In 2002, Theo Epstein became General Manager of the Boston Red Sox. At age 28, he was the youngest General Manager in baseball history. He had come to the Sox from the San Diego Padres where he had worked under Larry Lucchino in the Public Relations Department. When Lucchino became President and CEO of the Red Sox, he hired Epstein to work for him.
Under Epstein, the Sox broke the Curse of the Babe and won the World Series in 2004 and again in 2007. In 2011, after losing a shot at the Playoffs by losing 20 of their last 27 games, the Red Sox parted ways with Manager Terry Francona and, shortly thereafter, Epstein left to take the position of President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs.
With Chicago, Epstein built a pennant contender in a short period of time. As of May 31, the Cubs were in first place in the Central Division of the National League, with the best record in baseball and five games ahead of the second place Pittsburgh Pirates, after making the playoffs as a Wild Card team last year.
Meanwhile, back in Boston, the Red Sox were in first place in the Eastern Division of the American League with a record of 32-20, the second best record in baseball behind, who else, the Cubs.
In the first third of the season, the Sox have been riding the big bats in their lineup as their starting pitching has been less than spectacular. Four of the starting position players were hitting over .300 with Xander Bogaerts leading the league at .350, Jackie Bradley, at .331, and David Ortiz at .335, and Pedroia .309. The starting lineup, with Brock Holt out with concussion like symptoms consists of Christian Vazquez behind the plate, Hanley Ramirez at first, Dustin Pedroia at second, Xander Bogaerts at short and Travis Shaw at third. The outfield has Blake Swihart in left, Jackie Bradley in center and Mookie Betts in right with David Ortiz in the designated hitter slot.
Of these nine position players, eight were acquired during Theo Epstein’s time as General Manager and President of Baseball Operations for the Red Sox. The only exception was Hanley Ramirez, who was signed as a Free Agent before the 2015 season.
Ortiz was signed as a Free Agent on January 22, 2003 and Pedroia was drafted by the Sox in the 2004 Amateur Draft. Bogaerts was signed as an Amateur Free Agent in 2009 and Vazquez was drafted in the Amateur Draft in 2008. Amazingly, Betts, Shaw, Bradley and Swihart were all drafted in the 2011 Amateur Draft. Reliever Matt Barnes was also acquired in that draft. Theo and his staff obviously knew what they were doing that year. Also acquired during that draft was Henry Owens, who, if he can regain his control, could eventually be a main part of the starting rotation.
The other position players on the roster, Chris Young was signed as a Free Agent in 2015, Josh Rutledge was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels in 2015, Ryan Hanigan in a trade with the San Diego Padres in 2014 and Marco Hernandez in a trade with the Chicago Cubs in 2014.
Of the pitchers currently on the 25 man roster only Barnes, Junichi Tazawa, who was acquired as a Free Agent in 2008 and Clay Buchholz who was drafted in 2005 came to the Sox during the Epstein years.
Of the starting pitchers, besides Buchholz, David Price was acquired as a Free Agent this year, Rick Porcello in a trade with the Tigers in 2014, Joe Kelly in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014 and Steven Wright in a trade with the Cleveland Indians in 2012.
Of the relievers, with the exception of Barnes and Tazawa, Craig Kimbrel, the Closer, was acquired in a trade with the San Diego Padres in 2015, Robbie Ross in a trade with the Texas Rangers in 2015, and Heath Hembree in a trade with the San Francisco Giants in 2014. Koji Uehara was signed as a Free Agent in 2012 and Tommy Layne as a Free Agent in 2013.
While Theo can’t be given credit for the Red Sox pitching in 2016, he left the Sox with a formidable group of position players, most of whom will be around for many years in a Red Sox uniform. While he made his share of errors in the Free Agent market as almost every General Manager in baseball has done, he built an organization by drafting intelligently and developing his prospects within the system.
As for Terry Francona, who left among the controversy over a blown pennant race and a beer and fried chicken scandal that the media blew out of proportion, he is back home in Cleveland where he and his father both spent portions of their major league careers. His Indians are in the middle of their fourth straight winning season after having endured four losing seasons before Francona took over. He has won 281 and lost 247 in four years and is in second place just 2 ½ games out of first in the American League Central Division.
It’s very possible that this season could end with the Cubs and the Red Sox playing in the World Series. If they do, no matter who wins, much of the credit for developing the winner should go to Theo Epstein who turned both organizations around and put them on the paths they are now on.