Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein spoke candidly about the sudden end to his team’s season, his thoughts on moving the club forward, Jason Bay’s free agency, J.D. Drew’s value, David Ortiz, Daniel Bard, and other players and topics during an interview on WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan” program this morning.
“A lot of times if you focus on why you lost a certain playoff series, what went wrong in that series, you’re not gonna make quality decisions,” Epstein said regarding his thoughts after being swept by the Angels in the American League Division Series. “If you look at the season as a whole, what went right, what went wrong in the season, and take a look at the big picture, where you are as an organization, where you are in your long-term plan, you make better decisions.
“With the season as a whole, I guess I take issue that a lot of things went wrong,” he added. ”I agree we have issues going forward. We have challenges going forward and that’s where our focus is. I don’t think too much of it is based on what we think went wrong this season. I was actually looking at it in the last couple days, if you had told us that Bay would have a big season, Drew would have a big season, [Jacoby] Ellsbury would have a big developmental season, a big step forward. [Kevin] Youkilis would have another big season. Trade for Victor Martinez at the trading deadline, he’d be huge for two months. We’d have good performances at the front of our rotation with Beckett and Lester. Buchholz would come up in July and end up being a really good pitcher for us down the stretch. We’d have the best bullpen in the league, etc., etc. All these things went right and we won 95 games, I’d say, ‘Let’s go, let’s start the playoffs tomorrow.’ And I just feel like we didn’t show up… in those three games. It’s not as if we weren’t a team without any issues whatsoever. We had our issues and they manifested and cost us a little bit. We went through mysterious, frustrating stretches during the year when we didn’t hit at all on the road, and that happened. Those first two games in Anaheim we had guys in [Angels pitchers John] Lackey and [Jered] Weaver who really located, who located fastball away, and we didn’t adjust and we didn’t hit those guys.”
On trying to retain Jason Bay
Epstein: “If a player reaches free agency, usually the team that overbids, so to speak, for him is the one that lands him. But that’s not necessarily the case here, but sure it could be. We have to prepare for that contingency if he leaves but I don’t think the negotiation’s over by any means because of the fundamental elements are in place, him wanting to be here, us wanting to keep him.”
On the Sox offensive struggles on the road
Epstein: ‘“This year, for some reason, we really underperformed on the road. There are players who don’t have the pop to go out (of the park) regularly on the road that they do at Fenway and those guys performed a lot better at home than on the road, as you’d expect, but there are other players who don’t particularly have characteristics that would make them better players at Fenway who also underperformed on the road, so maybe there’s something to it where we can’t have too many guys who have swings built to Fenway Park but I also think it was mainly a fluky year where almost every player happened to play better at home than on the road.”
On the personality of the team
Epstein: “It’s basically the same team that we had in 2008. If we get one clutch hit in the 2008 ALCS Game 7, we’re going to the World Series, probably winning it . . . if the 2004 team, if Tony Clark’s ball doesn’t bounce into the stands, and we lose that series, you’re saying this team had too much personality. This personality was out of control. I understand it. There’s a human phenomenon where you want to sort of attribute personal characteristics to groups and say that they have this personality or they lack this characteristic. The reality is we can’t build a team based on, sort of, psychobabble. We build a team, try to get 25 high character guys. The bottom line is this team had a great personality. It was just calm outwardly, on the field, very professional. Behind closed doors they had a ton of fun. There were a lot of leaders. They showed up hard to play every single day. We won 95 games in a really tough division. Had we performed better in the playoffs, no one would be talking about our personality.”
On the value of J.D. Drew
Epstein: “If you want to look at this from a straight objective standpoint, what he contributes offensively and then what he contributes defensively, and then add in baserunning, so it’s the total value of a player, on a rate basis, he was outstanding. And there aren’t too many outfielders who can compare to what he did from a qualitative standpoint… What he’s done in the first three years of that contract, the way we value . . . based on the free agent market, what he’s done qualitatively, and when you factor in even the amount he’s played over these three years, yeah, he’s actually come out to a tick more than $14 million per year.”
On David Ortiz and his previous comments about the Sox DH
Epstein: “To be the team that we need to be, David Ortiz as our DH needs to be a force. We’re a different team when he’s a force. When he’s hitting all kinds of pitching, and hitting the ball to all fields, a really tough out, and driving the ball. That’s just the reality. I’m not trying to send anyone a message. I don’t send messages to the players through the media. I talk to our players a lot about things but I don’t send messages through the media… David already has a plan in place for his offseason. It’s something that he’s thought a lot about. When you struggle, at all, and you’re a competitor, you think about how to get better, you put a plan in place on how to get better, and you execute, and David’s already thought a lot about it. He is going to come back in great shape and he’s going to work his tail off, but that’s not something I would intentionally call a player out for doing, that’s something I would discuss behind the scenes.”
Could Daniel Bard be a closer in the major leagues in 2010 if called upon?
Epstein: “I think he has the physical ability to do that. And I think we saw as he developed throughout the course of the year that he has the mental makeup to do it as well. At the same time, I think he’s a work in progress. This is somebody who performed really well at the highest level who’s still working on some fundamental parts of his game. He’s still tweaking his breaking ball. He’s got a good breaking ball but he doesn’t … it’s probably not where it’s going to be eventually, he’s still tweaking it… This is someone who’s really still a work in progress, and while he may the ability to do something, it might not be the best thing for the long term for his career if we forced him into that role.”
Listen to the audio of WEEI’s interview here.