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TC with Theo Epstein

Posted by Tom Caron, NESN Staff January 29, 2009 05:58 AM

Red Sox executive vice president and general manager Theo Epstein thinks he has his club ready to make another charge into October. There are obviously more moves to be made -- unless you're comfortable with a Josh Bard/George Kottaras/Dusty Brown combination behind the plate -- but Epstein has received praise for making moves that should improve the club.

He missed out on signing free agent Mark Teixeira, but the additions of Brad Penny, John Smoltz, and Rocco Baldelli fill needs and round out a roster that made it to Game 7 of the ALCS last year.

I spoke with Epstein about the finances of building a team in a recession, the key off-season additions, and keeping up with the Joneses in the AL East.

TC: How much do you have to keep the state of the economy in mind as you make deals? What could happen to the future of baseball in this economy?

Epstein: Obviously, no one has the answer to what’s going to happen to this economy on the whole, and more specifically its impact on baseball in 2009. All things being equal, we just felt the more flexibility we could maintain, the better. It gives us the ability to read and react, which is never a bad thing. If you have younger, more cost-controlled and affordable talent, when is that ever a bad thing? In these economic times it could prove to be a very valuable thing.

TC: How do your off-season moves thus far compare with the plan you had going into November?

Epstein: Actually, you don’t go in with one plan. You go in with several different versions of a plan because you’re never sure if you’re going to be able to land certain players and you’re never sure if certain trades are going to come to fruition. The theme, I guess, is that we felt we had a really good team coming back. We didn’t have any desperate needs at any one position per se. We were returning a team that was really, really injured and still came within one big hit of getting to the World Series with a lot of young players that should get better. We felt if we were going to make moves we wanted to find potential impact players, whether it be a big free agent or a number of shorter-term deals with potential impact players who are coming off an injury or coming off a down year. So we’ve ended up really following that second path, and we like the players we’ve signed.

TC: It appears you’ve been able to improve this club without getting tied up in too many long-term contracts. You have a lot of one-year deals in place. Is that something you had hoped to do?

Epstein: I hope we’ve improved the club. I think that we have, but time will tell. Things look a certain way in the off-season and they have to play out during the season. In our situation, there are two factors that led us down the path of preferring shorter-term deals. Obviously, with the right player in his prime, we’re always willing to extend a longer-term deal. We have a really good core of young players and we have a good farm system, so you don’t necessarily want to block those players with long-term commitments to players who might be on the wrong side of the age curve. Also, the economy. There seems to be a downturn in the market for player salaries. It may get worse in 2009 when the economy really hits baseball, and so if it’s a down-turning market you don’t necessarily want to get caught up in long-term commitments as the market tends to decrease. With that kind of uncertainty, it’s better to keep our flexibility, and compared to other big-market teams, we have only a fraction of their commitments going forward, yet we still have a lot of talent under control, so I hope we find that a nice position to be in.

TC: You seem to have gotten a couple of guys at the right time. A year or two ago, Brad Penny and Rocco Baldelli would’ve cost you a lot more money for a lot more years.

Epstein: The contracts are low-risk and high-reward. I think that’s an important part of it. Players’ careers are really volatile, so if you’re going to invest in a player in free agency — unless it’s absolutely the right player — sometimes you want to look for the little valleys in their careers so you can get them on the right turn rather than buying high. It’s not an easy thing to do, and we’re not going to hit on all these guys, but if we hit on one or two of them it’ll be worthwhile.

TC: What does the addition of John Smoltz do for you? What can he give you at this stage of his career?

Epstein: He’s coming off major surgery, but we saw him throw a bullpen [session] and it was fantastic. He threw all his pitches, he threw hard, his arm was working really well. He’s just a bit of a physical freak who defies a lot of the rules. He’s never been bad; he’s never even been average. He’s always been a dominant guy, so you feel like a combination of his quick recovery to date and [the advice of] our medical staff, if we can get him back on the mound we have a chance to have a dominant guy that’s valuable.

TC: I know you pay a guy to perform on the field, but Smoltz has got to bring intangibles to the clubhouse that very few people could bring.

