Theo's success rings true

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Theo's success rings true

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

For all hes accomplished in Boston, Theo Epsteins always had his detractors.

Initially, they said he was too young. At 28, he wasnt ready to rumble with The Boss, or handle the pressures of Boston, and certainly wasnt the savior after 80-plus years of baseball hell.

After the Sox won in 2004, they said Epstein was lucky. Hed been ready to give the world to Jose Contreras, before thankfully losing out. Hed rolled the dice on random guys like Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar and David Ortiz, and theyd just happened to morph into the A.L. batting champ, the heart of the clubhouse and the most clutch hitter in franchise history. When the playoffs ended, the title felt more like a perfect storm than the product of Epsteins grand plan. That team was so close to not being good enough, and the fact they survived was more about the moment, not the GM.

When they won again in 2007, theyd done so despite Theo whiffing on his two biggest offseason acquisitions, J.D. Drew (outside of that one swing in the ALCS) and Julio Lugo, and his major trade-deadline pickup, Eric Gagne. Not to mention, two stars of that team (should-have-been Cy Young Josh Beckett and World Series MVP Mike Lowell) were guys acquired while Theo was off running around in his gorilla suit. And it was a deal that Epstein presumably wouldnt have even done, given his love for Hanley Ramirez.

Through it all, a tenure that now spans eight seasons during which his team has averaged 94 wins, made six playoff appearances, won one division title, two World Series, and currently has a roster capable of bringing home another Epstein's always had doubters.

Guys in the media, impatient fans or, say, Orioles manager Buck Showalter.

Id like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll, Showalter said in an interview for the April issue of Mens Journal. You got Carl Crawford cause you paid more than anyone else, and thats what makes you smarter? Thats why I like whipping their asses: Its great, knowing those guys with the 205 million payroll are saying, How the hell are they beating us?

First of all, I love renegade Buck Showalter. Hes great for the A.L. East. Not that I want to see the Orioles turn into a juggernaut, but wouldnt it be nice to have them relevant again? They havent had a winning season since 1997!

And if Showalter wants to go the Rex Ryan route and starts trying to break down the New YorkBoston barriers and save baseball in Baltimore, then thats cool. He seems genuine enough. Plus, he really went to bat for George Costanza on those all-cotton uniforms. Lets cut him some slack.

The first part of his quote is actually pretty interesting.

Id like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll.

Take out the sarcasm, and who hasnt wondered something along those same lines? Assuming it somehow wouldnt affect the Sox, who wouldnt want to see Theo take a crack at building a small-market winner? Most GMs have to do that before getting a job like Boston but Theo never did. For all thats been said about him, in the face of so much success, seeing him try to wheel and deal and scout and draft a low-budget team into contention would be a lot of fun.

Would he be a success? I dont know. How well does any small-market general manager do? I mean, theres such thing as getting hot for a season or two, or building a scary foundation, but with the way this league works its almost impossible to sustain a high level of success. Billy Beanes Oakland A's havent had a winning season since 2006. Eventually, if you cant retain your young players or acquire legitimate replacements, that stuff catches up to you.

Would it catch up to Theo? Probably. Would that somehow prove that hes not as smart as we thought? We can't say that. It's two completely different worlds.

We could discuss this forever, so for that, lets thank old Buck for his honesty and inspiration. But let me also say this:

Even though I respect his intentions, Showalters missing the point here:

You got Carl Crawford cause you paid more than anyone else, and thats what makes you smarter?
No one thinks like that. No one thinks that makes him smarter.

No one bases opinions of Epstein's intelligence on his ability to sign expensive free agents. The owners get more credit for that. No one got the news about Crawford and thought: Oh my God . . . Theo is a genius!

Theos graded on his ability to build around those superstars, keep up with the farm system, and make the in-season adjustments that take them to the Promise Land. It helps that he has a nice cushion, and the luxury of bringing in guys like Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, but to quote the poet Biggie: Mo Money. Mo Problems.

And how many teams -- the Mets, the Cubs, Showalter's own Orioles in years past -- have spent plenty of money and gotten zero in return? Money doesn't guarantee success, any more than having money guarantees giving you brains.

No, this is what money does: Inflated bank accounts mean inflated pressure, a brighter spotlight. In the end, Theos intelligence isnt measured by how many superstars he signs that winter, but the fact that if those superstars dont win the World Series, hes a failure.

Theo Epstein gets no points for exciting seasons, inspiring stories and sold-out stadiums. All he's judged on is winning titles.

So far, he has two.

And all things considered, they speak for themselves.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.