Tito on Theo: I hope he doesn't leave
Recent speculation has Red Sox manager, players singing Epstein's praises
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The recent talk around the baseball world has been about whether the Chicago Cubs would consider targeting Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein as the person to rejuvenate the Cubs' organization if the GM position became available.
No doubt Epstein has become an elite baseball executive. During his nine years as GM in Boston, the Sox have won two World Series titles and have become a perennial winner in the American League East, which is the toughest division in baseball.
As ESPN's Buster Olney wrote earlier this week, Brian Cashman, Andrew Friedman, Billy Beane and Pat Gillick also could be among the names mentioned for the possible position with the Cubs.
"It seems that everyone's name is out there for the Cubs job," one baseball executive said. "Someone will get a great opportunity."
But would Epstein actually consider leaving his hometown, with his legacy already cemented in Boston's sports lore?
Most Red Sox players, as well as manager Terry Francona, say they don't believe Epstein would pack his bags and leave the organization he has helped mold into a winner. They also say Epstein is obviously talented enough to serve any role in this game and be successful doing it.
"He can probably do whatever he wants," Francona said. "I like working with him and I hope he doesn't leave, unless I'm leaving. It's none of my business, and I haven't talked to him about that stuff you read in the papers, and we've been on the road, so I haven't paid too much attention to it. I'm sure we'll have a laugh about it when I get home."
Epstein has gained respect in the Red Sox organization for numerous reasons, including that he's proactive about solving problems and being part of the solution. That has led to success on and off the field.
"Theo is one of the elite GMs in baseball, and he's proven that year after year by piecing things together when we get hurt or whatever," Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett said. "Why wouldn't Theo want to make his life better by being one of the best GMs in baseball? I hope he doesn't leave, but if he does, I'll understand. He's done a great job since I've been here."
But the focus might not be only on Epstein. There are other qualified baseball-operations personnel in the Red Sox organization who could be considered for the possible Cubs GM position, including assistant GM Ben Cherington, vice president of player personnel and pro scouting Allard Baird (a former GM with the Royals), VP of player development and amateur scouting Mike Hazen, and VP of baseball operations Brian O'Halloran.
Others have left the Red Sox organization and are having success elsewhere, including current San Diego Padres GM Jed Hoyer.
"Jed is doing a good job over there, and that just goes to show you Theo's a pretty damn good teacher, too," Beckett said. "I'm sure that comes from being confident enough to tell these guys what works and what doesn't work, instead of being passive because you're not sure what works. Theo's a good teacher."
He's a good GM, too.
"He does his work and lets us do ours," said Red Sox veteran and captain Jason Varitek. "Does he try all the time to make this team better? Absolutely. We were fortunate after we won [in 2004] to start really having a winning tradition here. That has to start from the top down."
Some say Epstein has put in too much time and effort to leave the Red Sox organization now. The relationships he's built are solid, and the trust he's earned with owners John Henry and Tom Werner would be hard to match. And Epstein is loyal.
We've been together so long now that we know each other very well. That either works, or it doesn't. For us it does.” -- Terry Francona, about Theo Epstein
Epstein hired Francona as the team's manager prior to the 2004 season, and the two have built a close friendship and solid working relationship.
"We've been together so long now that we know each other very well," Francona said. "That either works, or it doesn't. For us it does. We've been able to work through things, and I know I'm afforded my opinion, which I appreciate, and I know he's comfortable giving his opinion. I think he's learned ways to tell me things and I appreciate it, and he also knows if he has to tell me something, he can. He knows if I get mad at him, it's forgotten the next day and we're ready to go, and that's a good feeling.
"In this game, you have to give your opinion," Francona added. "He doesn't want a manager who won't give him his opinion even if it might piss him off sometimes. I also know, in times when I need someone to have my back, I know where to go, and that's a big compliment. There are times when I'm scuffling and I'll call him and say, 'Hey, look. I need this.' And he's there right now. That's a good feeling."
The Red Sox did not have a good feeling earlier this season when the club started 2-10. But since that point they've been one of the best teams in baseball. They finished their recent road trip 6-2 -- concluding their series in Texas with a 6-0 win Thursday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. It was the club's 80th victory of the season, and Boston has reached a season-high 30 games above .500.
Back in April, however, things looked bleak. It was so bad that Epstein decided to hold a closed-door meeting with the team. That talk was well publicized, but something else occurred a few weeks later that really made a difference.
"More meaningful than that to me is he had a meeting with the staff in New York about 10 days later, and he said some stuff there and it was really good," Francona said. "He spoke about how we were a little bit easy to play against, and he was right. It made us all kind of step back and look at our areas and say, 'OK, we need to start paying attention to detail a little bit.' And the way he did it didn't offend anybody, but he challenged everybody and it was really good. He has a way of delivering a tough message pretty damn good."
Francona said that Epstein's skills at communicating with players have improved over the years.
"The way he talks to players is good. It's better than when I first came here," Francona said. "That happens with everybody when you get experience. He has tough conversations with players, and I remember thinking, 'Oh, boy. I wish somebody would talk to me like that.' And I've told him that. You can't always deliver the message they want to hear, but the way he delivers it is honest and with respect. That makes my job easier."
Not every player is going to be happy with decisions made by management, but, according to several Sox players, Epstein does a solid job with his open-door policy.
"The one thing you don't want as a player is to have a bunch of meetings with the GM, but I've found that the ones I've had with him, they're always very proactive with whatever is going on," Beckett said. "He genuinely wants to help.
"The Boston Red Sox organization does pretty much everything they can to make our jobs easier," Beckett added. "Theo fits right into that and tries to help us with whatever he needs to do."
That includes winning another World Series in 2011 and beyond.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.