Theo Epstein to exchange toxic Red Sox for 'cursed' Cubs

Theo Epstein was revered in Boston for helping to bring the city its first World Series since 1918. Now, Theo Epstein is set to try to do the same in Chicago after enduring a disastrous Red Sox season.

Bizuayehu Tesfaye/AP/File
Boston Red Sox owners Tom Werner (l.) and Larry Lucchino (r.) listen as General Manager Theo Epstein speaks during a news conference in Boston last month. Media reports suggest Epstein will join the Chicago Cubs.

The epitaph for what will apparently be General Manager Theo Epstein's last year with the Boston Red Sox was written before the 2011 season even began.

It came in the April edition of Men's Journal, penned by Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter.

Responding to the apparent genius of Epstein in securing stars Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez in the offseason, Showalter quipped: "I'd like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay [Rays] payroll. You got Carl Crawford 'cause you paid more than anyone else, and that's what makes you smarter? That's why I like whipping their b***. It's great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, 'How the h*** are they beating us?' "

In the light of a cold New England October, the irascible Showalter appears a prophet – and, as a result, Epstein is headed for the door, reportedly set to leave for the Chicago Cubs.

He has not been fired; he had a year to run on his Red Sox contract.

Nor is he being frozen out the way manager Terry Francona was.

But no executives or fans are throwing themselves in front of the exits, either.

Six months ago, that would have been unthinkable – a primary architect of the Red Sox' "curse"-breaking 2004 World Series winner sent on his way with a pat on the rump and a "better luck next time."

But perhaps, there was just a little too much truth in Showalter's malediction.

It was, after all, Showalter's Orioles – with a record of 69-93 – who won five of seven games against the Red Sox at the end of the season to keep the Sox' $205 million menagerie out of the playoffs, the final incomprehensible exclamation mark on the biggest September collapse in major league history.

It was, after all, Carl Crawford who the Yankees GM later admitted to faking an interest in during the offseason solely to drive up the price for the Sox. Carl Crawford who hit a career-low .255 (nearly 40 points below his career average) and stole only 18 bases (also a career low for a full season).

The Sox have him for six more years. At $20 million a season.

And it was, after all, those very Tampa Bay Rays, with their pint-size $42 million payroll, that pipped the Sox to the finish line on the final day of the season.

The fact is, Epstein will always be beloved in Boston. The enormity of winning the World Series in 2004 – and again in 2007 – makes the parting amicable, even cordial.

But it is also a fact that the legacy 2011's incredible shrinking season has become so toxic that even Epstein was not immune. The remaining Sox might just have to play at Fenway in hazmat suits next year.

Still in the penumbra of a historically disastrous season, Epstein is Edgar Renteria. He is Julio Lugo. He is John Lackey. He is Carl Crawford. He is all the tens of millions of dollars seemingly wasted on high-price, low-yield talent. In the Boston mind, his batting average is entering Dale Sveum territory.

So it is with general managers, the men made celebrities by Billy Beane and "Moneyball."

Yankees GM Brian Cashman is a genius this year for cobbling together a starting pitching staff from spare parts, only a few years after being a moron for signing free-agent bust Carl Pavano.

Epstein is an incorrigible spendthrift, only a few years after building a Wold Series champion with cheap, home-grown talent like Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Jon Lester.

Epstein once acknowledged that it is every GM's dream to build a champion in a small market, where the margins for error are far thinner and GMs don't have millionaire owners to bail them out. "It’s just a little bit purer," he told the Boston Herald.

And a little bit less toxic when the whole thing blows up in your face.

He won't get that in Chicago, where the Cubs' new owner openly talks about replicating the Boston model – smart moves bolstered by big money. He's there to break the Cubs' 103-year World Series drought just as he helped end the Sox' 86-year drought in 2004.

At least there, he'll be well clear of Buck Showalter's blast radius.

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