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October 31, 2005

Theo leaves Sox

By Globe Staff

In a stunning development, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein has declined the club's offer of a three-year extension of his contract, and will leave the organization.

The Red Sox announced this evening that Epstein will continue to work with the club for several days "to assist in an orderly transition and to prepare further for the upcoming GM meetings and other off-season activities."

“My decision not to return as general manager of the Red Sox is an extremely difficult one,” Epstein said in a statement to the media. “I will always cherish the relationships I developed here and am proud to have worked side-by-side with so many great people, in and out of uniform, as together we brought a World Championship to Boston.

“In my time as general manager, I gave my entire heart and soul to the organization. During the process leading up to today’s decision, I came to the conclusion that I can no longer do so. In the end, my choice is the right one not only for me but for the Red Sox.

Epstein had been expected to accept a three-year deal worth $1.5 million per year but after indications that he would take that offer, he changed his mind. The three-year deal Epstein signed in 2002 expires at midnight tonight.

“I want to thank John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino for the opportunity to serve as general manager for the last three seasons,” Epstein said late this afternoon. “Their support and friendship mean a lot to me, and I wish them all well. I also owe a debt of gratitude to the players, Terry Francona, the coaching staff, the front office, the baseball operations staff, and the fans for making my Red Sox experience so meaningful.”

According to WBZ-TV, Epstein has packed his office and left Fenway Park. The Dodgers, Phillies and Devil Rays have GM openings, but none has a $120 million payroll to match the one Epstein was given in Boston.

It is not known who the leading candidates are to take Epstein’s place, but the team will likely move quickly to replace him. Epstein’s top assistant, Josh Byrnes, recently left the Red Sox to take the general manager’s position with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Jed Hoyer, the Sox' 31-year-old assistant to the GM, was the leading candidate to succeed Byrnes as assistant GM. It is not known whether Hoyer will be a candidate to succeed Epstein.

Epstein did not shed any light on his future plans after resigning this afternoon.

“My passion for and dedication to the game of baseball remain strong,” he said. “Although I have no immediate plans, I will embrace this change in my life and look forward with excitement to the future.”

When the most recent round of negotiations began, Epstein received an initial offer of about $850,000 per year and a second offer of $1.2 million per year, both of which he rejected, the Globe reported.

A sticking point during the team's negotiations for a new contract was Epstein’s relationship with Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, but it wasn't immediately clear how much of a factor that was in making his final decision.

Sources familiar with Epstein's thinking told the Globe last week that he does not question the propriety of reporting to the CEO but chafes at times at the degree to which Lucchino involves himself in baseball decisions, and at a perceived lack of respect toward the baseball side.

In a column in Sunday’s Boston Globe, Dan Shaughnessy wrote that “the father-son dynamic of Lucchino and Epstein has been unveiled before all of Red Sox Nation. The family linen was aired publicly and now every move will be examined for fingerprints: Theo or Larry? Did they agree? Did Theo have to talk Larry into it? Or was this some bigfoot move by Lucchino?”

More from Shaughnessy: “Theo Epstein is a truly remarkable young man from a truly remarkable family. He would be a success in any field of his choice and Boston is fortunate that he set out to have a career in baseball. He got to the mountaintop faster than anyone in the history of the game and deserves to be paid accordingly. But he did not get there alone.”

Lucchino has known Epstein since he began as a summer intern with the Orioles in 1992, and has mentored Epstein through an apprenticeship that continued in San Diego when Lucchino moved to the Padres, and then to Boston, where Lucchino first hired Epstein as assistant GM shortly after the new ownership group took control in 2002, and promoted him to GM a year later.

Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, in an interview a few days ago on Boston sports radio station WEEI, praised the work Epstein had done.

“Theo has made himself into what he is and I heard some people talking about the fact that if Theo goes they’ll bring in another guy, cause it’s the system and I absolutely 100 percent disagree with that,” Schilling said.

Epstein was baseball's youngest general manager when he was hired before the 2003 season.

A devotee of statistical analysis who values his scouts as well, Epstein's tenure has been marked by bold adventures that often conflicted with baseball orthodoxy:

  • He signed first baseman Kevin Millar, despite an unspoken agreement not to poach from Japanese clubs.

  • He went without a traditional closer in his first year, with disastrous results.

  • He tried to trade for reigning MVP Alex Rodriguez -- a deal that would have meant shipping out Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra -- and then, without remorse, pulled the plug when the deal became too expensive.

  • He ate Thanksgiving dinner with Curt Schilling in a college football-style recruiting trip that lured the right-handed ace to Boston.

  • He traded Garciaparra, the face of the franchise, for the parts he needed to complete the World Series puzzle.

    But the efforts have paid off.

    The Red Sox reached the AL championship series in 2003 before the lack of a closer doomed Grady Little in Game 7 at Yankee Stadium. The next year, with a new manager and the closer it had lacked, the ballclub won its first World Series in 86 years.

    Boston reached the postseason for a third consecutive year this season before getting swept by the Chicago White Sox in the first round.

    The Sox are currently in a 15-day period after the end of the World Series when they can negotiate with their own free agents, with Johnny Damon the most high profile player.

    The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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