Epstein: Yeah, he does. He’s obviously a winner. He’s incredibly experienced. He’s got a certain swagger about him. He’s as uber-competitive a guy as you could find. Talking to a lot of players who have been through the Braves’ clubhouse over the years, he’s a guy who stands out as really having a positive impact both directly and indirectly on other people’s careers. What’s not to like with a guy like that? As long as we can get him back to good health.

TC: You’ve often said you won’t react to what they’re doing in New York and Tampa. That said, you’ve got a lot of games to play in the division. Is it as tough as any division in baseball?

Epstein: It is. I think the teams in this division have to hold themselves to an awfully high standard. Eighty-five, 95 wins, whatever it may be, I think that’s harder to attain in this division than just about anywhere else. You don’t build your team to face any one individual team, but I think you have to build a talented, deep team with plenty of redundancy and reinforcements just to hope to contend in this division.

OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.

45 comments so far...


    Posted by GEO January 29, 09 08:57 AM
  1. The 3rd question - not answer, but question - is so baffling. Improving the Club? I don't understand how adding a guy who started with the Braves when Theo was still in HIGH SCHOOL is an improvement. The best part of TMZ these days is the photog's cornering Ben Affleck as to what he thinks of the 're-treads' that've been signed by 'his team' Good luck getting past Tampa & New York.....

    Posted by George January 29, 09 09:32 AM
  1. The 3rd question - not answer, but question - is so baffling. Improving the Club? I don't understand how adding a guy who started with the Braves when Theo was still in HIGH SCHOOL is an improvement. The best part of TMZ these days is the photog's cornering Ben Affleck as to what he thinks of the 're-treads' that've been signed by 'his team' Good luck getting past Tampa & New York.....

    Posted by George January 29, 09 09:33 AM
  1. Theo,
    After not signing Teixiera, thanks for reinvesting the money saved in Youk, Pedroia. etc... In Theo I trust. If Veritek comes back and still can't hit. we'll need a catcher that can hit (Salty?). Perhaps Texas will give him up for less than Bucholtz. With Tek, obviously there is no roster spot for him now. Thanks also for hanging on to the young prospects like Bucholtz. Hopefully we will never throw away players like Murphy, Moss, Hansen, or Merideth again. I remmember thinking we would be lost without Garciapara, and instead, Theo, you dealt us 2 World Series Campionships.

    Posted by Ben Ben the Fisherman January 29, 09 09:53 AM
  1. I find it incredibly restful to scan the Red Sox roster these days and find not a single A-Fraud in the mix. In the course of their tenure here, Theo and company have built an outstanding organization from the bottom up. They're smart, they're well-informed, they're backed faithfully by the ownership, and they learn from every move they make--both the successful and the unsuccessful. I grinned at Mr. Epstein's remark about the importance of having "replacements and redundancy" in personnel in order to contend in this division. I don't think we will see any more Bronson Arroyo-for-Wily-Mo-Pena moves from this FO, nor will they ship out promising young arms to score formerly dominant pitchers like Eric Gagne for the pennant drive. This winter they stocked up on low-risk, high-potential pros to bolster the staff in short-term, incentive-laden deals that block no prospects and have cost none in trade. These "re-treads" are not being counted on to lead the staff or play every day. They offer "replacements and redundancy," and they are highly likely to provide exactly that--if not a good deal more.

    Posted by Elaine Apthorp January 29, 09 10:15 AM
  1. Hey George how can you not think the club is improved? We added Smoltz(yes he is old but like Theo said he has never even pitched as bad as average in his whole life!), Rocco, Saito, Penny, and we traded Crisp for a great settup man. We didn't lose anything of value besides Coco. It was a good question TC.

    Posted by EZEZZO January 29, 09 10:19 AM
  1. Just love the Red Sox moves this off season. We're excited about the 2009 season. Interviews like this provide us with an inside glimpse of the rationale behind moves and signings - keem em' coming.

    Posted by Colonnade Boston Hotel January 29, 09 10:27 AM
  1. Third place.

