What Does the Wreckage in Boston Say About Theo Epstein's Time There?

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What Does the Wreckage in Boston Say About Theo Epstein’s Time There?

Chicago Cubs

I’ve been trying to digest and process my reaction to a scathing article by Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe last week. I still don’t know what I think.

The article, as they all were in Boston last week, is about the Red Sox’s continued clubhouse issues, and the ways that they’ve spilled onto the field over the last couple years.

At first blush, Abraham’s article is a piece designed to defend Bobby Valentine’s efforts to turn around a corrosive team culture, and to explain the Red Sox’s underachievement of late. But, when you comb the essence, you find that it’s really about deep flaws that Abraham perceives at the top of the Red Sox’s organization dating back as far as five years ago.

That’s when guys like Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod were running the show.

Among some of the more harsh words from Abraham:

It has become apparent over the last calendar year that the Red Sox front office made some serious miscalculations when it came to assessing the character of players they signed to large free-agent deals or contract extensions.

John Lackey and Carl Crawford are obviously uncomfortable in Boston and it has affected their play. If Adrian Gonzalez was indeed the ringleader against Valentine — and he didn’t deny Passan’s charge that he was — that speaks poorly about his character, too. It is worth noting that Valentine was a staunch defender of Gonzalez in the spring when the first baseman was hitting .256 and going weeks between home runs.

Josh Beckett, hailed as the leader of the pitching staff when he was signed to a huge extension, has been anything but. Unless, of course, the Red Sox wanted their pitchers led by somebody who doesn’t seem to much care what happens to the team ….

Finally, there is the overriding idea that the front office and ownership has allowed this to happen. The Red Sox seem intent on appeasing their players as unprofessional behavior often goes unchallenged. The players are unhappy about a doubleheader? Bribe them off with headphones and a yacht trip. The players are out of shape? Fire the strength and conditioning coach. The players quit on the manager? Fire the manager. The players are unhappy with the new manager? Rush to New York and have a meeting with them.

This started years ago, not when Valentine was hired.

In other words, the problems developed and marinated on Theo’s watch.

On some Soxenfreudian level, we’ve all been pleased to watch the Boston crap show develop from afar. The men that were left – other than, perhaps, Ben Cherington – put the Cubs through the ringer, probably unfairly, when Epstein left in favor of his current gig with the Cubs. They came off like douches, and we were content to see them flounder.

But I’ve always sensed in myself a little uneasiness about the swiftness and depth of the decline in Boston after Epstein’s departure. Obviously he did some tremendous things in Boston, but he faced criticisms that he had allowed a mess to develop, and then was running out the door when ownership handed him a mop and asked him to start doing some cleaning. I’m not sure that’s an entirely fair criticism – it is, at a minimum, too simplistic – but the worse things get in Boston, the less unfair it seems.

Certainly, the issues of player entitlement are probably not a terrible concern here in Chicago. Well, they won’t be for many years, anyway. Further, there were a number of egos involved at the top of the Boston food chain – above Theo’s head, even – that complicated that situation sufficiently that I’m not sure the same problems could develop in Chicago, even if there were some fatal flaw in Theo’s approach. Indeed, the issues that developed in Boston are probably far more reflective of a toxic mix of things unique to Boston than of some chink in Theo’s armor.

So, I suppose that’s why I land in a place where I’m not sure how to best contextualize the Abraham article. Obviously the media there is driven by a variety of incentives, none of which are likely to lean toward defending Theo. Then again, they are the closest to the situation – certainly closer than I am – and, when they speak on things like this, we can’t help but listen. I don’t think my image of Theo or my hopes for the future are fundamentally altered by what’s happening in Boston (or, I suppose, more precisely, what has happened). This is all just additional information for the file.

I think I still feel good. Yeah. I still feel good.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.