EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 23, 2007

Give Theo a little credit

By Bill Burt, Executive Sports Editor

BOSTON — Theo Epstein stinks.

Isn’t that pretty much the consensus?

World Series or no World Series? Praise for the Red Sox general manager is begrudging because of J.D. Drew, Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp, to name a few.

If the Red Sox win it all this year, everyone will receive praise. Everyone, except Theo.

He had the budget, $143 million, to buy a winner and he did what he was supposed to do, and that’s that.

Apparently, the Red Sox have not only traded places with the Yankees in the standings, but we as fans have become like our neighbors from the Bronx. World Series or bust. Black or white. The “Boston Is Burning” mini-series needs only a director.

It’s pretty pathetic. But that’s pretty much what has happened.

I plead guilty to stoking the flames. I’ve brought up the slumping Drew and Lugo enough times on the airwaves to cause car sickness.

Sure, Theo may have spent money like crazy over the winter, to the tune of $202 million when you include Daisuke Matsuzaka’s six-year, $52 million contract and $51.1 million posting fee totalling $103.1 million.

To this day, I can’t figure out the Lugo and Drew acquisitions. They were advertised as sure busts in Boston, and thus far, they have been. The only plausible guess I can make is team statistician Bill James told Theo both would have career seasons, and overpaying them a tad would be worth it.

Whatever the case, the 33-year-old Epstein still deserves something he gets very little of these days — credit.

Forget that this was Boston’s third trip to the ALCS in five years and second trip to the World Series.

“It’s funny that some people don’t consider what’s happened around here under Theo’s watch a success,” said Red Sox minority owner Tom Werner before Sunday’s ALCS game with the Indians. “We’re here at Fenway Park, with home field advantage for a Game 7. I think, win or lose, the Red Sox have been a success this year.”

Has Manny Ramirez, and his “baseball is not war” statement, caused everyone to go wacky?

Kidding aside, Werner is right. While there were a few months of stagnation in June, July and August, the beginning and the end of 2007 are up there with any in recent memory.

“We’ve had so much fun with this team this year,” said Werner. “Whether it was the (Clay) Buchholz’s no-hitter, the Mother’s Day (come-from-behind ninth-inning) win, some of Josh Beckett’s games. ... It was one of our favorite years here. Sure, Theo gets credit for that.”

Remember the other part of the job, developing players.

The Red Sox farm system is a holding tank for future major leaguers. Each year a new name or two pops up. Remember the names Jed Lowrie, Justin Masterson (the Sox wouldn’t trade him in July) and recent Spinner Nick Hagadone.

But lest we forget this 2007 roster.

Manager Terry Francona, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester all have Theo’s signature somewhere on their arrival papers.

Take one of those guys out of the equation and the Red Sox aren’t playing in October.

The 2004 World Series title aside, the point is, Theo’s body of work since he took over at age 28 — he was the youngest GM in MLB history — is impressive.

Expectations for the Sox, and Theo, have never been higher around here. The honeymoon has long since ended.

“My concern is making sure Theo is happy. I want him to enjoy this,” said Werner. “I believe Theo is one of the great, outstanding general managers in all of baseball. I wish people would enjoy the moment and realize what we have.”

Bill Burt is executive sports editor of Eagle-Tribune Publishing Co. E-mail him at bburt@eagletribune.com.