Theo Epstein on the state of the Red Sox


Theo Epstein on the state of the Red Sox

By Sean McAdam

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As players continued to wander into camp Thursday, days ahead of schedule, general manager Theo Epstein watched some casual workouts and offered his thoughts to reporters as the oficial start of spring training draws closer.

On the team's physical status: "Health has to be the biggest question; it usually is. But in our case, we have so many players coming off surgery or coming off injuries that we're going to keep a close eye on them and really look forward to having a full squad of healthy players out there playing together.

On Adrian Gonzalez: "He's been on or ahead of schedule the whole winter, in terms of his rehab, as measured by range of motion and strength in the shoulder. He had been projected to start swinging a bat around March 1 and get into games by the third week of March or so. But if he's doing as well it seems, there might be some flexibility to move that timetable up. I think we all feel he's going to be ready Opening Day. We're just going to get together and map out a schedule that makes sense given where he is. We're excited he's feeling so good and that he's early."

On Dustin Pedroia: "We're going to take a conservative path with him. The goal is to get him ready for Opening Day, not the college exhibition games in late February. He had some ups and downs over the winter, but mainly I think it's due to the fact that his foot was immobilized for so long. His foot was in a cast. We'll see how he looks tomorrow and go from there. But we're not expecting to be overly limited once we get going."

On Kevin Youkilis: "Youk is different from the other injured players because he actually made it back last fall to the point where he was hitting without limitations . . . and took a break then started his normal offseason. He's already addressed some of the mental aspects of returning because he got back to full BP last year. I expect him to be fine."

On Alfredo Aceves. "He threw two good bullpens for us. Obviously, he had back and hip issues last year and then he broke his collarbone riding a bike. But he looked to be in really good shape. We'll assess him more thoroughly when he gets here, but he passed our physical and from the bullpens that he threw, he looks like he's going to have a normal spring training with us. He's a versatile guy who can compete for a spot in the bullpen but also provide valuable starting depth for us.

"That's one area where we don't have tremendous depth with the composition of our roster and where we're at in the upper levels of our farm system. We really needed to add someone who can start major-league games and compete in the American League East. He has the opportunity to do that for us. His versatility and his strike-throwing and the fact that he's pitched well in this division stood out for us."

On Josh Beckett and John Lackey bouncing back: "Josh certainly can do better this year than he did last year and he knows that. It looks like he went out and had a really strong winter. The biggest thing is, at the end of the year, he didn't hide from the year he had. He took accountability for it and he knows there's more in there. I wouldn't bet against him going forward at all.

"John had a stronger second half that he did in the first half and I think that's a sign that he adjusted to his new surroundings in the American League East. I look forward to a typical John Lackey season."

On Junichi Tazawa: "He's going to be in major-league camp with us but he's not going to be unrestricted. He's at that phase where he can throw off a mound. But that last two or three months of Tommy John rehab are pretty important and we don't want to rush it by getting him in competitive situations too quickly. So we're going to take a longer-term view and not look at April 1 as the finish line for him, but look at the season as a whole and kind of pace him accordingly."

On the revamped bullpen: "It's no secret that our pen wasn't very good last year and we kind of ran out of available options of guys who could come and compete and throw legitimate bullpen innings for us. That's not a situation you want to find yourself in. I think hopefully we have more quality this year and I think we have more quantity, so there's going to be some competition for the last spot or two. I think we should be stronger than we have been in a long time at the end of games with Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks setting up Jonathan Papelbon. Dan Wheeler is an important addition as well in the middle and there are some interesting left-handed candidates out there, as well.

"I think we have the potential to be a really good bullpen. But that doesn't really mean anything; we have to go out and do it."

On Bobby Jenks: "We see him as a power pitcher who throws strikes who can shut down his inning. I think he's somebody who's proven that he's capable of getting the most important outs in the ninth inning with his combination of stuff and fearlessness. If he can take that same approach and use it a little bit earlier in the game we'll be happy."

