Lucchino, Epstein headed for breakup in Boston?
One big part of the Red Sox championship teams has already moved from Boston to the Dodgers. Could another be on the way?
People in high places in baseball are starting to speculate about whether this could be the last season together for the highly successful yet increasingly uncomfortable front-office tandem of GM Theo Epstein and president/CEO Larry Lucchino, and one logical ending would have Lucchino joining Manny Ramirez in Los Angeles. It's all speculation now, but it's not all that farfetched.
Despite the well-documented difficulties and differences of Epstein and Lucchino -- Lucchino is said by people familiar with the just-departed Ramirez soap opera to have been much more committed to keeping Ramirez, no matter how badly the man-child superstar behaved and how much he risked undermining the clubhouse -- the two innovative Yalies have engineered this Red Sox renaissance and combined to bring two World Series titles to the previously star-crossed and storied organization. Yet there is burgeoning talk among baseball's elite that the end of their baseball relationship could be at hand.
Epstein's rise in stature from boy wonder to one of baseball's best GMs has brought him considerable cachet and clout. So it's no surprise that baseball people believe he's more likely to be in position to win any potential power play if he desires, especially with his three-year contract expiring after this year. When Epstein's previous contract ran out after the 2005 season he was very nearly gone for good -- and he did actually leave for a few weeks, exiting Fenway Park disguised in a monkey suit to avoid reporters the day he announced his resignation -- but club owner John Henry lured him back for three more years with a seven-figure salary and the promise of greater autonomy.
Nobody inside baseball sees Henry, one of baseball's best owners, letting things get so hairy again.
Lucchino has served Boston well, and it was he who headed the front office in Epstein's absence when the team pulled off the blockbuster trade of top prospect Hanley Ramirez and other youngsters for pitching star Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell. But Epstein surely is seen as the future of the franchise, as much as any of the young stars he has protected so eagerly and wisely. Plus, Epstein is known to be beloved by Henry. So this time top baseball executives view Lucchino, a high-priced baseball mercenary who previously worked in Baltimore and San Diego, as the more likely to go.
Lucchino is brilliant but is said by antagonists to unfailingly and annoyingly view himself as the smartest person in any room. His management style is reputed to alternate between charming and abrupt, and he is said to wear on colleagues. Some actually liken Lucchino to basketball vagabond Larry Brown, though history shows Lucchino isn't nearly that mobile.
Previous rumors have Lucchino going to Toronto, but the Frank McCourt-owned Dodgers are a more logical landing spot. While Lucchino has a history of uneasy relationships with top baseball people he has employed (Randy Smith and Josh Byrnes are two of many examples), McCourt doesn't seem to mind a little front-office friction. Plus his obsession for all things Red Sox borders on a fetish; he has already acquired or hired a dugout full of former Red Sox, including Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, Grady Little and Bill Mueller, not to mention longtime Lucchino associate Charles Steinberg, a top PR man for Lucchino in San Diego and Boston who was supposedly paid the extraordinary annual salary of $1 million per year to make things seem better in L.A.
And McCourt and Lucchino already have common ground: They are both admirers of Ramirez.
More Ramirez Fallout
Epstein was said by associates to have been upset about the leaking of an alleged story claiming Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, called him back an hour after the trade to try to have the blockbuster deal rescinded and get Ramirez back to Boston without the option years. It isn't known who provided this info about the alleged phone call, but it isn't believed to have actually occurred. It certainly doesn't make much sense in that Ramirez was thrilled to have gone to the Dodgers. In any case, what upset Epstein was the unnecessary smearing of Ramirez's name. My view: I agree. Ramirez did enough to besmirch his own name without someone connected to the team piling on.
While folks were understandably upset over Ramirez's terrible behavior leading up to the trade, no one could reasonably expect MLB to actually tie Ramirez's childish antics to Boras. Ramirez's lay-down behavior was so outrageous that MLB should indeed investigate him. But there's no belief from anyone credible that they'll find anything, certainly nothing against Boras. The reality is that Ramirez behaved beautifully for half a season under Boras, then became irritated over the club options that could tie him to Boston for two more years. But let's not forget that Ramirez's behavior had been erratic throughout his eight years in Boston, including long before he hired Boras, and Red Sox people have covered up a lot of it in the past. Is it possible that Boras mentioned to him that the club options in his Red Sox contract were not a good thing? It is. Will Boras benefit from the options being dropped? Presumably he will, assuming the erratic Ramirez stays with Boras for the signing of his next contract. But the real question is: Would Boras risk his seemingly excellent relationship with the Red Sox and overall reputation to orchestrate Ramirez's ridiculous behavior? According to one GM, it's just the opposite, that perhaps no agent is better than Boras at dealing with off-field issues of players. Anyway, the orchestration idea is farfetched and nothing more than misguided media musings advanced in some cases by sworn Boras enemies.
It was reported that Ramirez wouldn't mind playing for the Yankees. Don't believe that for a second. Ramirez's longstanding complaint about Boston was that he didn't like the fishbowl existence, so it makes no sense that he would want to play in his hometown. He has never shown any interest in playing in New York before, and the only plausible reason that it comes out now is as a bargaining tool. Beyond all that, Man-Ram isn't the type of personality that Yankees GM Brian Cashman is going to want to invest in. The teams Ramirez was said to have preferred in past years were Anaheim, Arizona and Cleveland, none of which resembles his hometown.