McAdam: Epstein's time as GM is winding down

McAdam: Epstein's time as GM is winding down
August 25, 2011, 3:49 pm
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By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Theo Epstein's name has surfaced in connection with the Chicago Cubs, who are in search of a general manager, and, perhaps, a club president.

As Red Sox principal owner John Henry noted in an e-mail Wednesday night: "This kind of speculation happens from time to time to successful GMs and managers. The Cubs have one of the best presidents in baseball. I think this shows how highly regarded Theo is by the media and baseball in general.

ESPN.com Wednesday speculated that Epstein might be the perfect candidate to take over the Cubs, whose championship drought is longer than the one Epstein and the Red Sox ended in 2004.

Epstein would bring immediate credibility to a franchise which hasn't won a pennant in more than 60 years, or a World Series in more than a century.

Unanswered, of course, is whether Epstein himself would have an interest in the Cubs.

For now, the question might be moot. Epstein's current deal, signed after a winter-long walkout following the 2005 season, expires after the 2012 season.

It's difficult to imagine Red Sox ownership allowing Epstein to leave with a year remaining, even if baseball protocol generally calls for teams to allow personnel to leave if it involves a promotion -- in this case, from executive vice-president and general manager to club president.

It's no secret that Epstein harbors a desire for new challenges.

After next season, he will have been general manager of the Red Sox for a full decade, from 2003 through 2012. In that time, the Red Sox have won two pennants and two World Series, with at least a decent chance to improve on that this October.

There's drudgery to the job, and after a while, a sameness: endless paperwork, conversations with agents, arbitration cases and other day-to-day demands.

In the last 10 years, Eptsein has turned the Red Sox into one of the game's model franchises. The minor league development system has consistently churned out key players (including Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Daniel Bard) and armed with one of the game's biggest budgets, Epstein has overseen a team which has made the post-season six of his eight seasons.

The Sox were at the forefront of the game's analytic revolution, utilizing new metrics to evaluate player performance, while building one of the biggest scouting staffs in either league.

Still, surely Epstein thirsts for something new, something else.

A glass ceiling of sorts is in place at Yawkey Way, where Larry Lucchino, with whom Epstein has famously feuded, safely ensconced as the team president. As long as Lucchino remains with the Red Sox, Epstein can't move up the organizational ladder.

Henry, who brokered Epstein's return as well as the accompanying peace between Epstein and Lucchino five years ago, doesn't want to lose either. Under Lucchino, the Red Sox have become not only one of the game's most successful franchises on the field, but also, one of the most profitable off it.

It's said that Lucchino would like to replace Bud Selig as commissioner when Selig's term expires after the 2012 season, but it's difficult to imagine Lucchino, who has made his share of enemies, winning approval. For that matter, it's difficult to imagine a number of small market owners approving an executive from one of the game's superpowers as their leader.

That leaves Epstein at a crossroad.

In one sense, the notion of Epstein as team president seems odd. A club president must be the very face of a franchise, and in recent years, Epstein has receded from the spotlight. He's seldom visible at Fenway during games, unlike other general managers who are frequently glimpsed on the field before games or in press box dining rooms.

Some close to Epstein believe that his next job might be as the GM of a small-market team, that the challenge of rebuilding an organization from the ground up, with limited financial resources, appeals most to his competitive nature.

That argument is fine in theory. In application, it would be quite a leap to go from a payroll of 165 million to one with a payroll half that size.

It's possible -- though not exactly likely -- that, with a capable Ben Cherington as the GM-in-waiting, ownership could step aside, thank him for a job well done and allow Epstein to take the Cubs' presidency.

Or, in a year's time with his contract expired, Epstein could solicit other opportunities. Perhaps a dual job of presidentGM, like the one Dave Dombrowski has in Detroit, would appeal to him most, enabling him to stay involved in the day-to-day operation of a franchise.

But what's clear is this: Epstein's time as general manager of the Red Sox is winding down, mission accomplished. It seems only a matter of time before something else, somewhere else, pulls him away.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam