Theo Epstein Probably Wasn’t Solely to Blame for the Red Sox’s Woes in 2011 and 2012

epstein lucchinoA disembodied quote attributed to Theo Epstein is making the rounds today (and was discussed in today’s episode of the BN Podcast), originating in former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona’s new book, which comes out later this month.

The quote, which focuses on Epstein’s last couple years as the general manager of the Red Sox, goes like this:

“They told us we didn’t have any marketable players, that we needed some sizzle. We need some sexy guys. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. This is like an absurdist comedy. We’d become too big. It was the farthest thing from what we set out to be.”

The “they” in the quote, of course, refers to higher-ups in the organization, including owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president Larry Lucchino. The quote, if it is to be credited, explains that many of the decisions made in the last couple years of Epstein’s tenure were directed not by an appropriate baseball strategy – either near or long term – but instead by a desire for the franchise to generate attention and money.

Epstein is further quoted, saying that the “sexiness” directive was “evidence to me of the inherent tension between building a baseball operation the way I thought was best and the realities of being a big market … which had gotten bigger than any of us could handle.”

These quotes are fascinating not only because they appear to confirm the suspicions that many had about the Red Sox in those years, but also because they suggest that, as the Red Sox collapsed under their own ridiculous weight in the last three years, most of the blame for the absurdity rests with men above Epstein’s pay grade. It’s also nice to know that, coming into the Cubs’ situation, Epstein clearly wasn’t going to stand for ownership telling him he needed to go out and make splashy moves, even if it wasn’t in the best long-term interests of the organization.

I do wonder where these quotes come from, though. The write-ups about Francona’s book tend to tip-toe around claiming that Epstein offered these quotes for the purposes of the book. Instead, they obliquely refer to Epstein “being quoted as saying,” or things like that. It makes me wonder if these quotes are coming second hand, by way, perhaps, of Terry Francona. It’s very hard – impossible even – to imagine Epstein throwing his former compatriots and bosses under the bus like this, even if it’s right. It seems more likely that Epstein and Francona, who worked closely for years and who departed in the same tumultuous offseason after the 2011 season, had shared some private conversations about the direction of the organization (and why wouldn’t they? Francona probably needed to know why certain moves were being made). And now, perhaps, Francona is sharing those conversations.

I guess we’ll see when the book comes out on January 22.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

35 responses to “Theo Epstein Probably Wasn’t Solely to Blame for the Red Sox’s Woes in 2011 and 2012”

  1. @cubsfantroy

    So they over spent on Lackey and Crawford. Great moves.

    1. SirCub

      I’d say A-Gon is part of that too, although he obviously worked out much better than the other two.

      1. @cubsfantroy

        I forgot about A-Gon.

  2. Crazyhorse

    “most of the blame for the absurdity rests with men above Epstein’s pay grade.” Is this the focal point of your story?

    1. Luke

      That phrase was buried in the middle of a very long sentence tucked away in the next to last paragraph. That hardly looks like a focal point.

      1. TWC

        Right. After which Ace very clearly expressed some skepticism about the origin and the context for the quotes.

        But if you’ve got anti-front office blinders on, it’s easy to overlook things. Like, you know, the *substance* of the article above.

  3. Kyle

    I don’t find it very hard to believe at all. Epstein’s frustrations with the Boston ownership are held pretty close to the surface.

    He’s a human being. Is it really so hard to believe he doesn’t want to be associated with what he feels weren’t his failures?

  4. Kyle

    It also fits in with the very fourth-hand rumor that Epstein might be planning to simply set up the Cubs with a stable of young executives and get the ball rolling, then return to Boston if/when the ownership sells.

    1. Featherstone

      That’s a doozy of a rumor then. As far as I recall he can’t just quit the Cubs while under contract then go work for Boston. He’s still got 4 more years under contract and that’s a very long time in the world of Baseball Management.

      1. Kyle

        Yeah, he’d never leave one team while under contract with another… :)

        But yeah, that’s the point. It’s not that he’s planning on leaving tomorrow or anything.

        It’s just that he thinks five-plus cooling off in Chicago is his way of waiting out the Boston ownership group, which is supposedly planning to sell sometime in the next decade.

        1. DarthHater

          Given the frequency of turnover in these kinds of jobs, any speculation about five-plus years in the future falls in the category of fairly meaningless.

  5. Timmy

    My concern is that he’s simply nto qualified to think in the long-term and build from the ground up. He’s never done it and has surrounded himself with buddies and yes men with only marginal experience due to their age. To my mind most of the signings he’s done or not done are reflective of him not wanting to be criticized for overspending. But I’d rather put in 10m on a good player who may play like a 7m player than this incoherent signing of 20 has-beens and nobodies for around 5m with the hope that one will play like their a 6m player. We have the money, fans, and interest to compete as soon as possible while building for the long-term, so to me this speaks to ulterior motives from the ownership or GM side.

    1. Timmy

      Say what you will about Hendry, he may have overseen a mediocre farm system (that incidentally won a few championships at the AA and AAA level) but he went out every year and put himself on the line personally to win. Epstein keeps deferring with reference to good business practices. Well, the team isn’t a business to me, it’s a team. And we have to stop routing for big corporations to win at our expense.

      1. King Jeff

        No, Hendry did not put himself on the line personally to win. I remember the last three years of Hendry’s run, and he didn’t even come close, and worse than that, he had no long-term plan for the team. It was close your eyes and hope for the best down the road.

        1. Timmy

          I do basically agree with this, btw, he lost his bearings later on due to health or other reasons we’re not aware of. The wheels started to fall off. But he made the team competitive every year by any means possible before that — that’s what I’m saying Epstein needs to do while also rebuilding.

          1. Cubbie Blues

            “But he made the team competitive every year by any means possible before that — that’s what I’m saying Epstein needs to do while also rebuilding.”

            can a whole sentence be a oxymoron? You can’t do “whatever possible” for the near term and also be building for the future. There are trade-offs that have to be made. Now you can however debate on how much you are willing to trade-off.

            1. Timmy

              So says Theo, but no other team in MLB plays it this way. It’s a new approach to modern baseball to deliberately lose due to not meeting potential payroll for several years. Actually one team has done this for a while — the Pirates. Even lowly teams try, usually…

          2. King Jeff

            I think both are/were hamstrung by ownership/bad contracts somewhat in putting a competitive team on the field at certain points. The point I was making was that while Hendry basically just kept the status quo while his hands were tied, Theo has been putting some different pieces in place and trying to build a foundation. Hendry had his moments, but I don’t see much congruity in what he was trying to do from year-to-year during his career, which may have a lot to do with who owned the team at the time, but the problems were still there.

  6. Carne Harris

    This’ll end up being a second-hand quote. Totally true I’m sure, but he’s too professional to come out and say it publicly.

  7. The Dude Abides

    Clearly Theo is quite capable of taking his ball and going home if he doesn’t get his way. If “they” wanted to move in another direction and Theo didn’t agree or wasn’t in the plan he didn’t waste any time searching out teams for him to go to next while still on the job in Boston.

    Hopefully, Ricketts is prepared for what he signed up for because this is phase l of the plan and before it is over there will be some money being spent and prospects traded, maybe not this year or next, but soon enough. Boston was not cheap and Theo is used to Dom Pérignon not Brut. And as Theo has already shown if Ricketts doesn’t want to play by Theo’s rules he will be moving on.

    That said as I have said all along I believe in OUR rebuild as long as Theo is here.

    1. Rich H

      You seem to forget one important aspect of his “Job Hunting’. He got a promotion and more control. After seeing how Boston was ran that last year and the first year of post-Theo you can see why the control issue was important. He didn’t just settle for any old GM’s position he went right after the control and title he thought he deserved in Boston. You can not blame the guy for thinking the grass is greener.

      Now as for taking his ball and going home. He didn’t go home. He stepped into a head ache readily. You guys seem to forget that a number of candidates backed out before being interviewed when they saw the particulars. This was not a plush situation or an upgrade. It is was a mess that he agreed to clean up. Whether you agree with how he is cleaning the room is another conversation but he grabbed a broom when a number of candidates decided to stay where they were at.

      And don’t think I am drinking the blue Koolade or what ever you want to consider Cubs Homers. I disagree with a lot of what this front office has done and is doing but I also respect the idea that Theo and Company left pretty good jobs to come to Chicago and clean up Hendry’s mess.

  8. Abe Froman

    If, and yes it is a big if, regardless, IF this is true it has a fair bit of relevance to the Cubs for potentially two direct reasons: 1) a clash of philosophies may have been a big part of Theo’s decision to leave, take the Cubs job, and start building the team his way and 2) if Adrian Gonzalez was one of the splashy names they were pressured into getting, then Rizzo ping-ponging to San Diego and then the Cubs may not have happened. So yea, maybe what appears to be a really bad decision making process from a competitive baseball standpoint created good fortune for the Cubs getting Epstein and a long term answer at first.

    I know, I know, the Cubs lost 100 games, Epstein sucks, they will never win the World Series, they didn’t make mysterious moves that only exist in the dark part of paranoid brains, Tyler Colvin, Delgado, Haren.

  9. DPRagen

    Timmy
    You describe the situation very well. This is a case of the blind leading the blind! Unless Hoyer really is a genius the Cubs are in big trouble.

  10. cubzforlife

    I now understand what trolling is.

  11. Theo Epstein Explains His Statements About Later Years with Red Sox | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary

    [...] quotes attributed to Theo Epstein found in Terry Francona’s forthcoming book made their way around the ‘net, and they purported to put some of the blame for bad moves by the Red Sox in 2010 and 2011 on [...]