Many times when a General Manager leaves a team, it's because that team, to put it bluntly, sucks. Usually the team has failed on the field and frequently there isn't much in the farm system to fall back on either. For example, when Epstein's predecessor and, inexplicably, new Orioles GM Dan Duquette took over the Red Sox in 1994, Baseball America ranked Trot Nixon as the organization's top prospect. That's not so bad, but the two years before that Frank Rodriguez had held the top spot. Let's just say it wasn't the richest of farm systems.
The 1993 Red Sox were an 80 win team. The 1994 Red Sox were a 54 win team, but that was the strike shortened season so it sounds far worse than it was. Not that it was all that great (54-61). That '94 team wasn't devoid of talent featuring Roger Clemens, John Valentin, a 24 year old Aaron Sele, and of course Mo Vaughn. Beyond that though there wasn't much to speak of. Which is why Duquette was brought in in the first place. The point being there were major holes throughout the organization when Duquette got the job in Boston.
The 90 win team Theo Epstein turned over to his successor, Ben Cherington, was and is widely viewed as a failure. It is easy to focus on the two highest profile missteps of Epstein's tenure, that being the team's failure down the stretch last season and the recent big free agent signings, but the truth is, while the team did not achieve it's goal of winning 95 games and making the playoffs (that was Epstein's goal every season), the Red Sox team and the organization that Epstein leaves behind are in fact, teeming with talent.
Possibly Epstein's most enduring legacy is the number of young home grown stars signed to long term and inexpensive deals. Dustin Pedoia's contract will pay him $39 million over the next four seasons ($11 million of which is a club option for the 2015 season). In his career, Pedoia has accumulated 24.3 rWAR and been paid $11 million. At $4.5 million per win (i.e. 1 rWAR), roughly the going rate on the free agent market, Pedoia has been worth $109 million, or $98 million more than he's been paid. Of course he wasn't a free agent so he didn't have the bargaining power of one, but no matter how you slice it, he's been and looks to continue to be an incredible bargain for the Red Sox.
So has Jon Lester. Lester has made $12 million in his career and been worth 22.9 rWAR. The calculation is almost exactly the same as Pedroia's, saving the organization almost $100 million over what they would have to pay for similar production on the free agent market. Lester has three seasons remaining at $32.25 million or about what he'd get for a season and a half were he a free agent.
Theo replicated those contracts on home-grown players Clay Buchholz and Kevin Youkilis. Both have, despite Buchholz's injury, returned great value and expect to only make the deals they signed look better for Boston going forward. That is especially so in Buchholz's case.
In addition to drafting* and signing those players, Theo drafted MVP candidate Jacoby Ellsbury. While he wasn't able to sign Ellsbury to a long term contract for myriad reasons that aren't worth going into here, the team does have the player under team control for two more seasons.
*Epstein didn't draft Kevin Youkilis. He wasn't the GM when the Red Sox drafted Jon Lester either, though he did work for the Red Sox at the time.
Between the players on long term deals, the other role players on the roster and Ellsbury, there is more than enough talent to compete for a playoff spot next season. That's called setting up the guy who follows you for success.
But (I feel like a game-show host) that's not all! Theo also stocked the minor league system. True, the minors aren't full to the brim with talent, but that's a function of two things. The first is trading for star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, a deal that cost the team three of its top five best prospects. The second is that Epstein wasn't perfect. He missed on a few draft picks, but the consensus is Boston has a deep farm system with talent that should feed the major leagues for years to come.
So, yes, Theo is gone. We can all mourn his passing to the National League. But the team he's handed off to Ben Cherington is primed to win a whole lot of games over the next few seasons. In our sorrow over recent events, we maybe forget that. But we shouldn't. Instead, we should thank Theo. Maybe as a gift, the Sox can bring along a nice butt kicking with them when the Red Sox visit Chicago next June.