    Posted by david siff January 29, 09 10:29 AM
  1. We need a slugger, needless to say. Why are you waiting so long to tie up Dunn?
    I'm a die hard fan from Sun Valley, Id. where the Mt.s are steep, the trout always hungry, and we don't worship potatoes, we just eat them
    Have been routing for the Sox since 1945 when I was 17 years old; am now 80.
    We don't worship potatoes, we just eat them

    Posted by Ed Siegel January 29, 09 11:10 AM
  1. My thinking is that if J.D. Drew is your highest paid player then there is something dreadfully wrong with your team.

    Posted by frenchman January 29, 09 11:42 AM
  1. "Obviously, no one has the answer to what’s going to happen to this economy on the whole" (Epstein, 2009).

    This is not true. Right now, it's all about squashing what exists, in order to re-order it differently. In fact, there are lots of answers, pertaining to how things ought to be ordered. Of course, most of them are simply sentiments related to one's own position.

    For example, take supply and demand. We make too much of things we don't need. This is a waste of resources. However, we go through this charade simply so that a few can have more than the rest. There are many good answers that compliment our current state. Unfortunately, the current brain trust have already moved us in a direction (e.g. shrink the economy) that they don't truly understand. However, it keeps them fat and happy. Of course, they don't pay for their health insurance- you do.

    Posted by anonymous January 29, 09 11:42 AM
  1. Adam Dunn sucks! Where can he possibly play in the field and not destroy our defense. He's as defensively indifferent as manny ever was an more. The guy can only play a limited OF and DH. Why bother?

    Posted by dmoore January 29, 09 11:42 AM
  1. Blah blah blah spin spin...while it is great to lock up Youk and Pedroia, this was an embarrassing off-season. Don't return a kick-off 99 yards and then take a knee at the 1 on principle, it's just a foolish way to do business. And let's all remember, when referring to "a roster that made it to game seven of the ALCS last year", let's be sure to note that Mr. Masher himself Manram Ramirez was on that club for 80% of the year. The Sox would not have been in a playoff push position were it not for Manny. We now face an entire season without Manny in an absurdly stacked AL East, lord help us.

    Posted by Scott January 29, 09 11:45 AM
  1. Wow. What are hard hitting story. Great digging there. Shocked you didn't ask him about his favorite lollipop flavor.

    This was a fluff piece to end all fluff pieces.

    I really appreciate Theo, but he's not always made the best moves. Which is why a lack of moves doesn't bother me. His best moves? Schilling, trading Nomar, signing Ortiz. (Remember he didn't trade for Beckett) His worst? Renteria, Lugo. Renteria hurt the most b/c we could have signed Cabera or we could have just promoted Hanley Rameriez. Seems as though Theo can't evaluate shortstops. The best we had since Cabera was Gonzalez and we let him for for Lugo.

    Theo's strengths are the farm system. I have hope for a great future with this team. But, to the reporter, next time ask about the catching situation and the hole in the lineup.

    Posted by Tony G. January 29, 09 12:02 PM
  1. Holy Softballs TC. Is anyone else getting sick of the party line that comes out of Boston.com and NESN?

    Posted by JoeAverage January 29, 09 12:12 PM
  1. Hey George.......
    I'm smarter than you think. I know your post was tongue-in-cheek. I realize no one could be that clueless. I'm sure you won't be watching your very first baseball game this spring. You're just messin' with us. Trying to make us think you know absolutely nothing about baseball. But I know better. You're just trying to stir up a little controversy. You are some kidder.

    Posted by BobL January 29, 09 12:19 PM
  1. Anyone who thinks the Sox didn't better the club with these signings is a moron. I can't stand it when fans don't see the big picture. The market is going to decline even moreso next year (I think) and we are not handcuffed by any big contract. The contract the Yankees signed this offseason are going to hurt them over the next few years as they lose value, while Theo and company will be able to lock up FA next year for contracts that will look better as years go on. Doe any Sox fan wince at the thought of a healthy Smolz getting the ball in a pivotal playoff game? Thought so. He is money and will not only pitch great for us, but he will be a great leader and teacher to the young arms we currently have.

    Posted by MHaze January 29, 09 12:21 PM
  1. MHaze - go back and read George and my post exposing him.
    He's a real hoot.

    Posted by BobL January 29, 09 12:35 PM
  1. Wow, did you kiss Theo goodbye when the interview was over, Tom?

