King Theo Epstein the Overrated?

The Boston GM Bolts for Chicago

(This blog was originally posted on the Yahoo Contributor Network on Oct 12, 2011. As of 7/31/14 YCN has taken down all of its content)

So Theo Epstein is going to the Chicago Cubs. I wish him luck. I think it would be great for baseball and the city of Chicago for the Cubbies to win a World Series. But how is it that the Brian Cashman of The New York Yankees gets so little credit as a GM because of his high payroll and Theo Epstein gets lauded and credited with being a great GM with the 2nd highest payroll? What? He was only outspending Tampa Bay by $120 million instead of $160 so he has to be smart?

Yes I am a self-admitted Yankee fan and while there are likable qualities to both Cashman and Epstein, I think the correct analysis is to evaluate them in the framework of their unique situations.

Both have proven themselves in the context or running high payroll teams, standing up to ownership and adding a small measure of sanity as they both look to blend and develop a farm system in conjunction with overpaying free agents. However, does this translate to genius or to success with teams that don’t have an absurd payroll?

In basketball if a team was on the brink of winning or competing for a championship, and Phil Jackson was available to coach, it is a no-brainer to hire him. But what about if you were in rebuilding mode? Would the Zen Master be your first choice? Maybe, maybe not.
Since Theo is the flavor of the day lets take a closer look at his work.

Formerly of ESPN and now with the MLB Network, Peter Gammons referred to Epstein as “King Theo” for landing Curt Schilling in a trade prior to the 2004 season. What a brilliant move, trading for arguably the most clutch pitcher of his time in his prime.

How did this trade come about? Lets see, Arizona could no longer afford Schilling and had to move him. Of the three teams that were capable of pulling off the trade, the Philadelphia Phillies did not have the money to pay him. Arizona still had their panties in a bunch with the Yankees over their signing David Wells after Zona thought they had a handshake agreement with Wells. As a result, the Diamondbacks were asking for a lot more/better players from the Yankees. That left the Red Sox all by themselves. Courting Schilling on Thanksgiving was a nice touch but really not necessary, nor proof of genius.

But lets not forget that many key pieces to the 04 team and breaking the curse of the Bambino were already in place prior to Epstein assuming his throne. Including world series MVP Manny Ramirez, the guy who broke open game seven in Yankee stadium with a grand slam, Johnny Damon, the still six inning dominant Pedro Martinez, the very solid Derek Lowe, catcher Jason Varitek and the list goes on.

In 2003 the Red Sox lost in part because of their bullpen. Who was the best closer available on the free agent market? Well any barroom fan could have told you it was Keith Folke of the Oakland A’s. I don’t know how he thought of this, but King Theo outbid the A’s and signed him. (The Yankees had some reliever named Mariano Rivera so they weren’t in on the bidding) Pure genius right?

Epstein also gets credited with acquiring the following players for the 04 team: David Ortiz and Kevin Millar. And lets give Theo some credit for over the years not trading players from his farm system such as Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsberry, Kevin Youkilis and Jonathan Papelbon. Yes he got Josh Beckett in a trade but he had to give up Hanley Ramirez to get him. He may have overpaid for him in his last contract but on balance still a plus a move since Beckett was key in a second world series in a decade.

However, like Adrian Gonzalez, Beckett was a known commodity with only a handful of teams having the assets to make the trade and the money to sign or pay the player. It is easier to be smart when you have greater resources and limited competition, no?

Here are other names added during the reign of Theo: Jeremy Giambi, Pedro Astocio, Pokey Reese, Byung-Hyun Kim, Ramiro Mendoza, Matt Clement (The Sox less ridiculed version of Carl Pavano), Wade Miller, Jose Cruz Jr., Coco Crisp, Wily Mo Pena, Daisuke Matsusaka, J.D Drew, Bartolo Colon, Brad Penny, John Smoltz, Eric Gagne,Edgar Renteria, Mike Cameron, John Lackey and Carl Crawford. Epstein also made major efforts and failed to land Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira (lucky him).

There are plenty of mistakes that get overlooked when you win. Mistakes that teams with lesser payrolls can’t afford to make or overcome.

The media loves to credit certain people. They love the story of Theo. With the Yankees they the loved story of Joe Torre. With one team it’s the manager leading the team, with Boston it was the GM. In football, Bill Parcells could be a team’s hot dog stand vendor, but if they win he is the one who lead them to victory.

Beware King Theo, unless he comes from your farm system in Chicago don’t expect to sign the next Curt Shilling, or Keith Folke. You will be watching the Yankees, your new genius replacement in Boston, or perhaps another market with more money to spend then you sign him.

Fate may still smile upon Theo is Chicago, with the Yankees and Red Sox not likely to be bidders on Pujols. If the Cubs sign him (or Prince Fielder) it won’t be because of genius it will be because they’re the highest bidder…

Published by Jeff Schubert

Jeff Schubert is the Host/Executive Producer of the show Filmnut that airs on Each webisode provides an in-depth interview about the making, marketing, or distribution of film, TV or new media…