EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 17, 2006

Fellow GMs have Theo's back


The Bradford Files

Rob Bradford

NEW YORK - Billy Beane and J.P. Ricciardi knew this time would come. Yet, watching it from afar doesn't make it any more palatable.

The two general managers both had their shot at taking the reigns Theo Epstein holds, general manager of the Boston Red Sox. They understood at the time both the adoration of being on top and the pitfalls that would come with the job if things started going south.

With Epstein now taking his share of slings and arrows while the Sox meander toward the offseason, both Beane and Ricciardi want to make it clear that Boston has the right man in the front office.

"(Epstein) is flat out of the best GMs in the game," said Bean, the man who holds the same position for the Oakland A's. "He's doing it in a very difficult situation and in a very demanding market, which is what makes the franchise great. It's pretty amazing that they are, what, 10 games over .500 (as of yesterday) and they've basically lost their entire team at some point.

"It's a balance we all face, and all of us know when we got into the job it's part of the deal. Listen, the fact of the matter is when you're winning everybody loves you, and when you're not winning nobody loves you. That's the deal."

Ricciardi, who was first wooed by Boston ownership to succeed interim GM Mike Port before taking the same job with the Toronto Blue Jays, agrees with Beane that some might be losing sight of the big picture when it comes to Epstein.

"From one GM to another GM, the Red Sox have of the best GMs in the game," said Ricciardi. "They have a very smart guy who has done very well with resources and made great decisions. But, unfortunately, you aren't going to make the right decision every time.

"Look at (Edgar) Renteria. We've been in that situation, too. Everybody in baseball is smart enough to know if you have a player you don't think is going to work out, then you take that player and you move him. The plus of doing that is: a) you save money, and b) you don't have to see the guy play every day. You're smart enough to realize that you made a mistake and that player isn't going to function playing for you.

"To think every move that you make is going to be a home run is just unreasonable."

The perspective of the two GMs might appear biased, but, according to Ricciardi, it's for good reason.

"You can't explain the job to anybody," he said, "and anybody who isn't in the job is going to have absolutely no compassion or sympathy for someone who is in the job."

One aspect of the job that both Ricciardi and Bean insist Epstein has successfully executed is patience, something that can be the most challenging in Boston.

"Their farm system, since Theo has taken over, is not only very good now, but some of the fruits of their farm system are up there playing now," Beane said. "When you bring up young players and they're playing in such critical roles, it gives you far greater economical power going forward. When you're not spending $9 million on a closer because you've drafted and developed one yourself, and not traded him away at the previous trade deadline, you have far more substantial buying power for other needs.

"Don't kid yourself; it's easy to say now you wouldn't trade Papelbon. But you don't think every other team and their mother didn't ask about him at the (2005) trade deadline when nobody knew who he was."

Perhaps the two areas Epstein is being the most criticized for are Boston's payroll (close to $130 million) and the fact that, since he arrived prior to the '03 season, all the Red Sox have done is win. A winning season is still a likelihood, but the club's string of three straight postseason appearances has gone to the wayside.

"You're in a tough situation from the start," Ricciardi said. "Every team comes with its challenges and every team comes with its expectations. That in itself is a very, very hard thing. It's not easy. When you're in a place like Boston, which is very demanding, there is going to be less room for sympathy.

"I think what has happened in Boston is that they've won, and the curse that comes with winning is the expectation that you are going to win every year. Ultimately, somebody is going to be in a position where you don't win, and when you don't win a lot of things rear their ugly heads. Nobody is going to win every year.

"People have really forgotten how good it has been there. I don't really think there is a reality check there. They are sitting there thinking we should win all the time, and it doesn't work that way."

As the Red Sox trudge their way toward the offseason and through this weekend's anticlimactic, four-game set at Yankee Stadium, Epstein is in Portland, Maine, hoping to witness a small victory - an Eastern League championship for Boston's Double-A affiliate, the Portland Sea Dogs.

Not quite the title those die-hard Red Sox Nation types who braved Interstate 95 south this weekend bound for the Bronx were banking on.

"The balance is trying to achieve both, satisfy the daily need of your fan base, but at the same time develop a long-term plan. That's why it's so difficult in big markets," Beane said. "Brian Cashman is trying to do that in New York as well, and Theo is certainly doing that in Boston. And quite frankly, Theo has done that."