    Posted by Matt January 29, 09 12:46 PM
  1. Hey Tony G.

    What do you mean we didn't trade for Beckett. Does Hanley Ramirez and Anabel Sanchez ring a bell? And for the person saying that we are not going anywhere without Manny? Get it together. Manny dogged it all year for us. What was he batting .280 with 20 homers through 80% of the year. We did much better without Manny, check the stats. Jason Bay is good for 25 Homers and 100 RBI for a fraction of Manny's cost and never mind that is a team player. I am psyched for this year. Would like to have Tek back but I think it is time to move on.

    Posted by ChrisG4985 January 29, 09 12:47 PM
  1. I saw Theo made inquiries about Hanley Ramirez. Would like to see him keep that on the burner. He would be the icing on the cake and more than make up for not getting Mark T.

    Posted by Dave P January 29, 09 12:52 PM
  1. Elaine Apthorp, bravo, extremely well said!! I wish the rest of the fans were as enlightened as you.

    Posted by 1L January 29, 09 01:22 PM
  1. The Yankees always win the WS in January. Yankees team defense will be one of the worst in the AL.... they are horrible in the OF and the IF boasts only the "new guy" as a gold glover, Jeter is smart but not who he was. So they got some pitching but they need to be healthy and tough in the east...Burnett (health) CC (tough) that is the reality. The sox are much deeper than the Yankees in all departments. My only thought about the Rays is can they all be on the same page and do it again? Don't sleep on the Sox. i think we got the mix...we got pitching, we have guys who can hit timley, we have a deep BP we have the best closer in the game today. Whats not to like?

    Posted by ummmm..... January 29, 09 01:39 PM
  1. Missing out on Teixera is a bit of a drag for now, given he's an all-around hitter and superb first-baseman. But given the economy, that Tex probably isn't the 4th best overall player in baseball (but is paid like it), and that the Sox don't have any of the biggest contracts in MLB on the books anymore, I do dig the "flexibility." And (counting down the days) once we rid ourselves of Lugo’s dumb contract and Drew’s (depends on the month whether he’s “worth” it; but wouldn’t mind if he resigned for much lower amount), the Sox could arguably have zero WTF contracts.

    The Yankees had just rid themselves of a number of big contracts, but quickly reloaded. After their failed attempt to build from within, they're back to a predominantly free-agent acquisition method. So now they’re back to unproven big-time players and lost draft picks. The core veteran's with all the postseason experience are aging fast (Posada, Jeter, Rivera, Damon).

    The only 2 Yanks that I worry about long-term are Tex and Joba (but he's probably going to get real fat over time). CC’s already fat and has been overworked. Burnett is a proven fragile, unreliable pitcher. A-rod is A-rod. Cano is constantly sporting the face of a line cook who just burnt the potato skins.

    BTW – Caps for an entire entry (Geo)? Are you breaking news or something? Is this the “elderly comments” page? And how about some patience in allowing your comment to be posted (e.g. George)? ‘This comment is so good, it must get posted! Why hasn’t it posted?!’

    Go Sox!

    Posted by Todd January 29, 09 01:41 PM
  1. ChrisG4985

    Tony G is right, Theo didn't do the Beckett trade. That was the off-season he had a fit and dashed out like a gorilla (literally), only to eventually return. The trade was pulled off by some combination, if not all, of the following (who were filling in for the GM): Bill Lajoie, Jeremy Kapstein, Jed Hoyer, Peter Woodfork, Craig Shipley and Ben Cherington.

    Posted by Todd January 29, 09 01:48 PM
  1. Elaine Apthorp.....
    Please explain how you understand where the Red Sox are, where they are going and exactly how and why they can get there while half the know-nothing bozos who post here haven't got a clue.
    It never ceases to amaze me how people who call themselves fans, have watched the Red Sox operate so successfully for the past 5-6 years and still have no idea whatsoever as to what their roster building and overall baseball philosophy is.
    Anyhow kudos to you.

    Posted by BobL January 29, 09 02:04 PM
  1. We are missing a guy that can hit 35+ HR. Dunn seems a no-brainer. Hanley Ramirez would be amazing though.

