Before the general conscience of Red Sox Nation concludes Theo Epstein is a goner, forced to rationalize his departure with the names of busts on his watch like Byung Hyun Kim, Edgar Renteria, Jeremy Giambi, Ramiro Mendoza, Jeff Suppan, and the 2005 Boston Red Sox pitching staff, let’s take a step back, something the reactionary population has a hard time doing.
Yes, Boston’s general manager is a piece of the system, the work of a brain trust in search of a common goal. Could you argue Josh Byrnes has just as much influence in the day-to-day decision-making process as Epstein? Possibly, although let’s not forget it was Byrnes’ Kelly Shoppach-for-Larry Bigbie proposal at the trading deadline that was infamously nixed by upper management.
Of course, for every Renteria or Kim, there is an Orlando Cabrera, Dave Roberts, and a farm system just bursting with possibility. The Red Sox won a World Series under Epstein, the youngest GM in baseball history ever to prompt a parade. And yet, with the team on the verge of losing him, accenting the negative of his resume has become the easiest way of letting go for the Nation.
And you forget what made this guy special in the first place.
For instance, how many other general managers out there have spent their Thanksgiving wooing a potential cog at their home a country away? How many other general managers do you see come out of a June draft day with bags under their eyes and the shirt they wore a week ago stuck to their chests? How many other general managers have a deeply grounded understanding of the market, even one that transcends logic sometimes?
Is he the game’s best GM? Hardly. That award goes inarguably to Atlanta’s John Schuerholz, who has built a perennial winner since 1991. Top five? Even with just three complete seasons on the job, sure. Not many have done what he has in such a short period of time while having the cojones to ship one of the franchise’s most popular figures (Nomar Garciaparra) out of town in the process.
So, what is it then? Why wasn’t this a slam-dunk? Here ya go, Theo. You sign it, we’ll get it to payroll, and then go about our business. Oh, you want a bit more? Sure, just get me the whiteout, and … how much? Yeah, sure. No problem, man. Here you go.
As ridiculous as that sounds, it might be a tad more lucid than whatever is going on over at Yawkey Way.
Depending upon whom you speak to, read, overhear, or Clockwork Orange for information, Theo Epstein either rejected the Red Sox’ latest offer of $1.2 million a year for three years, the two sides are closer to a deal, or Epstein and Yankees GM Brian Cashman are in cahoots to extort more cash from their respective teams. We’re trying to get definitive word somehow, but it’s difficult today to track down, “sources,” “one Major League GM,” and “a major league executive with knowledge of the negotiations.” Must all be at lunch together.
Gordon Edes and Chris Snow float the theory that Epstein’s latest rejection means there is quite obviously a power struggle existing between him and CEO Larry Lucchino. While Lucchino might have the final say on all deals and potential free agent signings, his padawan wants more pull when it comes to delivering the goods, possibly going directly to John Henry for the yea or nay, and bypassing the middle man.
The Providence Journal’s Sean McAdam opines that Tom Werner and Henry may get involved in these negotiations soon. His source: Speculation “throughout baseball.” You don’t say.
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News’ Bill Madden quotes one GM as saying, “They’re pals and I’m sure they’re both holding out as long as they can, if nothing else, to give Theo additional leverage so he gets what he wants from the Red Sox. In any case, Brian’s going to get his money.”
One GM. Of what, exactly, a major league squad or the Toledo Mud Hens? This guy could be GM of a Cumberland Farms for all we know.
Not exactly Deep Throat, is it?
Let’s realize the Red Sox created Epstein’s demands by offering Billy Beane $2.5 million in the first place back in 2002, a salary that would dwarf any GM’s even three years later. Ah, but they WERE willing to give it to someone, albeit with a resume of building a yearly contender out of paper clips and Scott Hatteberg. With the league’s second-highest payroll to work with, can Epstein be placed in that same category?
No. Beane is better. Should Epstein be making the $1.6 million Schuerholz gets from the Braves? Let’s put it this way, have you ever compared real estate prices between Atlanta and greater Boston? Try buying a Brookline bungalow with the $400,000 Epstein makes now. It’s not easy. Grossly underachieving general manager Dam O’Dowd probably lives in a Cherry Creek palace just outside of Denver with his salary. Heck, if that’s the case, why shouldn’t Theo consider moving back to San Diego and building a dream home on Coronado?
Look, while the Red Sox have burst the seams in terms of national and regional popularity, we all know that certain members of the fan base have lost some semblance of rooting interest in the team, priced out by rising ticket prices (no matter what Charles Steinberg’s “conscience” says, a ticket hike, no matter how inanely they spin it, on the most expensive tickets in the game is still tough to swallow for many). Fans who used to enjoy a dozen or so games a season are lucky if they can get tickets from Uncle Bob for a Devil Rays game. Meanwhile, there’s something to be said for the White Sox giving John Cusack — a die-hard Cubs fan — the stiff-arm for his recent ticket request. Our local front office will do backwards somersaults to get a celebrity into Henry’s dugout seats. Probably even if it’s the likes of Billy Crystal.
And when the Red Sox are in their rebuilding mode — which is a possibility next season as Jonathan Papelbon, Craig Hansen, Kevin Youkilis, and Manny Delcarmen get their feet wet — those $200 box seats might be a whole lot harder to sell off, no longer the toughest ticket in town. The celebrities and dignitaries are going to be hard to find when you’re in third place, and the real fans who can’t afford to go gave up caring a while ago.
Now, if the team also ends up jettisoning local hero Theo Epstein because he wanted more years and more money to do a job at which he has excelled over the past three years, imagine how popular that will be in Red Sox Nation.
Is it worth it? Ask yourself that, and then realize that this team paid Alex Cora about as much last season as they have paid Epstein over the past three years.
Understand that, and you see that Epstein’s demands aren’t all that insidious. In three years, this farm system he helped build will just be starting to bloom on the major league level. In five years, he should be around to take the ultimate credit for it. Of course, someone on the Red Sox doesn’t want that to come to fruition.
Don’t blame Epstein if and when this doesn’t get done. If everybody else in that front office is getting richer by the day, why shouldn’t he? It’s his face and name that get tossed out there when things go wrong.
If I’m him, and San Diego wants me, I walk, and prove what I can do with a payroll that isn’t the second highest in the game. Epstein is a proud enough guy not to have that tag following him.
The Red Sox might do a fine job of replacing Epstein on a day-to-day operations basis, sure. But as far as what Epstein meant for this city from a local-boy-does-good angle, as well as his involvement in the community, ability to handle the press, and overall sense for the game as it warrants in New England, well good luck to them, because they couldn’t have found a more ideal guy than Epstein.
When he leaves, Edgar Renteria and Jeremy Giambi will all of a sudden become his legacy. The World Series title will all of a sudden be credited more to Dan Duquette, the irrational excuse many will have for the Red Sox ditching the man who could probably be mayor.
It also may be the final straw for a lot of fans, too. Don’t look now, but Padres lid sales could be up 30 percent at local malls.