By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
Days after the Red Sox parted ways with manager Terry Francona, there is increasing speculation that, soon, the club may do the same with general manager Theo Epstein.
As rumors intensify that Epstein may be interested in listening to the Chicago Cubs, a strange silence is emanating from Fenway Park.
When speculation first arose that Epstein was at the top of the Cubs' list of choices to replace the fired Jim Hendry as general manager, the most frequent line around Fenway was: "John Henry will never let (Epstein) go."
Months later, the landscape has changed, and just maybe, so has Henry's stance.
Certainly, the Red Sox have had more than enough opportunities to make this a non-issue. Days after reports about the Cubs having interest in Epstein surfaced, Henry sent an e-mail to inquiring reporters, noting that such speculation was pretty standard stuff and evidence of Epstein's reputation throughout the industry.
Had Henry been more pointed and noted that Epstein was under contract to the Red Sox through the end of 2012, and that Henry hoped and expected Epstein to continue as the club's GM for years to come, the speculation would have stopped then and there.
But Henry wasn't nearly that assertive. So the issue didn't die.
Then, last Friday, as CEO Larry Lucchino and chairman Tom Werner fidgeted uncomfortably during a press conference, the question was asked again: Would the Red Sox give the Cubs permission to speak with Epstein.
Improbably, Lucchino looked like he had been struck by a bolt of lightning, apparently caught completely off-guard that during a press conference to announce the Sox severing ties with their manager, that someone night happen to inquire about the job status of the man who hired that manager.
Lucchino said it wasn't the time to discuss Epstein's future and that the focus of the press conference was squarely on Francona.
Werner than stepped in and fumbled through a response that was more of a non-sequitor.
"We feel collectively that he's one of the best managers in baseball," said Werner, "and has been integral to the success of our club for the last 10 years."
Swell, but no one was asking for a summation of Epstein's tenure. The question was about whether he would be allowed to talk to another prospective employer.
Again, nothing definitive, nothing that would slam the door on such speculation.
Epstein's current deal runs out after 2012, meaning the Red Sox have two choices: Allow Epstein to interview with the Cubs, or give him an extension which locks him up for at least two seasons beyond 2012.
If the Sox are willing to let Epstein go elsewhere, they should get on with the business for preparing for life without him. Finding a manager is going to be challenging enough; if ownership has to first find a general manager, and then the newly-minted GM has to hire a manager, it will be mid-November before all the pieces are in place.
If, on the other hand, ownership is intent on keeping Epstein, then an extension for Epstein is necessary. It would be impractical and unfair to allow Epstein to conduct the managerial search with his own future in doubt.
What potential manager wouldn't be wondering: What happens if the guy who hires me is out of a job in a year?
It's a logical enough question, one ownership hasn't given much consideration.
Epstein hasn't spoken to reporters since Friday and didn't return numerous calls. A person who spoke to Epstein over the weekend was asked if he thought Epstein would indeed leave for the Cubs.
"I don't think so," said the person. "But at this point, I don't know if anyone knows for sure."
And the longer the silence continues on Yawkey Way, the more uncertain the winter of the Red Sox' discontent becomes.