The End of the Theo Epstein Era in Boston (Monty)
The other shoe had to fall somewhere.
This move was not unexpected, in fact this move was likely more anticipated than Tito’s exit. Theo had ran his course in Boston, falling victim to the increasing tension of the media onslaught in Beantown and took the way out that would be expected. The past statement is not throwing salt on the wound, more of a way to cope with the fact that the two major pieces that put together and ran the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox are now elsewhere.
Theo did in a big-market team what Billy Beane did in Oakland. Theo showed baseball that it could work to find pieces that fit instead of a big bat that is overpaid and underwhelming.
One major point of contention that adeared Theo to fans but made him public enemy number one against the brass was his increasingly genuine way of making sure the owners didn’t get in his way. This showed later on during his first contract term, when he ignored the owner’s “need” for a big-market free agent, focusing on the parts that would eventually turn into Pedroia and Ellisbury. He used his contract dispute as a battering ram saying that this team would go nowhere without him, and the owners saw that and immediately gave in.
Then came the two pickups that will haunt Red Sox fans for year. Signing John Lackey through 2014 for 82.5 Million. Given, he was coming in with a 3.83 ERA after winning the Cy Young three years prior, but then he goes 4.40 and 6.41 in his first two years in Boston. Not to mention Lackey has the emotional attention span of a squirrel.
Then came Crawford. 30-year old rusted speedster from Tampa Bay with a short temper and questionable confidence issues coming into the harshest (arguable) spot in sports. I’m sure that must have been a perfect fit, not to mention the $142 Mil that the Sox dropped on him.
So – what is Theo’s lasting legacy? He took Beane’s sabermetric procedure and turned it into two World Series championships – so I say pretty damn good. His time was up, it was time to move on, and the Red Sox need a fresh after they were set up for failure by the same issue that hits teams staring past the regular season and into the playoffs; you need to play the games first. In baseball, one bad free-agency pickup can doom your team for several years, and two can completely dehabilitate a team. Having the Philadelphia Eagles of the MLB is what did in the Red Sox, and that was because Theo got away from what he did so well in 2004 and 2007, finding the best names in the game in the window of a candy store, running up to it and screaming “I WANT HIM, I WANT HIM” while smearing spit over the window panes. The 2004 Theo would kidney punch that prize-fighter as soon as he walked by. So it is good that Theo did what he did in Boston, but its time to move on.
The Beginning of the Theo Epstein Era in Chicago (Roy-Z)
In the wake of the Jim Hendry Debacle
With Theo moving into the, err, void left by Jim Hendry, it would be unfair to instantly assume all will be better by in Chicago by the 2012 playoff. There is work to be done, and Hendry did his best in digging a nice comfortable hole which Theo now was the duty of digging the Cubbies out of. There is daylight coming – with many a million dollars seemingly falling off the payroll in coming seasons, and a young, talented group waiting on the bench and in Iowa – a youth movement is coming to Chicago, but do not expect an overnight fix. It is safe to say Theo will not pick up Aramis Ramirez’s ($2 Million buyout) or re-sign Carlos Pena, but the albatross contracts of Alfonso Soriano ($18 Million annually until ’14) and Carlos Zambrano (also $18 Million) remain. While Soriano’s numbers may seem serviceable, keep in mind almost all of those stats are put up in short, idiot-strength stretches of the season. Not to mention the defense. Oh my land, the defense.
Learning from Mistakes in Boston
The Red Sox are not a bad team. Let’s clarify this – Theo Epstein did not run them into the ground. There were some glaring mistakes made in Boston that Theo has to learn from, however. ONE: Never trust pitching. Ever. John Lackey just isn’t that good. He put together a great season in 2009, and Epstein shoveled a ton of money at him. In Theo’s defense – the market for starting pitchers wasn’t great that season, nor was it in 2010-2011 offseason, when outrageous amounts of money were piled in front of Carl Crawford – did Theo even want Crawford? Or was the media circus of Boston far too much to let someone else sign the highly sought-after left fielder?
What’d the lesson here, Theo? Work from within whenever possible. Rather than piling money into an undeserving player’s arms, help another team out while strengthening your own. Do you recall Philadelphia’s acquisition of one Roy Halladay? Explore the trade route. Don’t panic. use the strengths of your system to strengthen your system. Yes – it makes sense.
Building on Boston’s Successes
But let’s not take away from Theo’s success in Boston. Two World Series Championships. The ultimate unit of measure accomplishable in baseball, taken twice. This man assembled the teams that won it all. Let’s remember Theo in Boston for his triumphs – the Adrian Gonzalez deal! It took years, but he will anchor the Boston 1st base corner for years. Drafting Jacoby Ellsbury. Sending parasite Manny Ramirez out of town at just the right time. Well, close to the right time.
The Chicago Cubs with Theo Epstein righting the ship will be a better team (more on that when their turn comes up in out Long, Cold Winter series). Future team leader Starlin Castro. New coaches. DJ Lemahieu. The blossiming of Geovany Soto. Contracts coming off the books. Set a good rotation, don’t sign any John Lackeys, and this team is greatly fixed. The National League Central, as weak as it is, is going to get weaker, especially so if Prince and The King take their services elsewhere. Theo has already shown proficiency with a large payroll. Exercised the efficiency of advanced metrics. Things are going to change in the Windy City.
But you’ve gotta realize, Theo, it’s going to be a tough road in Chicago. You still have the albatross contracts. You still have the media frenzy. You still have a cursed franchise, and since you did it once – they’re going to expect you to do it again. Anything less than a World Series in Chicago is going to read: Failure.