Tuesday, November 1, 2005

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Say it ain't so, Theo!

Part of my faith in the Red Sox's future rested with general manager Theo Epstein and the brain trust he had assembled. In contrast to the byzantine organizational structure of George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees.

Alas, this week has scrambled those expectations. Steinbrenner managed to retain Brian Cashman as his GM, and Cashman managed to shift the center of gravity on decision-making away from Tampa and towards New ork.

Meanwhile, Red Sox wunderkind GM Theo Epstein has declined the Red Sox's offer of a new three-year contract. The Boston Herald's Michael Silverman explains why:

Money and length of the contract were not issues in the past few days for Epstein, who had lobbied hard for an annual salary of more than $1 million a year.

Epstein had come close to agreeing to a deal Saturday evening but had not officially conveyed acceptance of it. On Sunday, he began having serious misgivings about staying on. A leading contributing factor, according to sources close to the situation, was a column in Sunday’s Boston Globe in which too much inside information about the relationship between Epstein and his mentor, team president and CEO Larry Lucchino, was revealed -- in a manner slanted too much in Lucchino’s favor. Epstein, according to these sources, had several reasons to believe Lucchino was a primary source behind the column and came to the realization that if this information were leaked hours before Epstein was going to agree to a new long-term deal, it signaled excessive bad faith between him and Lucchino.

Epstein's innovation as a GM wasn't to use sabremetrics to analyze baseball players -- though he was part of the first wave of GM's to do so. No, Epstein's real gift was to think about the 40 man roster as a portfolio that needed to be diversified, and to exploit the healthy payroll he was given to the hilt. In positions where the Red Sox did not have an All-Star, Epstein managed to sign multiple players whose whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Think of Pokey Reese and Mark Bellhorn at second base in 2004, or the troika of Jeremy Gimbi, David Ortiz, and Kevin Millar at 1B/DH in 2003, or Millar and John Olerud this year at first base. Not every signing paid off, but Epstein hit the jackpot way more often than he crapped out. And he did this without trading away all that much in the way of young talent.

Meanwhile, both David Wells and Manny Ramirez want out of Beantown because of a lack of privacy.

MSNBC's Mike Celizic thinks Epstein's departure is a harbinger of disasters to come to Red Sox Nation:

When a man walks out on the job he dreamed of having all his life, a job for which he’s just been offered triple his previous pay, there’s something seriously wrong either with the man or with the job.

With most people, I’d pick the man as the one who’s stripped the threads on a couple of mental screws. But not with Theo Epstein, the man who authored the Miracle of Fenway. If Epstein, who took over as the general manager of the Red Sox at 28 and won the World Series at 30, is willing to turn his back on the team he grew up cheering for, a job he was offered $1.5 million a year to perform, there’s something terminally wrong with it.

Red Sox fans had better get used to that realization, and they had better hearken back to what life was like before 2004, when they entered the spring of every season knowing that waiting for them in the fall was only heartbreak. The Red Sox will get another general manager, but the job he faces is daunting.

The left fielder wants out. The center fielder is a free agent who can’t play center field any more. There’s no closer in the bullpen and no middle relief. The starting pitching is a mess. The newspapers, even more smothering in their coverage of the Sox than the New York papers are in their coverage of the Yankees, are starting to nip at the team’s heels. In the clubhouse, which not long ago was happier than a squirrel in a birdfeeder, there are stories of dissension.

In other words, the Red Sox are turning back into what they always have been — a team playing a game, as Bart Giamatti once wrote, that’s meant to break your heart.

Methinks Celizic is way too pessimistic. A rebuilt farm system is going to be providing the Red Sox with a bevy of fresh arms and speed over the next few years. And I think the current owenership is still pretty interested in winning another World Series or two. That said, it's still going to be a very bumpy off-season -- but was true the year they won it all (remember A-Rod?).

However, the staff here at danieldrezner.com wishes the best of luck to Mr. Epstein in any of his futute career pursuits -- so long as they don't entail taking over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' GM job.

UPDATE: David Pinto has more at Baseball Musings here and here. Via his blog, I found this wonderful rant :

God Damn! They are now just another team. Here's the thing, kids. Here's what's different about Boston. Yankee fans are frontrunners, we all know that. They root for the 27 World Championships. Angels fans want to play with their thunder stix and Rally Monkey(r). Cubs fans want a party; the team is the medium for that. Sox fans aren't fans of the team. Rather, every Sox fan thinks he/she is ON the team. Theo was our guy who was ON THE TEAM. They could sell dirt from the '04 field, or blow up Fenway Park,or sell those silly membership cards, we didn't care. They could jam that effin' Sweet Caroline down our gullets every day (twice on the split admission day-nighters).

We didn't care. We were ON THE TEAM. Theo was our surrogate. He got Papi; he had dinner with Curt; he got rid of that pain in the ass Nomar.

We have all been kicked off the team. God Damn.

posted by Dan on 11.01.05 at 12:21 AM


Well, I saw it here first. If the blogshpere is to be believed I am very sad.

Go Sox, even without Theo. And Go Theo, although I know you will miss the Sox.

Oh, and maybe Manny wouldn't have so little privacy is his wife didn't keep inviting reporters in.


posted by: Kate on 11.01.05 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

Good God! This Epstein character had one decent season and all of a sudden he's a "wunderkind"??? They barely made the playoffs and when they did, they were trounced by the White Sox.

As for the Yankees, I think that Steinbrenner's buying of pennants is going to be a thing of the past.

