Yesterday, I focused my Top 10 list on Theo Epstein's 10 worst free agent signings.
Today, I will examine why Theo Epstein is one of the top three General Managers in baseball.
Theo Epstein has gained legendary/rock star status in Boston by putting together two World Champions Boston craved for 86 years.
He has done it through the draft, trading, when to let go of an aging star and free agency.
Here is a look at Theo Epstein's finest moves
1. Moving on from the A-Rod fiasco: After months of negotiating with the Texas Rangers during the offseason of 2003, Theo had a deal in place to trade Manny Ramirez AND Jon Lester to Texas for A-Rod.
But, after contract negotiations failed, the deal collapsed and A-Rod eventually went to the hated rival New York Yankees. Epstein cleaned up the mess and moved on.
2. Signing Mike Timlin: Before the 2003 season, Epstein wanted to go with a 'bullpen-by-committee'. He went out and signed Timlin along with Chad Fox, Brandon Lyon and Bobby Howry.
This experiment failed fast but Theo saw that Timlin was better suited to be a set-up man. Timlin was effective and helped the Red Sox to the 2004 and 2007 World Series titles.
3. Henri Stanley to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Dave Roberts: While the hype and hoop-la was focused on the trade of Boston icon, Nomar Garciaparra, a little unknown trade was conducted by Epstein.
In getting Roberts, Epstein solidfied a weak bench. Roberts, known for his incredible speed, was added for outfield depth and pinch running.
His running was crucial in Game Four as he stole second base off Mariano Rivera and eventually scored on Bill Mueller's single in the bottom of the ninth.
Roberts steal of second was voted the Boston Red Sox greatest play. That beat out Carlton Fisk's Game Six home run in the 1975 World Series.
4. Signing Hideki Okajima: An afterthought with the Daisuke Matsuzaka signing, Okajima has pitched brilliantly from the bullpen. He helped the Sox in 2007 as a backup closer for Papelbon and be the eigth inning set-up man for Boston. He has a 2.46 ERA since coming over from Japan.
After the 2002 season, Millar's contract was sold off to the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese League but Epstein blocked the move through the waiver wire and was able to obtain Millar.
Millar provided solid offense hitting 25 home runs, 96 RBI in 2003 and 18 home runs with 76 RBI in 2004.
He became a solid compliment in the line-up to David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez hitting fifth.
Originally thought as a potential right fielder, Millar's lack of speed but decent glove relegated him to first base as David Ortiz and Jeremy Giambi both failed defensively.
His 'Cowboy Up' mantra was the catalyst to the 2004 World Series championship.
Looking for some solid hitting and defense at third base, Theo Epstein went out and signed Bill Mueller as a free agent.
Mueller was a .286 career hitter before coming to the Red Sox. Not known for power, Mueller went out in 2003 and hit career highs in home runs (19) and RBI (85) in 2003.
He won the 2003 batting championship at .326 and the Silver Slugger Award, all while hitting ninth in the Sox lineup.
Mueller continued to hit well for the Sox as his power numbers stayed in the double digits and his average never dipped below .283 with the Sox.
Of course, Mueller is well known for his game-tying single that drove in Dave Roberts, in Game Four of the ALCS, that kept Boston alive and became the first baseball team to comeback from a 0-3 deficit. Yup, 0-3 deficit. (Insert smile)
Granted permission by the Seibu Lions, Daisuke Matsuzaka became a free agent. Epstein jumped into the fracas by outbidding every major league team with a $51M bid just to talk to Daisuke.
After a long and frustrating negotiation with agent-from-hell, Scott Boras, Matuszaka became the property of the Boston Red Sox.
Say what you want, that he's frustrating to watch, Matsuzaka has pitched very well in the majors. In his first two seasons with the Red Sox, he's 33-15 with a 3.92 ERA.
In 2007, he helped form one of the leagues best rotations with Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling and led the Sox to the 2007 World Series title. He tired a bit down the stretch during that season, but helped himself out in the World Series by pitching well in Game Three and driving in a run with his bat.
Yes, he led all major league pitchers with 94 walks and he loaded the bases more times than any pitcher in the league in 2008. How many of those runners scored when the bases were jammed? Zero.
Last year Matsuzaka was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA.
You can't complain about the success Epstein has had with the Japanese import.
For years, the Boston Red Sox have had a depleted farm system either through trading or poor drafting.
Theo Epstein came in and promised that the Sox would build their team from within the organization, a la the New York Yankees of 1996.
Epstein had strong drafts and the Boston began to reap the benefits. The Red Sox got a taste of the prospects beginning in 2005:
2006-Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester
2007-Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz
2008-Michael Bowden and Justin Masterson
What have some of these guys done?
Papelbon is one of the top three closers in baseball.
Pedroia only won Rookie of the Year in 2007 and then followed that up with MVP in 2008
Ellsbury was the sparkplug the Sox needed in their championship run of 2007. He has now come into his own, hitting over .300 this season at the leadoff spot.
Masterson has been vital in the bullpen as a set-up guy and as an emergency starting pitcher. He has done both so well.
Buchholz pitched a no-hitter in his second career start and is dominating in AAA this season with Bowden.
Bard helped out in relief when Javy Lopez flopped.
Okay, so this technically wasn't under Theo's watch, as he had left the Red Sox because of tensions between him and Larry Lucchino and a new contract.
But, do you really think Larry Lajoie, Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington made this trade without Theo's input and advice? Come on now, those were his 'boys'
The Sox were in need of a legitimate number one starter after Matt Clement tanked, Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe had walked the year before.
