“What has he done? Has he pitched this year? Is he ready to pitch or is he not?...I think our bullpen is good where we're at right now…It's kind of like the Gagne thing, I guess.”
Jonathan Papelbon has since retracted this statement, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.
In 2007 the Red Sox had the best bullpen in baseball by a country mile. Then they decided to snag Eric Gagne off waivers. It made sense in a rich get richer sort of way. A bullpen, no matter how effective, can always stand to get deeper. Then the Gagne investment folded faster than pets.com, and Theo Epstein and the rest of the Red Sox front office didn’t look so smart anymore.
“Good enough never is” was replaced with “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” The fan base might have played Monday Morning Quarterback, but Epstein’s reputation was robustly rejuvenated by a World Championship in the same year. The disastrous addition of Eric Gagne was an embarrassing, but not fatal, learning experience.
Unfortunately for the 2009 Red Sox, another Eric Gagne will join the (presently) stellar bullpen later this week. By adding Billy Wagner—an aging, injury-riddled clubhouse cancer—Theo Epstein has insured a disappointing end to this once promising Red Sox season.
This inexcusably boneheaded move is just one of many that Epstein has committed during his time with the Red Sox.
In 2008, Epstein ran the greatest hitter of his generation out of town. Love him or hate him, Manny Ramirez is irreplaceable. If Epstein had made amends with Ramirez last year, there is no way the Rays would have won the ALCS.
For another example of Theo’s incompetence, look at the way he has consistently mishandled Dice-K. Epstein forced him to adopt a new training regimen, and Matsuzaka’s arm has suffered for it. After 28 years on this earth, isn’t it possible that Matsuzaka knows a little more about keeping his own arm healthy than Theo Epstein does?
Now, fresh off the John Smoltz fiasco, Epstein has decided to test his hand once more and trade for Wagner. Never mind his age, his history, and the ominous similarities to Eric Gagne, Wagner’s personality alone should have been enough for Epstein to pass. Wagner didn’t make any friends when he was in Philly, Pat Burrell called him a “rat,” and several other teammates were open about their common dislike for the man. That clubhouse was overflowing with chemistry, and Wagner still managed to isolate himself. Just imagine the possibilities in Boston.
There are a ton of reasons why the Wagner trade was idiotic, but only one should have been enough. When the two most important cogs of the bullpen (Papelbon and Delcarmen) publicly decry the move, it takes a lethal blend of ignorance and arrogance to keep going forward.
Epstein is the worst kind of fool. He knows nothing, but he won’t admit it, even to himself. Every move the Sox make looks more desperate than the last. All Boston’s GM really needs to do is sit tight. If there is any doubt that a hands-off approach would work brilliantly, look no further than the manager Terry Francona. Francona brought the city two championships by doing nothing at all. Francona facilitates, he “plays within himself,” so to speak. If Epstein can humble himself enough to take a lesson from his elder, the Sox will finally get some of the stability necessary to winning championships.
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