They may have to temporarily halt production of the “Theo Epstein, The Man Behind the Genius” NBC special report. The nauseating worship of the so-called boy genius by some was starting to get out of hand and it’s always nice to see the mighty toppled. I know everyone says he’s perfectly nice guy, but the times we see him on camera, doesn’t he just come across as having this smug, arrogant smirk, which is especially pronounced when he’s hanging out with his sidekick, the uber-talented (sarcasm) Dane Cook? Maybe it’s just me and the burgeoning darkness in the pit of my soul, but is anyone else just tickled to death to see all the boy genius’ moves turn sour? Maybe it’s just the accumulated bitterness of watching the Sox win 2 World Series or just a character flaw which enables me to exult in the suffering of others, but either way, it’s fun to examine the roots of his present dilemma:
- Complacency – Theo fell into the exact same trap that Cashman and the Yankees fell into following their 4 series crowns: the belief in one’s own press clippings. The Red Sox were the favored destination of choice for aging vets and stars trying to be part of a winner. Therefore, the Sox, like the Yankees before them, had their pick of players at the twilight of their careers, willing to come to Boston for less, either via trade or free agency. When Boston was at its best, they went out and spent what they had to (in prospects as well as money) in order to get the guys they needed. Beckett, Schilling, Pedro, etc. were all guys that they targeted and went out and got. Lately, though, instead of getting the big gun like Sabathia, Halladay, Burnett, or Teixeira, Theo settles for bargain basement deals for Smoltz, Penney, Victor Martinez, etc. Theo doesn’t want to give up fair market value for the best guys anymore because he knows he can get another guy who’s not quite as good or not the best fit for much less.
- Hubris – There is no better example of Theo’s misplaced pride in his own abilities than the King Felix fiasco. Instead of making the obvious move of trading for Roy Halladay, who would have fixed the Red Sox’ rotation and made them nigh-unbeatable in the postseason, Epstein thinks he can outsmart everyone and pull off an impossible deal for a 23-year-old phenom who is under control at a reasonable salary for several years to come. Think Evel Knieval trying to jump over the Grand Canyon. Oftentimes, the obvious move is obvious because it’s the right one. You don’t get extra points for doing something no one expected.
- The Farm System - Theo has pulled some serious rabbits out of his hat in recent years, producing Papelbon, Lester, Youkilis, and Pedroia in the fertile Boston farm system. Prospects are notoriously fickle creatures, however, and once you start relying on them to produce for you, they always seem to pick that time to decide they need another two or five or hundred and fifty years to develop before becoming a contributing major leaguer. Everyone seemed to assume that Jed Lowrie would become Derek Jeter (how many Sox fans did I have to listen to blather on about how Lowrie was better than Jeter right now!?), that Lars Anderson could play first base this year for the Red Sox, that Bard and Masterson were can’t miss front-line starters. Just because Theo struck gold with Youkilis and Pedroia, doesn’t mean that Anderson and Lowrie will yield the same spoils. The Boy Genius doesn’t look so infallible, now.
This is not meant to demean Theo Epstein’s past accomplishments or to infer that he’s a terrible GM. Every executive makes some moves that work out and some that blow up in his face. His actions this year, however, do make you wonder whether his own success and the laurels he’s received, have negatively impacted the way he’s governed the Red Sox. Success and praise are sometimes just as harmful as failure and criticism (or perhaps the perma-smirk or seeping hair gel has somehow induced a brain cramp?). The two things I wonder aloud to you guys are:
- Has success gone to Theo’s head?
- Are you as giddy as I am to see him finally take some hits (or am I just a blackhearted, backbiting buzzkill)?