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Red Sox Notebook

Epstein has options

Cubs remain a potential landing spot for Sox GM

After nine years (and two titles) with the Red Sox, Theo Epstein may want a new challenge. After nine years (and two titles) with the Red Sox, Theo Epstein may want a new challenge. (Aram Boghosian/For The Globe)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / October 2, 2011

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The Red Sox bid an awkward farewell to manager Terry Francona Friday, a daylong process that culminated in two press conferences at Fenway Park.

Is general manager Theo Epstein next to go through the Sox spin cycle?

Epstein has a year remaining on his contract, but has so far refused to deny interest in joining the Chicago Cubs. Sox chairman Tom Werner and president Larry Lucchino also spoke ambiguously about Epstein’s future Friday.

“The Cubs are obviously interested in Theo and the talk is not going away,’’ said a major league source yesterday. “I think it’s possible.’’

Efforts to reach Epstein for comment were unsuccessful.

On Sept. 23, Epstein avoided a question about the Cubs. On Aug. 31, he said he was focused on the “Red Sox of 2011.’’

His superiors have been equally evasive. On Friday, Lucchino said he wasn’t prepared to answer a question about whether the team would grant Epstein permission to interview with the Cubs. Werner then praised Epstein but did not say definitively that he would remain on the job.

Epstein is two months away from the ninth anniversary of his hiring as general manager. Only seven other active general managers have been with the same team longer. Epstein, who turns 38 in December, could be seeking a new challenge within baseball.

No challenge is greater than the Cubs, who have not won the World Series since 1908 or the National League pennant since 1945. If Epstein could reverse their tortured fortunes, as he did for the Red Sox in 2004, his place in baseball history would be even more notable.

The Cubs were 71-91 this season and were beset with internal issues before announcing that GM Jim Hendry had been fired. Manager Mike Quade could be replaced as well, raising the intriguing possibility of Epstein joining the Cubs and hiring Francona as manager.

If Epstein were to abandon the Sox, senior vice president and assistant general manager Ben Cherington would be a logical replacement. Cherington has been with the Sox since 1999 and was one of the team officials who replaced Epstein during his three-month departure in 2005.

Cherington was a participant in the meeting Friday that led to Francona’s departure, a sign of his stature within the organization.

Ortiz weighs in In an interview with Comcast Sports, David Ortiz spoke about some of the issues surrounding the team.

“I played for [Francona] for so long,’’ he said. “If I’m still here next year, it’s going to be kind of weird not seeing him around. I’m used to that.’’

Ortiz, who becomes a free agent after the World Series, said he wanted to return to the Sox “next year and the years to come.’’

Ortiz, who turns 36 in November, hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs this season.

“To be honest with you right now, I’m just thinking about how things went down here this year,’’ he said. “I know we let of lot of people down. The fans don’t deserve what we offered them.’’

Ortiz had no comment about reports that some starting pitchers were drinking beer in the clubhouse during games they weren’t in.

“We probably had problems and I can’t give you too many details about that,’’ he said. “I tried my best to get this team rolling one way or another. I get along pretty much with everybody. But at the same time, I’m nobody to determine who does the right thing and who doesn’t.

“It’s not like I’m anybody’s baby sitter. I know we’ve got rules and I know we’ve got to follow those rules. If we have guys not doing that, it’s the front office’s job to let them know.’’

Okajima, others freed up Minor league lefthander Hideki Okajima, once a key component of the Red Sox, declared free agency, as did infielder Drew Sutton and lefthanded relievers Dennys Reyes and Randy Williams. All four spent time with the Sox this season.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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