- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein scoffs at the notion that he's overseeing some sort of Bill Walsh-caliber "tree" now that two of his former assistants, Arizona's Josh Byrnes and San Diego's Jed Hoyer, have left the Boston franchise to run teams in the National League West.
First, the whole executive tree concept focuses too much on the organization at the expense of individuals. Epstein is convinced that Byrnes and Hoyer were destined to become general managers regardless of whether they passed through Fenway Park.
There's also the little question of seniority. Byrnes is 39 years old, Hoyer turns 36 in early December and Epstein won't celebrate his 36th birthday until three weeks later, just before New Year's Day. Theo is actually the baby in the group.
"It only comes up when people say Jed has his whole professional life ahead of him, and I'm over the hill," Epstein said, laughing.
After seven years together brainstorming and celebrating two titles in the cramped home clubhouse at Fenway, Epstein and Hoyer expect to maintain their friendship in different leagues on opposite coasts. It remains to be seen if their dialogue will include discussions about a certain power-hitting, Gold Glove Award-winning first baseman.
Three weeks after replacing Kevin Towers in San Diego, Hoyer has a lot on his agenda. He's in the process of hiring a scouting director and a farm director to assist in his long-range building effort. And he's dealing with a swirl of speculation about potential trade plans involving San Diego's franchise player, Adrian Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, 27, has a portfolio that makes baseball executives swoon. He's signed for a club-friendly total of $10.25 million through 2011. His home run total has increased from 24 to 30 to 36 to 40 over the past four seasons, and his 1.045 road OPS tied him for second best in the majors in 2009. No offense to Ryan Howard, but it's mind-boggling to think what Gonzalez might accomplish in a lineup like Philadelphia's, in a hitter-friendly venue such as Citizens Bank Park.
The Red Sox are a natural destination for Gonzalez because they have enough young talent to assemble a package for him and the financial wherewithal to sign him long-term. Gonzalez could easily slide in at first base and move Kevin Youkilis to third as Mike Lowell and/or David Ortiz fade from the scene.
The Red Sox made a big push for Gonzalez at the July deadline, and they're likely to continue their pursuit this winter. "They think he's made for their ballpark," said a National League scout.
At the MLB general managers' meetings in Chicago last week, Hoyer politely sidestepped questions about Gonzalez. He plans to meet with agent John Boggs this week, and their talks should yield some clues about the Padres' chances of signing Gonzalez to a long-term deal.
During a Gold Glove conference call last week, Gonzalez told reporters that he's headed to Europe on a vacation and won't be monitoring the Hot Stove speculation for the next month. True to form, he gave the politically correct response to trade rumors.
"I've always said I'm in a win-win situation," Gonzalez said. "If I stay, I'd be in position to keep playing in this great city before these great fans. More than likely, if I'm traded, I would go to a team that had a chance to win a World Series championship next year. I think if I stay, I should also be in a position to win a world championship someday."
San Diego Padres
As always, public sentiment factors into the equation. Compare Gonzalez with $180-million Yankee Mark Teixeira, and you can see a lot of similarities. But only a handful of clubs can afford a nine-figure contract for Gonzalez, and the Padres aren't among them.
In light of Gonzalez's popularity as a native son, the Padres will probably have to make a legitimate offer and put the onus on him to accept or reject it before they ramp up the trade discussions.
"The bottom line is, Adrian loves San Diego. It's his hometown," Boggs said. "After a while, It can be somewhat annoying to be in a constant state of limbo, but there's really nothing he can do about it because he's under control [contractually]. If they make an offer, I'm sure we will diligently look at it and make a decision based on the merits of what's presented to us. That doesn't mean it comes with a quick yes or no."
The Padres began getting younger in July when Towers traded staff ace Jake Peavy to the White Sox for pitchers Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Adam Russell and Dexter Carter. Although Towers received positive reviews for the deal, he's no longer around to see things through.
Padres CEO Jeff Moorad took some hits in the baseball journalism community for firing Towers. Along with being one of the game's most accessible and well-liked executives, Towers earned a reputation as an astute evaluator of pitching and a good soldier who took cutbacks in stride and executed management's directives without complaint.
Moorad didn't return a call seeking comment for this story. But when he said he wants a general manager who'll take a more "strategic approach" to the job, some people took that as code that he wants a GM who will execute his vision.
In reality, it was more a comment on the Padres' recent lack of success in scouting, drafting and developing talent from within. Moorad generally gave Byrnes the latitude to call the shots in Arizona, and he should give Hoyer room to breathe in San Diego.
"There's a perception that Moorad is the puppet master, but I don't think that's true," said a baseball person who is friends with Hoyer. "I don't think he views himself as a 'baseball guy,' and he clearly likes having young, bright, energetic executives around. Jed is smart enough to see what the dynamic is going be there."
Hoyer, a pediatrician's son, has a history degree from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where he played shortstop and left field and posted a 7-1 record as a pitcher. He was a career .364 hitter for the Division III Cardinals, and once collected two hits in a game against Wisconsin-Oshkosh left-hander Jarrod Washburn.
Although Hoyer has a reputation as creative, prepared and indefatigable, he's realistic enough to know that running a team is no one-man show. Like Epstein, he plans to communicate with the people above him and empower those below him in the hierarchy.
I think the whole idea of 'final authority' in 21st century baseball doesn't exist. You're always going to be talking to ownership and explaining your thought process to them, and that's the way it should be. It shouldn't just be one person making the decision in a vacuum. It should be a collaborative effort.
”-- Jed Hoyer
"I think the whole idea of 'final authority' in 21st century baseball doesn't exist," Hoyer said. "You're always going to be talking to ownership and explaining your thought process to them, and that's the way it should be. It shouldn't just be one person making the decision in a vacuum. It should be a collaborative effort."
So what, precisely, does Hoyer see when he breaks down the San Diego roster? On the positive side, the Padres posted a 37-25 record in the final two months. Shortstop Everth Cabrera has elicited Rafael Furcal comparisons. Chase Headley and Kyle Blanks are promising young bats. Will Venable slugged .514 in 144 at-bats away from Petco Park, and Kevin Kouzmanoff hit 18 homers, drove in 88 runs and set a National League record for third basemen with a .990 fielding percentage.
"One of the nice things is, we could pretty much field a team and go out and play tomorrow, which not many people can say." Hoyer said. "We'll make improvements in the roster here and there, but it's a nice feeling to not have significant holes -- to have solid players around the diamond."
Hoyer is quickly getting a read on life in San Diego. The city has sports talk radio like every other market, but Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton can't carve him up any more than the WEEI guys dissected Epstein's moves in Boston. Hoyer unwinds each morning with solitary runs by the waterfront, and he e-mails photos of life in nirvana to his fiancee, Merrill, back east.
"I knew he was going to be pleasantly surprised when he called me and said, 'I've got a membership to a country club in my contract. Have you heard of Del Mar Country Club?'" Epstein said. "I said, 'Yes, you're in good shape.' He's going to like the area."
Will the area like him back? If Hoyer fails to bring a winner to San Diego, it won't be because he's busy playing golf. The winter wardrobe is back in New England, but he's ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work.