Oswaldo Guillen and Ken Williams showed decisively this season that you can win if you can scout good talent with selfless attitudes and have a manager who coaches based upon a knowledge of the game rahter than being driven by data.

You saw it clearly in the World Series where the idiot Phil Garner took out Backe in the 7th inning for Lidge. Backe had thrown his 100 pitches--even though the White Sox couldnt hit him, he took him out for Lidge!

Oswaldo lets his pitchers pitch. He has confidence in them.

Kenny WIlliams is a much better GM than this Epstein character!

posted by: Lofnf on 11.01.05 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

Lofnf et al,

I wonder how much you know about baseball and the impact that Theo has had on management theory of the sport.

First, Theo was GM three years and all three years the team went to the playoffs. The first year they swept the As and lost in game 7 of the ALCS to the Yankees. Second year they won the World Series, and this year they got swept by the eventual Series champs, who BTW only lost one game in the entire playoffs. How many other of the 30 MLB teams have been to the playoffs three years in a row and won the Series in one of those appearances?

Secondly and more importantly, Epstein fundamentally changed management theory in MLB. While some GMs valued sabermetrical analysis as a tool, Theo was the first GM to look beyond the marketability of players and seriously evaluated their worth to the team through objective data. In other words, while most GMs would hold on to a player for being a "clutch hitter," Theo knew that there was empirical studies that demonstrated that there is really no such thing as a "clutch hitter." It took a lot of courage to trade a franchise player like Garciaparra, especially one that was a fan favorite. But, he was right about the trade and it won a series.

Third, he had three playoff runs, a world series, and changed management philosophy by the end of his 30th birthday. He accomplished more for his team and had more of an impact on the sport than most of the long-term GMs. That is the very definition of Wunderkind.

posted by: Travis on 11.01.05 at 12:21 AM [permalink]


Yes you are correct: "this year they got swept by the eventual Series champs." They never would have made the playoffs had the best team in baseball (in what was a meaningless series) not swept the Indians the last weekend of the season.

Hey, I'll give this Epstein fellow some props for signing Matt Clement! It was a joy to see the former Cub give up 8 runs in 3 1/3 in the first game of the ACDS. Maybe the Cubs will hire the guy now that he's unemployed!

Viva Oswaldo! Viva Las Medias Blancas!

posted by: Lofnf on 11.01.05 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

See, the thing is, most general managers are really, really stupid. Anyone here ever read Steve Phillips' work for ESPN? If you have, you already know what I'm talking about.

At any rate, Theo was the anti-Duquette/Gorman/Sullivan. In other words, he had functioning brain cell or two. Replacing him is not going to be easy. At all.

I predict the new GM will want to make a super-favorable impression on his bosses and sign a bunch of ridiculous long-term contracts- I'm lookin' at AJ Burnett for starters.

posted by: Brad R. on 11.01.05 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

Before appointing Epstein the worlds greatest GM, what was the BoSox payroll last year?

Having a large payroll (2nd highest in the league?) makes it much, much easier to "prove" ones greatness.

posted by: Johnny_Upton on 11.01.05 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

First, Theo was not the first to use "objective data" to evaluate players, that is Billy Beane and Moneyball. Theo just brought his version of Moneyball to Boston.

Second, I hope Theo takes the Devil Rays job and beats both the Yanks and the Sawks.
Either that, or Jerry Riensdorf picks an owner for the Nats and Theo comes here and beats the Braves, Mets, and Phillies.

Third, Theo is nothing more than the latest fad in GMs--young, ivy league educated, stats friendly guys. Beane was the first, but there's Ricardi in Toronto, Shapiro in Cleveland, Theo's ex assistant who just got tabbed for the job in Az, DePodesta before he got axed in LA, Cashman in NY, and the list goes on. Once you get out of the Yankees-Sawks bubble, you can see that Theo was good, but not all that unique or special.

posted by: peter on 11.01.05 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

Peter- it wasn't just his program of stats evalution that impressed me about Theo- heck, Paul DePodesta graduated from the Billy Beane School of Sabermetrics, and look at how well that turned out.

What made Theo stand out was:

a.) His skills as a negotiator. He got Curt Schilling from the D-backs for practically nothing, even as Arizona was demanding that the Yanks trade them both Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson.

b.) How he rebuilt the farm system. Jonathan Papelbon is going to be an ace, and Jon Lester isn't that far behind. The minor leagues are simply loaded with talented kids.

posted by: Brad R. on 11.01.05 at 12:21 AM [permalink]


posted by: jared bailey on 11.01.05 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

Fantastic post. Maybe it's good that Theo's leaving. We're due for another eight-decade slump.

posted by: Matt Duffy on 11.01.05 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

Dan Shaughnessy is an @#*hole. I hope he is tarred & feathered and run out of Boston by the faithful.

posted by: Footie on 11.01.05 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

It took a lot of courage to trade a franchise player like Garciaparra, especially one that was a fan favorite. But, he was right about the trade and it won a series.

Yes, he's a genius in the hiring of shortstops! Oh, except for the next one he went out and got...

posted by: JSinger on 11.01.05 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

This is also a case of the caustic east coast sports writing atmosphere that exists from Baltimore to Boston. Sports writers are more than willing to mount attacks against whoever is the goat of the week, and are willing to be fed the dish from whomever. IMO, too many sports hacks in both print and air think that the only way to cover sports is the confrontational way and it sullies up a lot of the sports coverage on the east coast.
Bully to Epstein for turning down the money for the lack of respect from managment and the @$$hole writer who facilitated it. (honestly, the logic of that particular column was goofy)

posted by: ElamBend on 11.01.05 at 12:21 AM [permalink]

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