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2½ months later, Epstein rejoining Sox

Unspecfied role for former GM

Theo Epstein brought the Red Sox their first title in 86 years.
Theo Epstein brought the Red Sox their first title in 86 years. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

Two-and-a-half months after Theo Epstein left the Red Sox, certain that his heart and soul were no longer fully invested in the job of general manager, the Sox last night announced that the 32-year-old Brookline native will be returning to the organization as soon as next week.

Epstein's exact role and title had not been completely determined as of last night. Nor had it been decided exactly how co-GMs Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington would be recast. The club, in a release, indicated only that Epstein would be rejoining the Sox in a ''full-time baseball operations capacity, details of which will be announced next week." However, expectations within the organization point to Epstein returning as the lead decision-maker within baseball operations, with Hoyer and Cherington working under him.

Neither Hoyer nor Cherington would directly address the job description awaiting Epstein, and how they will be affected, but both spoke of maintaining continuity in Epstein's absence, suggesting they will work for him, rather than Epstein working for them.

''We're definitely a stronger organization with Theo a part of it," Hoyer said. ''Certainly, Ben and I, our goal all along was to add continuity and keep in place the structure we all built together."

Added Cherington: ''When Jed and I accepted these positions several weeks ago, we did so in most part to maintain a sense of continuity in baseball [operations]. Theo's return will be a significant step toward maintaining that continuity."

While Epstein's return had been rumored for weeks, only after 11 weeks of conversations among Epstein, owner John W. Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and president and CEO Larry Lucchino did the team's ownership and its former protege bridge the philosophical divides that led Epstein to leave the team on Halloween night.

''We have engaged in healthy, spirited debates about what it will take over the long term for the Red Sox to remain a great organization and, in fact, become a more effective organization in philosophy, approaches, and ideals," the four men said in a statement released through the club's public relations department.

''Ironically, Theo's departure has brought us closer together in many respects and, thanks to these conversations, we now enjoy the bonds of a shared vision for the organization's future that did not exist on Oct. 31 [when Epstein resigned].

''With this vision in place, Theo will return to the Red Sox in a full-time baseball operations capacity."

Werner and Epstein, when reached last night, declined further comment. Henry and Lucchino did not respond to e-mail inquiries.

When Epstein left the Sox, he left on the table a three-year contract for $4.5 million. It was unknown last night whether a similar deal would await him upon his return.

Henry, in an interview with the Globe yesterday prior to the team's formal announcement, acknowledged Epstein would be coming back but said the former GM was ''not going to come back in a higher position" than he held before. That would seem to suggest that none of Lucchino's power would be usurped.

Hoyer and Cherington, who just 5 1/2 weeks ago accepted the jobs of co-GM, stand to be in an awkward position in this transition.

''I understand that," Henry said yesterday morning.

Epstein, at the time he left, said the appearance of a power struggle with Lucchino ''really wasn't the case." He also said, ''To do this job, you have to believe in every aspect of the job. You have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in the people you work with. You have to believe in the whole organization. You have to believe this is the right place, and really go all in, put your faith and your trust in the organization.

''The process revealed that I could not put my whole heart and soul into the job at this time."

A team source close to those negotiations revealed soon after Epstein departed that just before resigning, Epstein stepped back to examine several issues, foremost among them whether his trust in Lucchino was well placed. There also appeared to exist a divide in philosophies -- Epstein's desire to somewhat retool the club around pitching and defense and younger players even if public scrutiny was harsh, juxtaposed against ownership's perceived resolve to spend on older, established players.

Henry, in his interview early yesterday with the Globe, said, ''There was more than one issue [to be resolved]. There are issues between Theo and I that no one ever talks about. Everybody takes as fact things that are said as speculation. Everybody wants to blame Larry. I don't understand it. I get criticized for sticking by Larry."

Asked about the relationship between Lucchino and Epstein, Henry called it ''good."

''They've been able to work together," Henry said. ''That's been happening."

And, beginning as soon as next week, it will be happening once again on a full-time basis.

The lurking possibility of Epstein's return the last couple months, Hoyer said, ''was something we knew and embraced. Having Theo, who was a big part of this organization, only makes us a better team.

''We'll never turn down a superstar, on the field or off."

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