Boston obtained Beckett and 'throw-in' Lowell.
Beckett struggled at first in 2006 but became the leagues most dominating pitcher in 2007 as he finished second to CC Sabathia for Cy Young.
Beckett continued his playoff domination in 2007 going 4-0 with a sub 1.50 ERA and striking out 35 batters in 30 innings pitched.
Mike Lowell, the throw-in on the deal, has done nothing but hit and play great defense at third.
He hit 20+ home runs his first two seasons with Boston and drove in a career high 120 RBI in 2007, while batting .324. He was key in the line-up as Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz struggled a bit through out the season.
Lowell won World Series MVP in 2007.
At some point in a GM's life, they need to make difficult decisions. Theo knew that Pedro Martinez was nearing the end of a brilliant career. Epstein offered Pedro a three year contract after the 2004 season but Martinez wanted four years.
When the New York Mets came in and offered the four years, Martinez left Boston and left with a lot of animosity.
The pitching diva formerly for Boston was the most dominating Red Sox pitcher they may have ever seen. He won two Cy Youngs, led them to the 1998, 1999, 2003 and 2004 playoffs. With the help of Curt Schilling, he helped lead the Sox to the 2004 World Series.
He was dominating in Game Three of the series, retiring the last 15 men he faced,
But arm trouble began to plague Martinez. His season ended prematurely in 2001 and by 2003, he began to lose his domination.
Theo knew it was time to let him go. Pedro pitched well in 2005 going 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA for the Mets.
But his last three seasons has been injury-riddled with a hip injury and then a torn rotator cuff. Martinez has never been the same since, going 17-15 with a 4.72 ERA.
Another difficult decision but easier to make, Theo Epstein had enough with the antics of Manny Ramirez.
Ramirez was becoming a problem on the field along with off the field. He lacked hustle on the base paths, refusing to leg out a potential base hit or double play. He lacked hustle in the outfield, floundering around left field.
For years the Red Sox had to deal with his 'phantom' injuries so he could take days off.
Epstein tried for years to trade Ramirez and in 2003, he put him on irrevocable waivers. But, no bites.
Finally, 2008 became the breaking point for the Red Sox organization. He had to be separated from Kevin Youkilis in the dugout, shoved Sox traveling secretary, Jack McCormick to the ground and demanded his options be picked up.
Boston sent Ramirez to the Dodgers and paid the remainder of his 2008 contract. The Dodgers and Sox both sent Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen to the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Sox received Jason Bay.
At the time, Bay was a nice compliment to the Sox lineup. But, 2009 has been an outstanding year as Bay is the Sox major offensive weapon and right now a potential MVP candidate.
Manny? Well, we all know. Fifty-game suspension for using PED's.
How's that working out for the Red Sox?
The end of the 2003 was so demoralizing for the Red Sox. It made Bucky, Babe and Buckner seem like an afterthought. Grady Little was now on the Boston 'hitlist'.
It was evident that Boston needed a No. 1b starter to compliment the Red Sox already No. 1a pitcher, Pedro Martinez, if they were going to take down the Yankees.
During Thanksgiving of 2003, Epstein broke bread with the Schillings and negotiated a deal to bring Curt Schilling to Boston.
Schilling became a Boston legend, going 21-6 in his first season with Boston and pitching the game of his life, Game Six of the ALCS vs. New York. 'The Bloody Sock' game.
With the torn sheath around Schillings ankle, he went seven innings, allowing one earned and set the Sox up for the greatest comeback in baseball history.
Schilling struggled in 2006, overcoming the ankle injury. But, he pitched brilliantly in 2006 going 15-7 with a 3.97 ERA.
He combined with Beckett and Matsuzaka to lead the Sox to another World Series title in 2007.
Schilling went 6-1 in the postseason for the Sox with a 3.31 ERA.
Signed as a backup to recently acquired Jeremy Giambi in 2003, Epstein felt Ortiz could provide a little offense off the bench for the Sox.
Little did he know what he got in David Ortiz.
When Terry Francona decided to insert Ortiz into the line-up everyday, Big Papi hit 31 home runs, drove in 101 RBI and hit .288 in only 128 games.
Since then the legend of David Ortiz began.
From 2003-2007, David Ortiz finished in the top five of the MVP balloting, with his best finish of second in 2005.
During that same time frame, Ortiz averaged 41 home runs, 128 RBI, hitting .302. He set a Red Sox record by swatting 54 home runs in 2006, breaking Jimmie Foxx record of 50.
How about hitting in the clutch? He saved the Sox season in 2003 by hitting the go ahead RBI off Keith Foulke in the eighth inning in Game Four of the 2003 ALDS.
Or hitting the game winning home run in Game Four of the ALCS in 2004? The next night getting the game winning hit of Game Five?
He has been clutch through out his career and a key member of both Red Sox titles.
Let's face it. This was Theo Epstein's career on the line. It was his defining moment in Red Sox history.
The thought of trading a Boston legend? Theo did it.
Garciaparra had already been nearly dealt to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez during the whole A-Rod fiasco. So Epstein wasn't afraid.
Garicaparra was sulking over a contract extension and milking his wrist injury. Yet, he was in the midst of a major decline in his production.
When Nomar returned from his injury early in the 2004 season, he continued to struggle offensively and especially defensively.
Theo knew he had to make a deal and in the waning seconds of the trading deadline, Nomar was gone and in return came Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz.
If the Sox were going anywhere, he needed to make this deal. He solidified the shortstop position and first base defensively in the late innings.
And 86 years of misery ended.