Red Sox

Theo's success rings true

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Theo's success rings true

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

For all hes accomplished in Boston, Theo Epsteins always had his detractors.

Initially, they said he was too young. At 28, he wasnt ready to rumble with The Boss, or handle the pressures of Boston, and certainly wasnt the savior after 80-plus years of baseball hell.

After the Sox won in 2004, they said Epstein was lucky. Hed been ready to give the world to Jose Contreras, before thankfully losing out. Hed rolled the dice on random guys like Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar and David Ortiz, and theyd just happened to morph into the A.L. batting champ, the heart of the clubhouse and the most clutch hitter in franchise history. When the playoffs ended, the title felt more like a perfect storm than the product of Epsteins grand plan. That team was so close to not being good enough, and the fact they survived was more about the moment, not the GM.

When they won again in 2007, theyd done so despite Theo whiffing on his two biggest offseason acquisitions, J.D. Drew (outside of that one swing in the ALCS) and Julio Lugo, and his major trade-deadline pickup, Eric Gagne. Not to mention, two stars of that team (should-have-been Cy Young Josh Beckett and World Series MVP Mike Lowell) were guys acquired while Theo was off running around in his gorilla suit. And it was a deal that Epstein presumably wouldnt have even done, given his love for Hanley Ramirez.

Through it all, a tenure that now spans eight seasons during which his team has averaged 94 wins, made six playoff appearances, won one division title, two World Series, and currently has a roster capable of bringing home another Epstein's always had doubters.

Guys in the media, impatient fans or, say, Orioles manager Buck Showalter.

Id like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll, Showalter said in an interview for the April issue of Mens Journal. You got Carl Crawford cause you paid more than anyone else, and thats what makes you smarter? Thats why I like whipping their asses: Its great, knowing those guys with the 205 million payroll are saying, How the hell are they beating us?

First of all, I love renegade Buck Showalter. Hes great for the A.L. East. Not that I want to see the Orioles turn into a juggernaut, but wouldnt it be nice to have them relevant again? They havent had a winning season since 1997!

And if Showalter wants to go the Rex Ryan route and starts trying to break down the New YorkBoston barriers and save baseball in Baltimore, then thats cool. He seems genuine enough. Plus, he really went to bat for George Costanza on those all-cotton uniforms. Lets cut him some slack.

The first part of his quote is actually pretty interesting.

Id like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll.

Take out the sarcasm, and who hasnt wondered something along those same lines? Assuming it somehow wouldnt affect the Sox, who wouldnt want to see Theo take a crack at building a small-market winner? Most GMs have to do that before getting a job like Boston but Theo never did. For all thats been said about him, in the face of so much success, seeing him try to wheel and deal and scout and draft a low-budget team into contention would be a lot of fun.

Would he be a success? I dont know. How well does any small-market general manager do? I mean, theres such thing as getting hot for a season or two, or building a scary foundation, but with the way this league works its almost impossible to sustain a high level of success. Billy Beanes Oakland A's havent had a winning season since 2006. Eventually, if you cant retain your young players or acquire legitimate replacements, that stuff catches up to you.

Would it catch up to Theo? Probably. Would that somehow prove that hes not as smart as we thought? We can't say that. It's two completely different worlds.

We could discuss this forever, so for that, lets thank old Buck for his honesty and inspiration. But let me also say this:

Even though I respect his intentions, Showalters missing the point here:

You got Carl Crawford cause you paid more than anyone else, and thats what makes you smarter?
No one thinks like that. No one thinks that makes him smarter.

No one bases opinions of Epstein's intelligence on his ability to sign expensive free agents. The owners get more credit for that. No one got the news about Crawford and thought: Oh my God . . . Theo is a genius!

Theos graded on his ability to build around those superstars, keep up with the farm system, and make the in-season adjustments that take them to the Promise Land. It helps that he has a nice cushion, and the luxury of bringing in guys like Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, but to quote the poet Biggie: Mo Money. Mo Problems.

And how many teams -- the Mets, the Cubs, Showalter's own Orioles in years past -- have spent plenty of money and gotten zero in return? Money doesn't guarantee success, any more than having money guarantees giving you brains.

No, this is what money does: Inflated bank accounts mean inflated pressure, a brighter spotlight. In the end, Theos intelligence isnt measured by how many superstars he signs that winter, but the fact that if those superstars dont win the World Series, hes a failure.

Theo Epstein gets no points for exciting seasons, inspiring stories and sold-out stadiums. All he's judged on is winning titles.

So far, he has two.

And all things considered, they speak for themselves.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

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MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

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Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles - and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Kluber's win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled "yes!" when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding - also with expletives - that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call "Klubot." Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn't react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn't thrilled.

"Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one," Kluber said.

Scherzer's win moves him into rare company. He's the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren't in the Hall of Fame.

"That's why I'm drinking a lot of champagne tonight," Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

"This one is special," he said. "When you start talking about winning three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point."

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington's training staff was high on his thank-you list.

"Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field," he said. "I'm very thankful for all their hard work."

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota's Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games - nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn't even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

"That will eat at me this whole offseason," he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

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