    Posted by gc January 29, 09 02:09 PM
  1. I think a lot of baseball fans forgot that the Yanks finished 3rd last year-so they NEEDED to make some big moves just to get on a level playing field with Tampa and Boston. And Geo: "Cash is king in down times" try the Yanks had a ton of money freed up for the 2009 season and not to mention the highest payroll-it just sounds so funny to hear a Cashman fan call someone greedy! LOL

    Posted by Anonymous January 29, 09 02:10 PM
  1. Hey Tony G. (post number 14). That is a pretty short list of Theo's best moves. It makes it sound like he is 50-50 in good and bad moves. How about Foulke? Mueller? Roberts (did what he was brought in for)? Not trading Youk or Lester?

    Posted by CBrown January 29, 09 02:55 PM
  1. Wasn't it Theo himself who let us know in an interview about a month ago that he'd inquired and Hanley was not available? There are a lot of blogsters lately who keep bringing up HanRam who did not catch this tidbit, apparently.

    Posted by Sox_Expat_in_BC January 29, 09 02:59 PM
  1. If Lowell and Papi rebound then this club contends and Theo has the bank loaded for a good price on a big deadline acquisition. If one of them doesn't he has to spend early to trade and make up for it.

    Posted by F Manny January 29, 09 04:14 PM
  1. Again, where are you going to put Dunn?

    Posted by Bosox in TX January 29, 09 04:18 PM
  1. I have to laugh at the clowns who think that the Sox had any chance at signing Tex.

    Posted by Anonymous January 29, 09 04:22 PM
  1. GC,
    Where would Dunn play? We have a DH and our OF is full? So it is not what i call a no brainer...now pulling off a deal for Hanley would be amazing. We have no room for Dunn though.

    Posted by Mike January 29, 09 04:24 PM
  1. another thing some near sighted fans are forgetting: overspending for power #s may look pretty when you go to that one game a year with the kids and see one fly out of the yard; but those of us that actually follow the SPORT of baseball, not just one team, know that a complete team is the one best suited for playoffs. Yes you have to get there first, and that is tough in the AL East, but fact of the matter is power hitters tend to struggle, overswing, and press in the playoffs. If I hit a zillion doubles (ala Mike Lowell) well when I get up to the plate in a playoff game I'm not trying to do something Herculean, I'm just doing what I always do, and can do off of elite playoff pitching. Hitting HRs against playoff pitching is the toughest thing to do, especially in the post steroid era. Defense, speed, pitching, and fundamentals win championships.
    So those whining about losing out on Teixiera, or that we should go after Dunn (many of you are the same people whining about Tek hitting low 200's, which is around where Dunn has been hitting in the weaker NL) need to get a little bigger vision when it comes to the game, not just your hometown team. Funny, you are all looking to the Yanks when it was the more complete Rays team we just lost the AL to only months ago. How many 35+ HR hitters did they have again? uh, none. I think Pena hit 28 or 30 during the regular season...
    yes the interview was a verbal H-job by TC, but last time I checked NESN and this website are in the business of selling ad space. again, think a little before you whine.

    Posted by da professa January 29, 09 04:28 PM
  1. Why would we want to trade Youk? Thank goodness we didn't. Ditto for Lester? Theo is smarter than most in the game and has an excellent focus on the all important, marathon not sprint, big picture.

    I guess the Yanks are hoping that their gross contract to Tex will imact their club just as A-Fraud's did... Actually, I guess they are still waiting. They just do not seem the learn.

    Right you are Chris4985 (on all fronts).

    I am really looking forward to 2009. Lots to look forward to and at the absolute least, we are in for some excellent competition and excitement!

    GO SOX!!!

    Posted by DeeDee January 29, 09 04:36 PM
  1. This is for David Siff You are right the Yankees will be fighting for 4th place and if they are lucky they will outlast Toronto and get 3rd place.

    Posted by Sportsbozo1 January 29, 09 05:35 PM
  1. Real hard hitting questions TC.

    Posted by Anonymous January 29, 09 06:37 PM
  1. This type of interview is exactly why I read this section. Theo will guarantee that if the Sox do have a "down year" it sure won't last for long. Excellent piece.

