For Theo, the gift of faith
Ownership's backing of Epstein helps Fenway fans' wishes come true
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Red Sox are staging their annual "Christmas at Fenway" event this Saturday.
Sounds a bit redundant, doesn't it, after the Sox exceeded the wish lists of even their most demanding followers with platinum-level acquisitions of a slugger and speedster both entering the prime of their careers?
And it doesn't end with first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and left-fielder Carl Crawford, centerpieces of the decade to come. Even as an exhausted Theo Epstein flew back to Boston on Thursday, the Red Sox were competing with the Yankees and Blue Jays for catcher Russell Martin, the former All-Star nontendered last week by the Los Angeles Dodgers. They also had offers out to several relievers, the bolstering of the bullpen a remaining -- and very reachable -- objective.[+] EnlargeJunko Kimura/Getty ImagesTheo Epstein, right, called Sox owner John W. Henry Wednesday night to make his final case for Carl Crawford.
Epstein acknowledged Thursday that when it came to closing, he may have been something less than the Mariano Rivera of general managers, no doubt thinking of failed bids to complete other attempts at acquiring transformational players, such as Alex Rodriguez in 2003 and Mark Teixeira in 2008. He buried that reputation for good in the span of a week, pulling off the trade for Gonzalez and then signing Crawford, just when the Sox thought the market might gallop beyond where they were willing to go.
It took some extra persuasion, Epstein placing a call to Sox owners Tom Werner and John W. Henry on Wednesday night and making a passionate case for the seven-year, $142 million offer he sought to make to Crawford. The Sox during the Henry-Werner era had never signed a free agent for more than five years, although they had offered eight to Teixeira two winters ago. Werner listened first, expressed his reservations about adding a seventh year to the team's offer, then advised Epstein to make his pitch to Henry.
The owners were in Liverpool, England, when Epstein called, for this weekend's match of their soccer club. It was the middle of the night on their side of the pond; Werner went to sleep not knowing how this would play out, and still fretting that the Angels, odds-on favorites to sign Crawford, would go to an eighth year.
Henry, who had a few reservations of his own, gave Epstein the green light.
"That shows you,'' Werner said, "what kind of faith we have in Theo.''
Werner awakened to e-mails and phone calls that Crawford was theirs. The Angels, it turned out, had offered six years for $108 million. The Los Angeles Times reported the L.A. offer also had included a vesting option for a seventh year.
That shows you what kind of faith we have in Theo.” -- Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner, on the ownership group's decision to give Epstein the green light
Hours before Epstein cinched the deal for Crawford, he had jokingly asked during his media session who was the most hated GM on the premises, then said by morning it might be him.
And just how did he imagine he was perceived by 29 other teams coming to terms with the fact that the Sox had just committed roughly $300 million to two players (though the long-term extension for Gonzalez is not done, only an understanding that he was amenable to a package in the seven-year, $154 million range).
"I think people might think the Red Sox just got better,'' Epstein said.
The Red Sox left little to chance. Scouts were assigned to follow Crawford, Gonzalez and Jayson Werth, the other outfielder on the Sox radar, not for a series or two, but a half season. Detailed "white papers" were prepared, arguing the pros and cons of acquiring the players. Bill James, the statistical analyst, did a study analyzing how young, athletic players like Crawford age over the course of a long-term contract and comparing various body types. James concluded that such players generally kept their value until age 35 or 36.
"Nothing that we did at these meetings or may have done or will do shortly was the product of a last-minute idea,'' Epstein said. "It was all a product of, hopefully, well-thought-out ideas over a long period of time ... a lot of thought and a lot of commitment and belief, commitment to winning and belief from ownership."
In Gonzalez's case, the Sox had the benefit of having Epstein's special assistant, Dave Finley, the scout who originally signed Gonzalez when he was drafted No. 1 by the Florida Marlins in 2000 and had maintained a close relationship with Gonzalez ever since. When Jed Hoyer became GM of the San Diego Padres last winter, he wanted to bring Finley, a San Diegan, with him as scouting director. Epstein countered by promoting Finley from national cross-checker to special assistant, which allowed Finley to continue to stoke the fires of Gonzalez's enthusiasm to come to the Red Sox.
"You cannot overstate Dave Finley's importance in the whole process of getting Adrian here,'' another Sox executive said.
It all came together -- Plan A, and its spectacular execution -- a product of creative thinking, hard work, big dollars and a dollop of serendipity. Christmas at Fenway, indeed.
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.
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