Analyzing Theo: 2004

On Halloween afternoon, Theo Epstein officially stepped down as the Red Sox GM. His Ïdream jobÓ may have been a dream after winning the World Series in 2004, but the ÏjobÓ part of the deal was beginning to be too much to handle. Theo was frustrated with the constant PR demands, the leaking of private information between Theo and the Sox brass, and the explicit bias towards CEO Larry Lucchino (when talking about Epstein and his contract dispute) in an article written about the duo in this Sunday’s Globe, just to name a few factors. The boy wonder and hero in Boston is now jobless. Will he pursue a job outside of baseball? Will be remain in baseball, as the general manager of a different job with a team like the Dodgers or Phillies? I couldn’t believe it when Evan told me the news this afternoon, it was absolutely shocking. Without a doubt, this is a sad day for the Red Sox and their organization. Any time you lose a professional and mastermind like Theo Epstein, nothing good can come out of this. Hopefully, Henry and the crew will hire the right GM (Towers or Sabean?) to replace Epstein and bring our beloved team back to the promised land.

For now, I will analyze Theo’s works in the year 2004. The year that everything changed÷

Immediately following Aaron Boone’s blast to eliminate the 2003 Red Sox, Theo Epstein went to work improving a club that came so close to a World Series. The first gigantic and bold move came a few weeks later when slugging superstar Manny Ramirez was placed on waivers. I remember the night it happened and I remember coming home and seeing the news on the TV. I was stunned. I thought some team like the Yankees or Mets would grab him and his career in Boston would be over. But the future World Series MVP was not claimed by any team, and at the same time, Epstein showed he was willing to pull any triggers to make the situation the best for the team. And less than a month later, the championship pieces began falling into place with Curt Schilling joining the ride. Theo’s famous Thanksgiving Day visit to Schilling’s house in Arizona spurred the ace to help bring a World Series to Boston and their fans. Great move #1. Then, Theo recognized the gap in the closers role and signed one of the best, free agent Keith Foulke. In my opinion, he was the World Series MVP, shutting down the Cards in all four games. Great move #2. Then came Christmas and the A-Rod debacle, which I’ve written lengthily about in a past article following another postseason choke job. The Sox let A-Rod slip away to the Yankees and the rest was history. Theo and the money-loaded front office were being shafted by the media and fans to refuse to give him that extra million or so. It was all a matter of money. The rest is history÷

Another important piece in the 2004 puzzle was brought in with Mark Bellhorn, the guy who became goat to hero in a span of four days with huge postseason home runs. The defense was improved by bringing in Pokey Reese. The manager job was settled with Schilling favorite Terry Francona. The draft featured future second baseman Dustin Pedroia÷things seemed to be going well for Theo. He solidified that solid starter to help Pedro, filled in the loose closers situation, brought in team chemistry guys to sub in for injuries to Nixon and Nomah- and the team looked generally happy. Then Nomar started dragging out his injury longer than expected. He soon battled with the ownership over contract issues. The guys on the team we’re surprised by his constant bristling appearance, like he didn’t even care. His poor fielding and slow bat didn’t help either. In one of the gutsiest moves in the history of the franchise, Epstein traded Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs, receiving Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz in the deal, along with speedy Dave Roberts. Fans were anxious to see whether this deal would work or not. They were aware of the trouble and animosity Nomar was displaying on a daily basis, and the Sox sure did improve on their number one Achilles heel, defense. Roberts would bring speed. But was it really worth trading #1 Boston hero Nomar Garciaparra?

Of course, the answer turned out to be yes. The Red Sox won the World Series, Theo was crowned hero and savior of Boston, the parade was insane, life was good and sweet, milk and honey were flowing and the world didn’t come to an end. Good times. It seemed like in 2004 Theo made all the right moves. In A-Rod’s case, he didn’t make the wrong move, if that makes sense. Trading Nomar took balls, but he did it anyway for the good of the team. 2004 was a year we’ll never forget.

2004 Grade: A+