    Posted by MrCantBelieveIt January 29, 09 07:22 PM
  1. Theo is on target. We have the deepest team in the MLB right now and history has shown that being deep is extremely important. If the Yankees starting 5 stays healthy all year it's probably over but if they lose some starters for extended periods like they did last year they are vulnerable. They have 5-6 good starters. They have a mediocre bullpen. They will probably have some other issues defensively and the lineup is not as deep as it has been in the past, albeit really solid. If we get just a little lucky with Ortiz, Lowell, Penney, Smoltz ...etc we have a chance in 2009 and we still are well positioned for the future with the farm system and younger players under team control for the next 3-4 years.

    Posted by Boomerangs.com January 30, 09 02:49 AM
  1. The Yankees had to replace Giambi, Abreu, Mussina and several pitchers, which they did very well with Teix, Swisher, CC, AJ at a cost of about $75M per year for the four of them.

    The Sox were in a different place. They had a great year, even while playing hurt. Looks like Theo doesn't agree with the few persistently cynical bloggers with a pre-2004 attitude who still believe the sky is falling. Looks like Theo agrees with most statisticians, bloggers, media and fans that the Sox retained one of the most successful and deepest teams in MLB, a reality based on 2008 stats and results, even while playing, as Theo said "really, really injured..."

    In spite of the Boras-induced debacles with Manny, Teixeira, Tek, this offseason's goal was to augment and enhance, not replace. Signing Smoltz, Penny, Saito, RRamirez, Littleton, Baldelli, Bard, Kotsay, Tazawa, Gonzales is incredible augmentation, at a base 2009 cost of about $16M. Theo acknowledged that some may not pan out. That's OK, if even half of them do, and most of the injuries heal, then the Sox are a better team than in 2007 & 2008, with available cash to further augment throughout the season during this deep recession..

    Posted by Anonymous January 30, 09 10:59 AM
  1. "In Theo I Trust?" Okay it's official. I'm feeling gravely sick now. Anyone seen Theo sneaking out of Fenway in a gorilla suit lately? No...too bad.

    Anonymous - If I was posting something as lame as your comment I'd want to be "Anonymous" too. Furthermore if you think this team suffers from a deep recession you have to be the most nieve person on the face of the earth.

    Posted by elccpa24 January 30, 09 03:35 PM
  1. To all the fools yelling about a "disappointing offseason" and not improving the team... did you read this article, at all? Ok, maybe you read it but didn't understand it, I know there were some big words in there for you. The point Theo made MANY times was that he wanted FLEXIBILITY. That means that we go into the season, assess the needs of the team CONTINUOUSLY, and make changes as we go. No long term contracts tying us down, and with the economic slowdown, a lot of good players can be had for cheap, once we know what exactly the weaknesses are. IF Ortiz struggles or gets injured, you have the flexibility to go out and get a big bat. If Smoltz can't get healthly, then you can go get a pitcher. You don't have to do everything all at once. That's what being flexible means! Half of you are just here to rail about not getting a particular guy you wanted. Forget looking at one piece and look at the whole puzzle!

    Posted by whatever January 30, 09 04:14 PM
  1. Economic times are tough, and hard decisions have to be made. To quote the Rolling Stones....the outcome of the hotstove is that the Sox didn't exactly get what they wanted, but they got what they needed. Theo did not handcuff us with long term deal(s) but he would have if Texeira had come around. That is understandable, as he is a good player. However the Yankees overpaid once again, and that will be there problem for years to come. He and the FO did a masteful job of managing the funds,contracts, and future arbitration situation. I give him and front office a B+. Caron needs to realize this is baseball and not softball. C- for the pedestrian questions. I agree that some tough questions need to be asked about the catching situation.

    Posted by Fenway South February 1, 09 12:36 PM
  1. Theo , I love what you have done with the team . I still wish you could have unloaded Lugo , but we can't always have everything . Let me remind some of you doubters and haters , 2004&2007 !!! I'd love to say 2009 , but if not 2010 will be just fine . I'll take a WS title every 3 years , and I bet every other baseball fan out there would for their team too .

    Posted by 1SOXfan February 2, 09 08:54 PM
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