From outside New England, it was probably perplexing for MLB fans to figure out why the Red Sox parted ways with President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski fewer than 10 months after Boston had won the World Series in a dominant season.
After all, this was the same franchise that dismissed Manager John Farrell after back-to-back AL East division championships, and did so just four years after Farrell had guided the team to its third World Series title of the 2000s.
But for people who follow the Red Sox closely, both of those decisions inherently made sense, and the Farrell dismissal in particular led to an immediate improvement in the clubhouse that indirectly led to the 2018 championship.
We’ll have to wait and see whether Dombrowski’s departure similarly improves the Red Sox’ direction moving forward, but in the meantime, it’s obvious that team management is now saddled with yet another job-search process to fill a highly appealing but pressure-packed position within the team hierarchy.
I can help the Red Sox expedite the Sox’ job search with a simple solution: Hire Theo Epstein. Again.
I know, I know, Theo works for the Cubs now, and has two more years on a contract that pays him approximately $25 million a year to serve as the team’s president of baseball ops. He lives just a few blocks from glorious Wrigley Field with his wife and young family, and he was the architect of the Cubs’ 2016 championship, which finally ended the franchise’s 108-year title drought just a dozen years after he helped Boston end its 86 years of frustration.
Why would Theo leave?
I have plenty of reasons.
First, we all know that Theo grew up in Brookline and working for the Red Sox was his dream job when he was originally hired in 2003 (at the time, becoming the youngest GM in baseball history). He got along famously with the manager that he helped hire, Terry Francona, and together the tandem brought not one but two championships to this title-starved baseball town.
And Theo still has significant ties to Boston. Epstein helped create “Hot Stove Cool Music,” a biannual Boston benefit concert that has raised millions of dollars for disadvantaged youth and families in Boston, and he has returned to the city each year the event is staged. Plus, his twin brother and parents still live and work in the area, and Theo’s two young sons would get the chance to get to know their mom’s and dad’s hometown just a little bit better.
Admittedly, Theo sometimes had his critics in the front office, particularly in team president Larry Lucchino, but Lucchino is now in Worcester helping to oversee Boston’s Triple-A team make its transition from Pawtucket and building a sparkling new stadium in Worcester that will open for the 2021 season.
Meanwhile, Sox owner John Henry has always had Epstein’s back, and was reportedly devastated when Theo felt it was time to leave the Red Sox after the team’s disastrous meltdown in Sept. 2011.
For Theo, the chance to work the same miracle in Chicago as he did in Boston was a remarkable opportunity, and after the Sox and Cubs finally negotiated for Epstein to be “traded” to the Cubs for a forgettable player in the spring of 2012, Theo took over a team that hungered for its first World Series title since 1908, but was coming off a 71-91 season.
Epstein did what he did in Boston to so much success: rebuilt the farm system while collecting draft choices, and after similar dismal seasons out of the chute – 61-, 66-, and 73-win seasons – the team really began to show its potential in 2015, when it went 97-65 and reached the postseason for the first time since 2008, losing the NL pennant to the Mets.
A year later, the Cubs became a 103-win juggernaut, and put to rest the Billy Goat Curse once and for all with the franchise’s long-awaited World Series title that sent lonnnng-suffering Cubs fans into a frenzy of a lifetime.
But things haven’t been the same since, and despite 92-70 and 95-68 seasons following their magical 2016 season, the Cubs as of this writing are a Red Sox-ian 78-68, and have lost five of their last seven heading into a critical 10-game homestand.
Chicago is only four games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central, and is in a dogfight to nail down the second wild card, but the writing is on the wall for the Cubs: despite the majors’ second-highest payroll, they have been surpassed in talent by the Dodgers, Braves, Redbirds, and perhaps even the Nationals and Brewers in the NL.
Skipper John Maddon is a lame-duck manager with no contract beyond this season, and is likely to be canned at the end of the year, and Theo will be left to explain what has befallen the team since the champagne soaked Wrigleyville just three autumns ago.
In all likelihood, Theo will suffer the same fate as Maddon within the next two years if things don’t take a significant upturn, and that is unlikely to happen because a lot of the team’s prized young players are due for significant raises in 2020, and Theo will still have to justify the questionable contracts of oft-injured starter Yu Darvish (six years, $126M), closer Craig Kimbrel (three years, $43M), and outfielder Jason Heyward (eight years, $184M).
The Red Sox never had a losing season under Epstein’s nine years of oversight, and he has built three World Championship teams by the time he reached the age of 43. Think about that.
The Sox and Cubs could perhaps “trade” Epstein again over the winter, and once here, offer him either a lifetime contract or the chance to be part of ownership.
Either way, it’s time for the Red Sox to admit their earlier mistake, and reach out to their fandom this winter with a very familiar introduction:
“Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”
Welcome home, Theo.