Theo: Red Sox were swallowed by 'The Monster'

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Theo: Red Sox were swallowed by 'The Monster'

There are codewords for it. Bricks. Sox Appeal. Sweet Caroline. The sellout streak.

But Theo Epstein had a better, more direct, phrase:

"The Monster".

He wasn't referring to the left-field wall. The former Red Sox GM, now the president of the Chicago Cubs, was talking about the post-2004 Sox organization's "emphasis on doing things bigger, better . . . pushing to be more marketable, more profitable, not to lose any fans, continuing to push all these numbers".

Which leads them to sell bricks. And do everything they can to keep their record sellout streak alive. And play 'Sweet Caroline' every night in the middle of the eighth, even if they're losing 16-5.

"It's perfectly understandable; I don't blame anyone for it," Epstein said Wednesday on the 'Felger & Mazz' radio show. "It's sort of a natural consequence of winning and a natural consequence of being a business."

The problem is, it also leads them to do things like signing a 30-something pitcher like John Lackey to a multiyear contract. To run through a revolving door of overpaid, mediocre shortstops. To embrace quick, external fixes to problems that sometimes would be better solved with long-term, internal strategies. The need to win now, to sell tickets, to keep ratings high, to keep impatient fans and a braying media (especially the talk-show media) at bay, led to what Epstein called a "push and pull" in the Red Sox organization.

"Our true baseball approach, what we most wanted to do in an ideal world, was a bit antithetical to this notion of 'The Monster'," said Epstein.

In the end, 'The Monster' won . . . something Epstein feels bad about to this day.

"If I have one serious regret, I think that 'The Monster' grew and grew and grew and then I didn't do as good a job of pushing back, clearly, in the later years," he said. "I kind of gave in to it."

Not at the beginning, though.

"The philosophy that I tried to bring to our baseball operation -- again, especially in the early and middle years -- was built around developing young players, built around the draft, built around development," Epstein said. "We talked all the time about how the ideal world would be developing a complete roster full of homegrown players.

"We knew, as we dreamt about that, that it was probably impossible in a big market. But as recently as a couple of years ago, we talked about it. 'Well, what'll be like if we could have Will Middlebrooks at third and Jed Lowrie at short and Dustin Pedroia at second and Anthony Rizzo at first and Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate and Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish in the outfield? Wouldn't it be incredible to have that kind of team, and can we get there?' And that was really . . . the drive behind almost everything that we did . . .

"And then you had the reality of being a big market and being in a really competitive atmosphere and being in a place that wasn't that patient."

The problem is, such an approach can only work with patience. Young players take time to develop, and sometimes they regress before they move forward.

Boston, however, is not a patient place.

"You guys remember -- you probably were at the forefront of -- all the mockery when I talked about, 'Hey, having a bridge year', and being patient and letting these guys develop," Epstein told hosts Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti. "In retrospect, I could have done a better job of articulating that and fighting the forces that didn't allow that to happen."

The Red Sox sit today with a bloated payroll, an aging and thus far underachieving roster, and an uncertain future. It's not where anyone thought they'd be in the mid- to late 2000s, when the farm system was annually sending top prospects like Pedroia, Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard to Boston, and the Sox were being hailed far and wide as baseball's most progressive and forward-thinking organization.

In some circles, Epstein is catching much of the blame; after all, everything that happened up until this past offseason was his handiwork. And he freely admits that, at the end of his reign, he began "giving in to the need to be good next year".

But, he says he learned his lesson.

"Be true to the philosophy and understand the bigger picture," he said. "There's always another day to fight."

Moreland not worried about filling Ortiz's shoes because 'there's no replacing him'

Moreland not worried about filling Ortiz's shoes because 'there's no replacing him'

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Mitch Moreland knows he's likely the only new player in Boston's lineup since David Ortiz retired at the end of last season.

He's just not listening to those who say he needs to replace Big Papi's lofty production.

"I try not to hear it because there's no replacing that guy," said the 31-year-old first baseman, who signed a one-year, $5.5-million deal with the Red Sox during the offseason.

"I think it's going to be more of a team effort," he said. "Obviously we picked up two big arms as well, and it's a very balanced club."

After playing his first six-plus seasons in the majors with the Texas Rangers, Moreland is with a new organization for the first time in his career. So far, he said, the move has been smooth.

"They welcomed me from Day One," he said. "Handshakes and hugs right off the bat. It's going to be a lot of fun. You can see why they had so much success last year."

Coming off a subpar 2016 with a .233 batting average, 22 homers and 60 RBI, Moreland tested free agency. He wanted to go to a team that had a good chance at competing for a championship -- like he felt with the Rangers.

"Something that was at the top of my list as a player," he said. "If I was going to be on a team, I wanted a team that had a chance to win. It makes it that much more fun to come to the park every day when something's on the line and you're fighting for a chance to play in the playoffs, fighting to win the division and fighting to win a World Series."

A first-time Gold Glove winner last season, Moreland knows the defending A.L. East champion Red Sox wanted his defensive skills at first to allow Hanley Ramirez to shift to Ortiz's vacated DH spot.

"It gives you a little more confidence," Moreland said. "I take pride in that. That's going to be my main goal, to go out and show what they saw."

A left-handed batter like Ortiz, Moreland knows some people will expect him to fill the void offensively because of which side of the plate he bats from.

"I think it'll be a group effort picking up what will be missing," he said. "There's no replacing that guy."

Manager John Farrell also said the club needs to move on from Ortiz so Moreland and everyone else can relax and focus on their own game.

"David's effect on the lineup was felt by a number of people. We know opponents would game plan for David," Farrell said. "I think it's important for our guys - as we put David out of our mind, in a good way - that it's still a focus on what their strengths are in the strike zone."

The transition may be easy for Moreland so far, but one thing has certainly changed: spending spring training in Florida instead of Arizona.

"Fishing's a lot different than Arizona, so that's nice," he said.

NOTES: "We're getting a firsthand look to why he's been so successful and an elite pitcher," Farrell said after left-hander Chris Sale pitched batting practice. The Red Sox acquired Sale from the Chicago White Sox in an offseason trade for four prospects. They also acquired right-handed, hard-throwing setup man Tyler Thornburg from Milwaukee . . . Farrell said righty Steven Wright, who missed the final two months of the season with a shoulder injury, "was unrestricted in his throwing." . . . The Red Sox will have a shorter workout Tuesday with the players association set to talk to the team and the organization's annual charity golf tournament in the afternoon.

Report from the Fort: Trenni and Lou discuss pitching

Report from the Fort: Trenni and Lou discuss pitching

Trenni Kusnierek and Lou Merloni comment on Tyler Thornburg's, Steven Wright's and Drew Pomeranz's work at Red Sox training camp on Monday.