

FORT MYERS, Fla. - He's 34 years old now, with two World Series titles and a newborn son.

So, how's it going, Theo? Any change in the work schedule?

"No, everything's pretty much the same," Theo Epstein said yesterday on the first day of his sixth season as general manager of the Red Sox. "No bags under my eyes."

He's more guarded than he was when he was the Boy Wonder back in 2003, but he's still got the BlackBerry to his ear, still carries himself with Marine posture, still goes out for a run around the Sox complex late in the afternoon.

And now he's got new cachet. Already respected and revered throughout New England, Epstein made himself positively bulletproof when the 21st-century Sox won a second World Series last autumn. Now, Theo can sign an overweight, 41-year-old blowhard for $8 million, find out the big lug may never pitch again, and still not get harpooned by the normally carnivorous Boston media.

Theo is at the top of his game. He is Bill Belichick without the hoodie, the cheating, or the boorishness. He's removed himself from the "Boston's Most Eligible Bachelor" roll call, but he's still on everybody's A-list among Boston sports celebrities.

Epstein yesterday met with the media on the day Red Sox pitchers and catchers were required to report. Naturally, the first several questions concerned Curt Schilling. The Sox signed the big fella Nov. 6, then found out last week that Schill can't throw a baseball across Jose Canseco's swimming pool. Schill said he wanted shoulder surgery, the Sox prescribed rest and rehab, and Schill's doctor said the club's plan has a zero percent chance of success.

"Curt's here in camp and will work hard, rehab, and do everything in his power to get back in a position to contribute and help this team on the field," said Epstein. "The diagnosis process is really behind us. There's some bumps in the road because both parties care so much about the team and his career and doing what's right."

Any explanation for the change in Schilling's physical status since the Sox examined and signed him?

"It's hard to say," said Epstein. "I think what's important now is his status as a rehabbing player and I'm sure he's going to put in the work necessary to get back."

Did you ask Schilling how this happened?

"Sure, we all put our heads together trying to figure out the exact nature of the situation to resolve it, but there's no black-and-white incident," said Epstein. "His shoulder didn't respond to his throwing regime."

Are you satisfied with the club medical exam of Schilling at the time he signed?

"Yeah," said Epstein. "We certainly knew what we had with any pitcher of that age. But his shoulder was strong and he took an MRI. I wouldn't put fault on our medical staff at all."

John Henry might have a different feeling when he's signing those checks over to Schilling. But Theo is spared the slings and arrows that certainly would have punctured the likes of Lou Gorman or Dan Duquette had this happened on their watch. No problem here. Everyone loves Theo. Everyone loves Schill. Kumbaya. Hakuna Matata. And all that.

It's not a problem the Sox didn't sign Johan Santana, either. Sox fans would rather have Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and/or Jacoby Ellsbury.

Theo has earned this good will. He was right about the Sox' prospects last year. And he was right about the weapons the Sox went to battle with in October.

There wasn't much baseball news over the winter and there's little suspense involving Boston's 2008 Opening Day roster. Theo's plan has worked. The Sox have been able to win and develop players simultaneously. It's a nifty trick, aided immensely by Henry's deep pockets.

Additionally, there's been no backlash regarding the Sox' place in the infamous Mitchell Report. The report included in-house memos in which Theo's staff went back and forth regarding possible steroid use by Brendan Donnelly and Eric Gagné.

Any regrets about how that looked? Was that a little uncomfortable?

"No, as an organization we made the decision to just turn over all our materials, our hard drives and everything else," said Epstein. "I believe we were one of the only teams to do that [they were certainly the only team with George Mitchell on the club masthead]. The only thing I thought it showed was us doing our job and doing due diligence, so I didn't really see it as a major issue."

A few years ago, Epstein came to camp wearing a Patriots cap. He said he wanted to emulate the Patriots organization. There was no Patriots cap yesterday. Did he watch the Super Bowl?

"Great game," he said. "Unfortunate ending, but a great game. I think if anything it underscored how remarkable an accomplishment it was to win the first 18. They ran into a hot team at the wrong time."

Theo on the state of the Red Sox:

"We feel good about the amount of talent on our roster and the stability of the organization . . . We're in a very tough division. We're in a very tough league . . . The organization is in a pretty stable place where we have a talented core at the major league level with some experience. We have some young players really starting to emerge at the major league level as contributors. And we have a solid and deep farm system."

There is no perfection in baseball. But the Red Sox think they go into 2008 with the best team. They look fat and happy, even with a GM who is lean and somber.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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