Red Sox

No Red Sox return? Theo Epstein says he's staying in Chicago, and here's why I believe him

No Red Sox return? Theo Epstein says he's staying in Chicago, and here's why I believe him

With speculation about a return to the Red Sox reaching a low boil, Theo Epstein decided to put the whispers to rest on Wednesday by declaring his allegiance to the Cubs.

And so naturally the first question for many of us was: Do you believe him?

Having lived through 2011, when rumors about Epstein joining Chicago dogged him for most of the season, it's worth noting that this feels different.

Back then, Epstein let a couple of stories from plugged-in reporters Peter Gammons and Buster Olney hang in the air for two months. At the start of September, before the epic collapse that no one saw coming, Epstein finally addressed the rumors. It's worth comparing what he said back then to what came out of his mouth on Wednesday.

Here's what he said in 2011:

"I try to avoid commenting on things that are so speculative," Epstein said. "I know there are a couple of articles which have appeared, but I'm completely focused on the Red Sox of 2011, first and foremost, and what potentially lies ahead for this club.

"We're trying to get to the postseason and win the World Series and I spend all my time working with my staff to make this the organization we want it to be for now and in the future. That's where my exclusive focus is."

That didn't sound like a denial, so we pushed for a more concrete answer, and this was the best he could offer.

"Something like that I can't even contemplate it long enough to comment on it," he said. "I'm all Red Sox, all the time. I'm really happy to be with the Red Sox."

You could drive the equipment truck through the opening he left in that non-denial, and a month later he took it, cruising to Chicago for $15 million and a chance to end an even more hopeless curse than the one he exorcised in Boston. By 2016, he had made the Cubs champions, too.

Now compare those words with what he told reporters in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

"There's nothing to that story," he said. "I'm here. We have a lot we need to work on to get back to the level we're accustomed to. I'm invested in that. That's what I'm focused on, so yeah, there's nothing to that. I will say, I have really good relationships with a lot of people there (in Boston). I certainly wish them the best. It's just, there's nothing to the story."

Whatever misgivings he felt about addressing speculation in 2011, they didn't bother him on Wednesday. And unlike his inability even to formulate a thought on leaving for Chicago — who could contemplate such a thing! — this time around he did not mince words, twice saying there was nothing to the story.

For Epstein's many achievements, we shouldn't forget this one: he's a law school graduate who passed the California bar exam. He retains a lawyerly precision with language, and if he wanted to leave himself an out for returning to Boston, he could've done so.

Instead he slammed the door. If he leaves now, after a collapse with echoes of 2011, he'd have a lot of explaining to do and not a lot of wiggle room to do it.

So as much as I thought momentum for a reunion would continue building, Wednesday's comments suggest otherwise, and I'm left with an unexpected (and frankly disappointing) answer to the question that kicked this all off.

Yeah, I believe him.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Alex Cora sees Chris Sale as a man 'on a mission' after resuming throwing program

Alex Cora sees Chris Sale as a man 'on a mission' after resuming throwing program

SAN DIEGO -- Chris Sale recently cleared a major hurdle and resumed throwing. Manager Alex Cora can already see the noted competitor's fire burning bright as he looks to make amends for a shockingly mediocre 2019.

"I hate to say he's on a mission, but obviously he wasn't happy with the way the season went last year," Cora said. "He was trending up when he got hurt at the end. So hopefully he can bounce back, be ready for spring training, and be ready for the opening series."

Sale went just 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA in what was easily the worst season of his career before shutting it down in late August with a sore elbow. Dr. James Andrews prescribed rest and said he'd reevaluate Sale in six weeks, an aggressive timetable that was abandoned when it became clear the Red Sox would not make the playoffs.

Until Sale had his follow-up and started throwing again, however, concerns would linger that perhaps he'd still require a surgical procedure or be unready to start the season with the team. The start of throwing, however, has him back on track.

Sale is working out at the team's spring training facility in Fort Myers, where Sale makes his home. He and his wife recently donated $1 million to his alma mater, Florida Gulf Coast University.

"I texted him the other day," Cora said. "What he did to his university, that was amazing, not forgetting where you come from. That was great. Physically, he's in a good spot. He's in a good place. He's been very consistent with his rehab. Obviously, not sleeping that much because of the birth of the baby. We've got a few guys like that, but physically he's in a good spot. Mentally he's in a good spot."

Soon enough we'll find out if he's putting himself in a position to say mission accomplished.

***

Sale isn't the only pitcher who recently started throwing again. David Price, a couple of months removed from a procedure to remove a cyst on his wrist, is playing catch.

"The feeling is different," Cora said. "Obviously, he's been dealing with this for a while, and it's been a grind for David to go out there and perform. He feels a little bit looser with the wrist. The feel of the ball is different, and there haven't been setbacks. As of now, everything is trending the right way. The goal is for him to be ready for the opening series."

Tomase: Sox offseason plans could come into focus this week>>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

How future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre quietly helped turn around Rafael Devers' season

How future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre quietly helped turn around Rafael Devers' season

SAN DIEGO -- It was easily one of the low points of Rafael Devers' otherwise breakout 2019, but it led to a phone call that changed his season.

On May 2 in Chicago, Devers booted a ground with one out in the ninth and the Red Sox holding a 4-3 lead over the White Sox. Two batters later, Nick Delmonico launched a walkoff three-run homer, and a disconsolate Devers admitted that he "played a significant role in the loss."

Teammate Mitch Moreland, however, saw an opportunity. He put Devers in touch with a former Rangers teammate who knows a thing or two about manning the hot corner -- five-time Gold Glover and future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre.

The two spoke a couple of times a month for the rest of the season, and Red Sox manager Alex Cora is excited to see what impact Beltre's wisdom will have on Devers in 20202.

"He took it personally," Cora said of the Chicago error. "And I'll say it now, after that, Mitch actually, he made a phone call to the Dominican Republic and talked to Adrian, and Adrian talked to Raffy, and from there on, the communication was on an every-other-week basis, and there's a few things that Adrian told him to do in the offseason and what he should do in spring training, and looking forward for him to work that way and see where it takes him."

After making nine errors in his first 31 games, Devers made just 13 the rest of the way, and the Red Sox expect he'll continue making strides next season.

"As far as like moving and decisions and what he did last year compared to where he was in my first year, it's night and day," Cora said. "The confidence, too."

Tomase: Sox offseason plans could come into focus this week>>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.