Red Sox

We'll hear lots of names in Red Sox GM search, but I keep coming back to one -- Theo Epstein

We'll hear lots of names in Red Sox GM search, but I keep coming back to one -- Theo Epstein

He looms over the Red Sox general manager search like a mothership, his shadow creeping towards Fenway Park.

He made his name here as the original boy wonder general manager nearly 20 years ago, and until the Red Sox hire someone else, we'll be left to wonder -- could Theo Epstein come home?

Eight years into a Chicago Cubs tenure that has yielded one World Series and what's looking like a fifth straight postseason appearance amidst unease over the franchise's future, Epstein faces unfinished business. The Cubs are approaching a reckoning in two years, when stalwarts such as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jon Lester, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber reach free agency.

At that point, Epstein will have been on the job for 10 seasons, or one more than he completed in Boston. He has always viewed such projects as roughly decade-long commitments, which means he could be seeking a new challenge in a couple of years.

Life doesn't always follow a rigid schedule, however, and the Red Sox have an opening right now. And if I were them, before casting their net far and wide to find Dave Dombrowski's successor, I'd make every effort to see if Epstein can be lured back to Boston.

It'll take more than a title such as President of Baseball Operations. It'll take a piece of ownership, and that's no small thing. Forbes recently valued the Red Sox at $3.2 billion, making a 1 percent stake in the franchise worth more than $30 million.

Epstein is worth it. He has turned two supposedly cursed franchises into World Series winners since 2004, and his imprints remain all over a Red Sox organization that seeks a return to the long view after Dombrowski delivered on his mandate and sacrificed the future in service of three straight postseason appearances, culminating in the 2018 juggernaut that romped to 108 wins and a World Series title.

The next GM is going to need time, because the Red Sox are not ideally positioned for the future, not with more than $400 million tied up in three pitchers -- Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi -- who aren't exactly portraits in reliability. The new guy's first order of business may very well be to trade defending MVP Mookie Betts and drop the team below the $208 million luxury tax threshold, which means he'll deserve a longer leash than those afforded either Dombrowski or predecessor Ben Cherington.

Wooing Epstein might be a fool's errand -- he has given no indication he's focused on anything other than navigating the Cubs through their own approaching minefield -- but that's why John Henry, Sam Kennedy and Co. should place that call first.

The win-now culture of Boston can make working for the Red Sox a somewhat grim pursuit even when times are going well, because there's always worry about what comes next. Epstein not only recognizes this dynamic, he'd have a chance to impact it at an ownership level.

He'd also represent a do-over for Henry, who regrets not only the way Epstein's exit unfolded, but that he wasn't able to better mediate the personality clash between Epstein and former CEO Larry Lucchino that factionalized the front office.

In considering possibilities for the new GM role earlier in the week, I suggested that Henry start with the Epstein tree, whether it's Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, Arizona's Mike Hazen, or various assistants across the game like Amiel Sawdaye, Jared Porter, or Jared Banner, because they could seamlessly lead a baseball operations department filled with their peers and restore a measure of continuity.

Two issues with this theory. One, there's no guarantee Henry really knows who they are. Owners don't generally familiarize themselves with every assistant in baseball ops. Two, those candidates have eyes. They see how things ended for Dombrowski and Cherington despite freshly minted championship banners, and rightfully wonder what kind of job security they could reasonably expect.

Neither would be an issue for Epstein, who worked closely with Henry for nearly a decade and whose presence atop the baseball side would encourage stability. Lucchino may have eventually been pushed out, but you can't fire an owner.

So instead of the branches on the Epstein tree, perhaps the Red Sox should target the trunk. After all, they've reached a crossroads and the Cubs are nearing one. The intersection may not be perfect, but it has left an opening for Theo Epstein to come home, and this time maybe even for good.

Where Dombrowski went wrong in ownership's eyes>>>>>

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Lou Merloni destroys MLB, players for bickering over 2020 return plan

Lou Merloni destroys MLB, players for bickering over 2020 return plan

As the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLS prepare to resume play in the near future, Major League Baseball still can't get out of its own way.

MLB reportedly rejected the Players Association's proposal Wednesday for a 114-game season in 2020 and apparently doesn't plan to make a counter-offer.

The league and the players have refused to budge on the issues dividing them: Players don't want to take an additional pay cut after agreeing to prorated salaries in March, while the owners are wary of extending the season too long due to the coronavirus pandemic and want players to agree to further reduced salaries to mitigate lost revenue.

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That stalemate has cost MLB valuable time, however, as the league doesn't appear close to beginning its 2020 regular season as the calendar turns to June.

So, who's to blame here? Lou Merloni believes it's everyone involved.

The former Boston Red Sox infielder ripped into both the league and the union Wednesday night during an appearance on NBC Sports Boston.

"Both sides suck, OK? That's the bottom line," Merloni said. "The Players Association comes back and says, 'Not 82 (games), we want 114' when they know that's the non-starter. The owners don't want to sit there and play until November. They're worried about the pandemic; they've got to get the playoffs in. And then the owners come back and say we're not even going to counter?

"Jesus, we're like a month into this thing. Can you string this thing out (any longer)? How about go in one room together and try to figure this out in a day or two?"

Compounding MLB's issue is that the NBA is expected to announce a return-to-play plan Thursday that would resume the 2019-20 season in late July. The MLS and NHL also have made headwinds toward resuming their seasons this summer -- which means baseball is wasting a much-needed opportunity to showcase itself as the only active pro sports league.

"I mean, you're running out of time and you're only screwing yourself. Even if baseball does come back, people have already said, 'I've had enough of you.' It's been like a month, a year, and you guys talk and bitch about this thing publicly. I don't give a crap anymore. I've got hockey, basketball, football is around the corner, hell, soccer is around the corner. I'm good.

"They don't even realize it! It's like they're in this bubble and they don't even realize what's going on around them right now. Figure this thing out: 70 games, 65, prorated (salaries), start playing some baseball, because your ass better be first coming back. If not, people are going to be done."

There's reportedly some optimism that the players and the union will resolve their differences and put a return plan in place. But with nearly one-third of the season already lost, the clock is ticking.

Check out Merloni's full comments in the video player above.

Who are the best designated hitters in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

Who are the best designated hitters in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

There's only one choice for best designated hitter in Red Sox history, but just in case there's any doubt, we'll quote broadcaster Dave O'Brien with the signature call from his WEEI days: "DAVID ORTIZ! DAVID ORTIZ! DAVID ORTIZ!"

No sense in even pretending there's any suspense on this one.

What's fascinating about ranking the Red Sox DHs, however, is just how few of them have actually held down the position for any length of time over the years.

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Only nine players have made at least 200 appearances there with the Red Sox since the DH was introduced in 1973, and four of them — Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, and Manny Ramirez — have already appeared elsewhere in our outfield rankings.

That leaves five men to fill out the list, and about the only difficult omission is slugger Jose Canseco, who made 184 appearances between 1995 and 1996.

Click here for the Top 5 DHs in Red Sox history.