Boston Red Sox: Is Theo Epstein the Best MLB General Manager Ever?

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Boston Red Sox: Is Theo Epstein the Best MLB General Manager Ever?
Elsa/Getty Images
Dec. 6, 2010: In Boston, Theo Epstein (left) and Adrian Gonzalez (right) hold a press conference. Gonzalez donned a Red Sox jersey for the first time.

What do Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have in common? 

Their prior teams couldn’t afford to keep them. 

Boston's general manager, Theo Epstein, stepped in with gold-lined pockets and pocketed them all.

Everything Epstein touches, however, does not turn to gold.  Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez were traded by Epstein for Beckett and Lowell in 2005.  Ramirez has MVP talent at shortstop.  With the exception of 2004, the Sox have struggled at shortstop forever it seems. 

Epstein helped the Sox to sign Crawford on Dec. 8 for forever (seven years) and $142 million.  It was the ninth largest contract in baseball history. 

A talented young man still on the major leagues upswing, Crawford is 29-years-old.  At 6’2,” 215 pounds, he’s in his prime.  Last season, he won his first Gold Glove, stole 47 bases, slugged 19 home runs and batted .307.

He could bat leadoff, and give the Red Sox the second coming of Ricky Henderson.  I believe Crawford is capable of winning an MVP in 2011.  He’s just now entering his prime.

“One thing I believe about Carl is he’s not yet fully developed.  There is still room for improvement,” his former Tampa Bay Rays coach, Joe Maddon, said. 

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Sept. 6, 2010: Outspoken slugger Torii Hunter follows through on a swing in his home park. He was hoping to have Carl Crawford's bat in the order with him.

Other teams know it.  The Angles reportedly offered Crawford $108 million.  Recruiting Crawford for his team, Torii Hunter must’ve been listening to Soulja Boy songs upon hearing the news. 

“I’m sitting here in a daze right now, like, what the heck just happened? I’m crushed, man.  I could have sworn he was coming here,” Hunter said.  Here, would be the Los Angeles Angels.  What  happened was who but Epstein?

He is the executive vice president and general manager of the Red Sox. 

Hired in November 2002 at 28-years-old, he was the youngest general manager in MLB history.  He won the first World Series in 86 years by the Red Sox in 2004.

He resigned in October 2005, but was rehired in January 2006 and won a second World Series in 2007.  In 2008, Epstein traded Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers for Jason Bay, who became an American League All-Star in 2009.

His management style is to provide the club’s manager with certainty at almost every position for several years.  He wants to give the Sox the best chance to consistently make the playoffs.   

In his shot-calling duties, he considers as many alternatives and opinions as possible.  More so to consider the ramifications of every single deal rather than trying to win now, he’s rarely hasty. 

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
February 2010: Adrian Beltre poses for an official Rex Sox photo in Boston. Will he return to take a 2011 team picture? I don't know, but Epstein probably hopes so.

Epstein showed steely confidence by allowing Orlando Cabrera, Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe to become free agents.  He wanted to stock the farm system with draft picks. 

In MLB, organizations get draft picks as compensation for losing their free agents.  Boston lost free agent Victor Martinez to the Detroit Tigers.  Declining salary arbitration, Adrian Beltre and Felipe Lopez became free agents on Nov. 30. 

Boston could still sign Beltre and Lopez.  Through compensation, however, the Red Sox stand to own five of the first 50 draft picks in 2011.

Born in New York City—once the writing and publishing Mecca—Epstein is now 36-years-old.  He grew up, just a few miles from Fenway Park, wanting to be a Red Sox executive.  His family consists of several famous writers.   

His screenwriting grandfather and great uncle won Academy Awards for a certain screenplay called “Casablanca.”  His father, Leslie Epstein, heads the Creative Writing Program at Boston University and has for over 20 years. 

Theo’s sister is a successful writer for television.  He’s a talented writer in his own right.  He was the sports editor for the “Yale Daily News.” 

He was named Major League Executive of the Year by “Baseball America” in 2008.  “Sporting News” named him their Executive of the Decade.  “Sports Illustrated” placed him No. 3 on its list of top GMs/Executives of the Decade (in all sports).

Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Nov. 2, 2005: Epstein address the Boston media. Is he the best Red Sox general manager ever? I'd say so.

Boston should be at or near the top of the standings until at least 2015, but one never knows.  Most of Boston’s key players are signed through at least the 2014 season. 

Jarrod Saltamacchia could prove to be a worthy replacement for Victor Martinez.  At $418, 580, he’ll be a bargain if he turns out to be.  The Red Sox pitching staff is still superb.  Gonzalez could become the best slugging first baseman the Red Sox have ever had. 

Although he went from sports editor to general manager, Epstein is not the best general manager ever, in my view.  Hanley Ramirez would’ve possibly set all kinds of records for shortstops with the Red Sox.

Respectful challenges to opinions and assumptions via vigorous debate are known to be constant for many professional sports operations staffs.  Under Epstein, the Boston Red Sox are no exception to the corporate American rule.

He could have to make some more exceptional moves for the 2011 season, but he’s not a freewheeling fool.  He’s made few glaring mistakes, but he's strengthened weaknesses on the Red Sox roster as a rule. 

Former Los Angeles Lakers general manager, Jerry West, and R.C. Buford of the San Antonio Spurs own more championships than Epstein.  Mitch Kupchak of the Lakers and Joe Dumars of the Detroit Pistons are tied with him.

Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees has won four World Series.  Epstein has at least two more World Series to win before he can claim to be better than Cashman.  He appears to be well on his way in building a team to help him catch Brian. 

I’d give Epstein a solid B+ for helping to build a perennial championship contender in Boston.

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