Perhaps we are starting to get a glimpse into the reason why Theo Epstein left so abruptly Halloween night. It is becoming increasingly obvious that as much as this offseason may be all about trading Manny Ramirez and re-signing Johnny Damon, it's also about fixing the mistakes that were made in the offseason of 2004-05.
A year ago, we fell for press conferences introducing David Wells, Edgar Renteria, Matt Clement, and John Halama (yes, they actually had one for him), trying to convince ourselves these guys were the answers to the question as to whether the Red Sox could repeat. Wells and Clement would easily replace Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, and Renteria, well yeah it was a lot of money, but this was a Gold Glove-winning on-base machine we were talking about.
As it turns out, not one of them has what it takes to succeed in Boston.
Wells has requested a trade partly based on the fact that he can't go out without being the most noticed man on the block in Red Sox Nation, where even Alex Cora gets treatment usually reserved for the likes of Bono and Madonna. Renteria flat out showed he couldn't handle the pressure of playing in Boston, where fans will let you know when you're not playing up to par (see Mark Bellhorn, Kevin Millar), a decidedly vast difference from the apathetic Marlins fans and accommodating Cardinals fans for whom he'd become accustomed to playing. And while Clement's seemingly annual downward spiral coincided with getting smacked in the head by a hard liner in Tampa, his horrific Game 1 postseason start may have illustrated all the Red Sox brass needed to know about his gamesmanship. Halama, well they made good on that faux pas long ago.
Now, in addition to attempting to ship Wells off to the West Coast, where he can feel comfortable and not be bothered while catching rays on the beach, Boston is reportedly trying its best to unload Clement and Renteria this week at the winter meetings in Dallas. Yes, Clement, the last-minute, last-ditch effort Epstein made after being jilted by Martinez, thanks to Omar Minaya and the famed fourth year. Yes, Renteria, the poster boy replacement for the effusive and ever-popular Orlando Cabrera, who came to town with an iron reputation, and left with the substance somehow trickling to his onetime dependable glove.
This is how Epstein prepared the Red Sox to defend their title. And now they are being shown the same door the guy who brought them in left through posing as an Electric Company mascot.
Clement has been mentioned in numerous deals involving the Tigers, Brewers, and Rangers, teams desperate for pitching that see a 14-game winner making $9 million as a bargain in an offseason when A.J. Burnett reeled in $55 million. Renteria's laissez-fair approach and his 30 errors were nothing short of a disaster for the Red Sox last season, a dour performance magnified even further by the loss of Cabrera, who quickly made people forget Nomar Garciaparra with his dazzling play in the field. Renteria didn't exactly have the same effect, which should make his successor all the more accepted here.
Or, then again, maybe not. Word is that successor could be Julio Lugo, the Tampa Bay shortstop who had just six fewer errors than Renteria last season. Renteria would be headed to Atlanta in a three-way deal that would net Boston the Tampa Bay shortstop. Lugo hit .295 for the Devil Rays last season, but his error total was fourth-most in the majors. Of course, Renteria led the way with 30. What an improvement. They'd better erect some barriers Saturday for Christmas at Fenway, because once fans hear about that one, it's going to be pandemonium on Yawkey Way.
One guy that might actually cause that kind of excitement would be Cabrera, but how to explain the fact that the Red Sox reportedly asked for him in a possible scenario for Ramirez with the Angels? Isn't this the guy who a year ago was judged not to be a good fit in Boston, despite the protests of fans, radio talk show hosts, and columnists from Winooski to Warwick? The same guy they could have had for a lot less than four years, $40 million? The same guy who dazzled yet again this past October in trying to lead his Angels past the White Sox in the ALCS? The same guy who upon his return to Fenway Park in May, broke down in tears in the clubhouse after the game, touched by the reception he received from a fan base that couldn't forget what he meant during that magical season? The same guy who in retrospect made so much sense for the Red Sox in the first place? You mean that guy?
We're not going to go as far as to suggest the Red Sox are burning old photos of Epstein like a scorned lover on Yawkey Way, but it's evident that some of his past decisions are getting a remodeling. Hanley Ramirez, the supposed crown jewel of the farm system he helped resuscitate was dealt off in a matter of weeks, and now the Red Sox are attempting to get rid of all the remainder of the free agents he brought in last December. For all the love Epstein gets in Red Sox Nation, with good reason, he certainly made his share of mistakes here as well. And perhaps his biggest blunders were irrationally judging the makeup of Renteria and the tenacity of Clement. And granted, while Clement was seen as a quick fix in most circles, and an overpaid one at that, Renteria was generally regarded as Epstein's guy. And Epstein's guy was a debacle. You think that wasn't brought up in his October contract talks?
It is speculation of course, since neither the Red Sox nor Epstein have explained one iota of what the hell happened, but the theory that Epstein couldn't handle Larry Lucchino pointing out his failures over three years as general manager certainly has some credence to it now. Perhaps it wasn't a power struggle at all, but for the reason we all think about quitting our jobs at one time or another: spite. That, "well, yeah, let's see how they do without me," feeling of confidence. That self-assurance that you are an integral part of the works.
This isn't throwing Theo under the bus, or bashing him for a couple of moves that didn't move out as some have already suggested. There's no denying Epstein was a phenomenonal GM here, and his departure has yet to make its true impact felt in the front office. But you know, darn it all, he didn't bat 1.000, 365 days a year. He made mistakes. Similar to the ones J.P. Ricciardi is going to realize in about a year that he has just made.
Maybe Epstein didn't want to fix them, and that's partly the reason he's gone. Whether his lapses follow him out the Fenway front door remains to be seen. And ultimately what it will cost.
Kevin Modseti talks to Derek Lowe, who defends his once and future manager. Speaking of Lowe, fan site dodgerblues.com/ already has a running count of days (117 currently) until Little leaves the sinkerballer in too long.