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Henry ready if GM exits

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / October 8, 2011

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If Red Sox owner John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino are to be believed, general manager Theo Epstein is leading the team’s search for a new manager despite the lingering uncertainty of whether he will remain with the organization.

That could be just business as usual for the soap opera Sox these days. But Henry made it clear yesterday that he is prepared for the possibility of Epstein leaving.

“I think there’s a certain shelf life in these jobs,’’ Henry said during an interview with WEEI. “You can only be the general manager if you’re sane. You can only be the manager for a certain amount of time. It’s a tremendous pressure-cooker here, 162 games. It’s a long season, and the pressure here is 365 days. So Theo is not going to be the general manager forever.’’

Henry and Lucchino would not comment directly on reports that the Chicago Cubs have asked for permission to speak to Epstein about a position, Lucchino saying it was a private issue that does not require full disclosure. But Henry did indicate the team would not stand in Epstein’s way.

“There’s a certain protocol,’’ he said. “If someone asks permission for a job that’s not lateral, you give permission. That’s just the way it works.’’

Reports out of Chicago suggest that Cubs owner Tom Ricketts wants to make Epstein the team president with responsibility for aspects of the organization beyond baseball.

Epstein may want out of Boston or could be using the interest from the Cubs as leverage to get a new contract from the Red Sox. He is signed through next season.

“Theo’s the guy now, he’s been the guy, we’ve had tremendous success,’’ Henry said of Epstein. “We fell apart at the end of the season . . . We’re upset about it. No fan could be more upset than I am about the result this year. But he’s done a tremendous job for us over the last eight years.’’

Henry has been sparing in his comments since the end of the season, posting a few messages on Twitter and then agreeing to a radio interview that was simulcast on the team’s television network, NESN.

Henry agreed with the idea that manager Terry Francona’s departure was a mutual decision. Francona essentially quit before he was fired, telling the team he did not want to return because of the inability to get his philosophy across to some veteran players.

“We really didn’t get a chance to make it mutual. But thinking about it, would we have ended up in the same place he ended up? Based on the things that we heard, the things that we saw, there’s a strong likelihood that we would have,’’ Henry said.

The Sox have since fired first base coach Ron Johnson and coaching staff assistant Rob Leary, while compiling a list of candidates to replace Francona.

In recent days, Dave Martinez (Rays), Tim Wallach (Dodgers), and Dale Sveum (Brewers) have emerged as names the Sox are looking into.

“We’re actively engaged in that search for a new manager,’’ Lucchino said. “We’re not sitting around twiddling our thumbs. Theo is actively engaged day to day in that search.’’

Henry said the most important qualification for a new manager would be to “fit into’’ the organization’s philosophy of relying heavily on statistical analysis to make personnel and strategic decisions.

At the same time, the Red Sox have made it clear that assistant GM Ben Cherington is involved at the highest level, both with the search for a new manager and talking with Francona. Were Epstein to leave, Cherington seems sure to replace him.

Henry spoke about his disappointment with the team’s physical condition, saying he spoke with members of the medical staff to learn more about the problem. He was told there were “nutritional’’ issues with some players.

Henry wants the Red Sox to look into adopting some of the conditioning principles used by European soccer teams with their players.

“We began to wonder, why is this team breaking down?’’ he said. “This is the second straight year that on Aug. 1 we looked great and looked like we were headed to a potential World Series and the second straight year the team broke down physically . . . It wasn’t just one or two players. We were really banged up. We were really struggling to put healthy players on the field.’’

Lucchino said it was ownership’s responsibility to field a team worthy of being supported by fans and to “right the ship’’ in terms of poor work habits.

“Our team has to be in first-class physical condition,’’ he said.

In a related topic, Lucchino said the team is investigating reports that starting pitchers were drinking in the clubhouse during games. Such behavior, he said, should not be tolerated.

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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