On signing New Zealand softball player Beau Bishop: "Jon Deeble, our Pacific Rim coordinator, lives in Australia, so he sees New Zealand a lot too, and he's kind of familiar with the softball community out there. There's not a ton of baseball played in New Zealand, but there's a lot of softball played by men of all ages. My understanding is that he's the most exciting young softball player to come along in 20 years. He had a lot of people talking and Deeble saw him play and saw his size, his athleticism, his swing and his arm strength and thought that he was a pretty interesting prospect. It was an interesting opportunity for him and for us. We'll see what happens."

On Jacoby Ellsbury: "He's been unrestricted for a while now and should be without limitations this spring. Obviously, when you miss basically a whole year, it's important to come back and get in a good rhythm and get your swing back. So that's what we're looking for."

On Dennys Reyes: "He's a guy who's got a track record. He's done it. He's been a pretty effective left-hander. We were looking at him and a number of other lefties earlier in the winter and then it looked like he had signed elsewhere and that fell through and then he became available on a minor-league deal and we jumped on it. He's interesting . . . able to sink the ball and make lefties uncomfortable. We'll see how he's throwing the ball when he gets here."

Sean McAdam can be reached at Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona


McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona

Sometime over the next 10 or so days, either the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians will win the 2016 World Series.

Naturally, that will mean one of baseball's two longest-suffering franchises will end their championship drought. Either the Cubs will win their first title since 1908, or the Indians will win for the first time since 1948.

That alone should make for an epic World Series.

But there's another bit of history at stake, too - one of legacies.

In addition to the great discomfort felt by Red Sox ownership -- which fired the manager of one participating team and was seemingly happy to hold the door open for the exit of an executive now running the other - it will also almost certainly result, eventually, in either Terry Francona or Theo Epstein being enshrined into the Hall of Fame.

Epstein would go down as the architect who helped two star-crossed franchises win titles - the Red Sox in 2004, and the Cubs this fall.

The Red Sox went 86 years between championships; the Cubs would be ending a run of futility that stretched across 108 seasons.

That would provide Epstein with an unmatched resume when it comes to degree of difficulty. It's one thing to win it all; it's another altogether to do so with the Sox and Cubs, two clubs, until Epstein's arrival, linked in ignominy.

Epstein could become only the fourth GM in modern history win a World Series in both leagues. Frank Cashen (Orioles and Mets); John Schuerholz (Royals and Braves) and Pat Gillick (Blue Jays and Phillies).

He would also join a short list of executives who have won three rings, a list that includes contemporaries Brian Cashman and Brian Sabean.

Of course, Epstein can't claim to have constructed the entire Cubs roster, no more than he could have done when the Red Sox won in '04.

In Boston, Epstein inherited key players such as Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. Similarly, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras pre-date Epstein's arrival on the North Side.

But Epstein is responsible for nearly the remainder of the roster, and hiring manager Joe Maddon, the coaching staff and most of the Baseball Operations staff, including GM Jed Hoyer and scouting director Jason McLeod.

Francona's influence on the Indians is just as obvious.

Hired in late 2012 after spending a year in the ESPN broadcast booth, he inherited a team which had suffered through four straight losing seasons. In the five previous years before Francona's hiring, the Indians averaged just over 72 wins per season.

Since his arrival, the Indians have posted four straight winning seasons, with two playoff appearances, while averaging 88 wins per season.

It hasn't seemed to matter to the Indians that they've been without two of their three best starters (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco) this postseason or arguably, their best offensive player for all but 11 games this season (Michael Brantley).

The Indians don't make excuses for injuries, or bemoan their modest payroll. Under Francona, they just win.

This postseason, he's made up for the absences in the rotation by masterfully utilizing reliever Andrew Miller anywhere from the fifth to the ninth inning.

A third World Series would put Francona in similarly rare company. Only 10 managers have won three or more World Series and just six have done so since World War 2 - Walter Alston, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Bruce Bochy Sparky Anderson and Casey Stengel.

The individual accomplishments of Epstein and Francona won't take center stage this week and next -- that attention will, rightly, go to their respective beleaguered franchises.

But the subtext shouldn't be overlooked. Once the partying and the parades come to an end, a path to Cooperstown for either the winning manager or winning president of baseball operations can be cleared.


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.