Theo is the Difference Maker

Ryan Thomas

We all remember 2004. It was bedlam. It was generations of relief washing away. It felt so good didn’t it? And maybe for one season, winning the World Series wasn’t an all-consuming monster that ate at our bellies. But after a one-year hiatus, Red Sox Nation was back at it again. We wanted to win another. We were hungry again; the monster was back.

Well, here we are once again, three years later. We all remember the 2004 team-they’ll be immortalized for eternity. Pedro and Big Schill; D-Lowe and Wake; Manny and Papi; Foulkie, Pokey, Billy Mueller, Johnny Damon, Dave Roberts, Bronson and his guitar, and all the characters that embodied the “Idiot” mantra.

Looking at that list, I realized that all but four of the names had moved on, and one of them-Tim Wakefield-wouldn’t be on the World Series roster. That got me to thinking. How do you get this much turn over in a short time period and still make it to the World Series, and be favored to win? Who deserves credit here?

The answer is simple.

As a Red Sox fan, you might not want to hear Theo Epstein’s name, but he’s the man who makes the decisions. You can criticize him for some of his moves, but when it comes down to it, he makes the final calls (and more often than not, they’re good ones). Whether it’s a free agent acquisition, a contract extension, a player out of the draft, hiring scouts, or getting the best player evaluators, Epstein oversees all.

When a General Manager has a great team full of veterans, those veterans tend to jump ship more often than not after winning; i.e. Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Johnny Damon (albeit in 2005). You lose those solid blue-collar guys too, like Bill Mueller, Dave Roberts and the beloved Kevin Millar. It’s at turning points such as this where a GM’s mettle is tested. Epstein’s is tested every year, and I say he passes-with flying colors.

Out of the four main starters used in the 2004 playoff run, only one-Curt Schilling-remains a mainstay on the 2007 roster. On top of that, Schilling’s role is different from that of 2004. Josh Beckett, who is the best postseason pitcher in the game right now, has taken over Schilling’s role of Staff Ace and he’s signed for another four years and $40 million, which is pocket change compared to contracts for pitchers like Barry Zito ($18 mil/season) and Jason Schmidt ($15 mil/season). Pedro Martinez’s void has been filled by Curt Schilling, while Derek Lowe has been replaced with rookie (and don’t forget he is a rookie) Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Since local knuckler Tim Wakefield is off the roster, that makes an opening for one of the Red Sox most prized possessions-Jon Lester-to show everyone why Red Sox scouts couldn’t decide who had more upside, him or Jonathan Papelbon.

This is another very important aspect of the General Manager’s job, to hire the right scouts and the best talent evaluators that will inform Epstein who the best bet is in the drafts. In a roundabout way, thank Epstein for hiring the guys who scout the talent that could be the difference between a World Series appearance and a weekend at Granite Links in Quincy right now. Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, and Jonathan Papelbon are all products of this system. All are making a serious impact on the Red Sox continuous run towards a second October parade through Boston in four years.

Players such as these, along with ones waiting in the wings like Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Justin Masterson, and Lars Anderson will continue the winning ways of the Red Sox in the future. You’ve go to replace worn down parts eventually, or else they will hamper your well-oiled machine. Thank Theo for stocking the shelves.