12.25.05

Edes : Damon Departure Has Epstein’s Fingerprints All Over It

Posted in Baseball at 1:03 pm by

Gordon Edes hears the anguished cries of Red Sox fans, saddened at the club’s loss of Johnny Damon to their hated Bronx rivals, and the Globe columnist has a rather unique take on who is responsible.

The Red Sox need Theo Epstein (above) to step out of the shadows. Hey, we don’t begrudge him a couple of months out of the spotlight, a chance to hang with Pearl Jam in South America, a few normal nights with loved ones, a respite from the pressures of managing the most intensely scrutinized business in New England, a job that became harder, not easier, after the Sox finally won a World Series after 86 years of trying.

But what has been best for Theo hardly has been what is best for the organization, which has taken a fearsome public beating for appearing to have dissolved into chaos at the top. The latest to point a damning finger was Johnny Damon, who pegged his departure in part to a fractured front office, suggesting that if Epstein was still in place he might never have left.

Oh, really? Are we to believe that if Epstein was the GM, the Red Sox would have offered a deal more competitive than the one the Yankees used to lure Damon from Boston?

I’m not buying it. I can’t offer incontrovertible proof — it’s hard to do so when people operate from the shadows — but my take on the Sox’ stance with Damon is that it was absolutely consistent with Epstein’s position regarding the club’s free agents: You make your best judgment of a player’s value to you, you set a price, and you don’t allow anything — sentiment, nostalgia, public pressure — to cause you to stray from it.

The decision not to offer Damon more than the four-year, $40 million proposal they made to him was, in my opinion, every bit as much, if not more, Epstein’s as it was Larry Lucchino’s. There’s nothing keeping Epstein from speed-dialing John W. Henry and Jed Hoyer from the shadows, and they are both predisposed to allow Epstein to shape the Sox’future according to his vision.

It was the same last winter with Pedro Martinez; the Sox determined they would not go beyond a certain price for Pedro and they didn’t. Plenty of other teams would have caved before allowing Martinez to leave, but the Epstein Sox always have been about planning three or four years ahead, not just in the short term.

Epstein dropped plenty of hints during the summer when he said he wasn’t married to the idea of making the Sox the best run-producing machine possible at the expense of pitching and defense. That was the best approach with what he had to work with, Epstein said, but under different circumstances, he might take a different tack. That may be what we’re seeing at play now, the team switching to building a deep bullpen, investing heavily in starting pitching to complement the wave of young arms coming up through the system, and upgrading defensively even if it means sacrificing some offense.

Could I be wrong? Sure, but I don’t think so. I expect sometime in the next month Epstein’s ”adviser” role will be made official, but even that is inadequate and misleading and mocks the intelligence of the fans, who are supposed to somehow believe that Epstein is in a subordinate role to the two guys who have been at his beck and call the last three years

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