Analyzing Theo: 2005

[NOTE BY EVAN] Now that we’re in the off-season, Fire Brand’s going to be switching to a weekday website. Not only do all three of us manage to somehow take time out of every day to bring to you the latest Red Sox news, rumors, and opinions, but we’ve got to do it without burning out and finding enough news in the offseason to go on. With that in mind, the weekend is going to now be our “break” and will allow us to make more quality columns in the future, as there will be more topics to talk about during the week. Should there be any breaking news (like Manny being traded) on the weekend, we’ll definitely have it for you, but until spring training, let’s have the weekend be a reflection upon the week. Keep leaving these comments – we’ll be looking for them! If you do not know, the Padres traded SP Brian Lawrence to the Washington Nationals for 3B Vinny Castilla. This could open up a rotation spot for David Wells. Stay tuned.

Theo Epstein announced Monday he would not be returning as Red Sox GM. As you may have seen in the comments section of the Theo breaking news post, I’m taking a different side than every other loyal reader of Firebrand. I’m taking the other route and being optimistic about this situation. Theo is a tremendously devastating loss, but the ownership, fans and Red Sox followers around the globe have to move on. There are other talented, respected and smart GM candidates out there that can take the talent pool of the Red Sox organization and create a winner. I realize that maybe Theo is the best man for this job, but the players and prospects didn’t go anywhere. Am I worried about this season? Absolutely. We may have to endure a rebuilding year. So many question marks involving the remaining World Champion team members. Damon wants five plus years? Good luck with that. Manny off to Anaheim? Might be inevitable. But regardless of what happens with Theo, Manny or whoever, the Red Sox brass and new GM will put out a talented team. Although, this may not be the year to expect 95 wins.

Onto the 2005 Theo Epstein summary and grade÷

Coming off the improbable World Championship in 2004, there was one thing in my mind, Ïplease Theo, keep as many of these guys together as possible.Ó He was playing with house money. Don’t overpay for Lowe or Pedro, but sign Cabrera, open up AB’s for Roberts, keep Pokey, Bellhorn, Varitek, Arroyo, Bellhorn÷keep the core guys together for a repeat run. After an interminable back and forth Pedro negotiating marathon which involved a meeting with George Steinbrenner and Cashman, the Mets, fittingly, overpaid for Pedro at 53 million over four years. At the time, I was pissed at Pedro for screwing the Red Sox, but there was no way Theo was going to give him that kind of money at four years. I acknowledged the situation and decided to move on. Derek Lowe was anything but easy to handle in his stint with the BoSox, and went along to LA for way too much money and posted an average 12-15 record with a 3.61 ERA. A good move staying away from Lowe, but you could see the 2004 pieces starting to break away.

Instead of giving Orlando Cabrera less money to stay with a team he loves and won a World Series with, Theo went after Edgar Renteria. Renteria was a guy who had a really tough time handling the pressure of playing in Boston and had a woeful defensive and inconsistent offensive season. Cabrera, on the other hand, brought his playful attitude and complicated handshakes to Anaheim where he almost won a gold glove. The one big mistake from Theo. Another 2004 member and clubhouse favorite Gabe Kapler suddenly departed for Japan. But Sox fans were rewarded with an additional Christmas present: Jason Varitek.

Pedro was trying to pry him to New York, but in the end, Theo and Lucchino felt that Varitek was the one irreplaceable player on the roster. He managed the pitchers. He was the captain. When Varitek signed for 40 million (who cares, he’s Tek), the Sox awarded him with a C on his jersey. A gold glove and silver slugger award would follow in 2005. Roberts wanted a starter job and the Sox dealt him to San Diego (I still believe they could have opened some at-bats for him, plus he’d get a standing ovation every night) and Pokey left for Seattle. Huge losses to speed and defense, as well as chemistry guys. Jay Payton was the exact opposite- an egotistical jerk that wanted out and swung at more pitches over his head than I’ve ever seen out of any player- and was traded to Oakland. I miss you, Dave.

Then, it was time for Epstein to replace the lost parts in the pitching staff and bullpen. The John Halama and Matt Mantei signing were complete disasters, as they totaled a combined ERA of 12.67. Cubs starter Matt Clement was signed for way too much money, and at the time it appeared a desperation move by Theo. He was a career .500 pitcher who faded in the second half and didn’t pitch well in big games, but his stuff and potential made me excited to see him pitch. Clement was an All-Star who started off red hot, but fell apart in the second half and the volcano erupted in Game 1 of the ALDS. Former Yankee and Fenway hater David Wells was signed early in the off season and oddly performed well at Fenway. He sucked on the road. For a maligned pitching staff, Wells may have been the most consistent pitcher all year with a 4.45 ERA. Theo was praised for signing free agent Wade Miller for a year, but his right shoulder wasn’t healed and was a complete non-factor in 2005.

The off season moves turned out to be questionable at the end of the season, and Theo took much criticism for Renteria, Clement and the bullpen mess. But people also looked over Theo pulling the plug on a less than favorable Manny trade at the deadline and the key pickups of Tony Graffanino and Alex Cora. The two infielders provided much support for Mark Bellhorn’s sad departure, with Graffanino hitting above .300 in his time in Boston. John Olerud was picked up to improve defense and platoon with the struggling Kevin Millar. Chad Bradford was signed to add depth to the bullpen, and Mike Remlinger made a quick stay. With the emergence of Papelbon and Hansen at the end of the season, and Timlin stepping nicely into the closers role, the bullpen problems became less of an issue.

Without a doubt, 2005 was Theo’s most difficult year and may have added to the stress that caused his resigning. Most people directed their criticism towards the disappointing Clement and Renteria busts and included contracts, but injuries really killed this team. Schilling was hurt all year. Foulke pitched poorly (understatement) due to an injury. Bellhorn and Millar’s bats went to hell. Nobody knows what happened to Alan Embree all of a sudden. 2005 was full of question marks and rough turns, and Theo dealt with these problems quite well. Francona also did a remarkable job of keeping the guys together and somehow winning 95 games.

2005 Grade: B