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The Non-Moves of Theo Epstein

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With the departure of Theo Epstein from the Red Sox organization, there is now time to reflect on his tenure in Boston. There’s been discussion of his top five moves as GM, as well as his worst. But what about the situations where Epstein made no-move at all?

Sometimes the ones that got away, or the non-moves of Epstein, were just as important. So, instead of looking at the top five/worst five moves of Epstein’s career, here is a look at some of the non-moves that changed the organization during Theo’s tenure.

Johnny Damon

Damon signed a four-year, $31MM contract with the Red

Sox on December 21, 2001, and his impact in the outfield was undeniable. As the quintessential lead off man, Damon was known for his extra base hits (led the league in triples in 2002), and his speed on the bases (98 stolen bases during his Red Sox career).

In his final contract year with the Red Sox, negotiations were halted as the Red Sox stood firm on a three-year contract, while Damon and agent Scott Boras pushed for five years. Though Damon signed a four-year $52MM deal with the New York Yankees during Epstein’s brief resignation, the team had the whole 2005 season to work out a deal with Damon, but did not.

It would have been difficult for the Red Sox to work out a deal with Damon, especially since he has been in left or DH for the teams he'd played for following Boston (an area where Boston did not have a need). There were concerns about his defense, especially since he does not have the arm for right field. 

Since leaving the Red Sox, Damon has continued to produce in his stints with the Yankees, Tigers, and Rays. With six postseason appearances since leaving the Red Sox, 

Damon continues to have success as a DH and occasional outfielder and has matured to a player with flexibility in the lineup because of his power and speed.

Orlando Cabrera

When the Red Sox got Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz in a four-team deal that sent Nomar Garciaparra and Matt Murton to the Chicago Cubs, Cabrera settled in as Nomar’s replacement.

The Red Sox decided not to bring Cabrera back in 2005, which continued the tradition of a revolving door at Red Sox shortstop. While Cabrera’s production did not match Nomar’s offensively, his offensive and defensive production far exceeded that of Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie, and Nick Green from 2005-2009.

Had the Red Sox signed Cabrera to a 2-3 year deal, or done the same with Alex Gonzalez, the organization would have had some needed stability in this position.

It's interesting that there could have been a weird alternate history for the team had Cabrera stayed. The chain of events that brought  Renteria as Cabrera's replacement shaped the Coco Crisp deal, as well. 

Pedro Martinez

Coming off of the World Series victory in 2004, pitcher Pedro Martinez was let go as a free agent, a decision that many questioned. However, the move of Martinez to the Mets tu

rned out to be a wise decision for the Red Sox, who opted for a younger rotation with the addition of Matt Clement and Wade Miller.

While the 2005 pitching rotation was weaker without Martinez, not signing him to a 3 year deal made room for pitchers like Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Clay Buchholz in the following seasons.

After leaving Boston, Martinez showed some flashes of his pre-2005 abilities, but was largely on the decline in four seasons with the New York Mets. 2009 with the Phillies was a difficult season for Pedro—missing over 30 games due to neck and shoulder injuries—Martinez rebounded for a stellar performance in the postseason to make up for Cole Hamels’ deficiencies.

His ERA began to climb as his velocity dropped, and an injury ridden 2009 with the Phillies ended his career.

Jason Bay

As part of the deal that sent Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles, Jason Bay joined the Red Sox at the trade deadline in 2008. Bay settled in comfortably with the Red Sox and his ability to have well-above-average power to all fields was an asset to the offensive lineup. In his first postseason appearance of his career, Bay finished 7 for 17, with 2 doubles, 2 home runs, and 5 RBIs.

Bay’s defensive abilities were an upgrade from the lazy stylings of Manny Ramirez versus the Monster, and 2009 was a career high season for Bay with 36 home runs and 119 RBIs during the regular season. 

The Red Sox did not re-sign Jason Bay, who left for the Mets, and saw a huge decline in production. Some blame injuries, some blame the ballpark, and some see 2009 as a fluke season where Bay’s production spiked to levels that he will never attain again.

It is fuzzy as to whether Epstein is a genius for knowing Bay would show decline, but when injuries plagued the Red Sox in 2010 turning the outfield into a sideshow of minor league faces and journeymen, (Bill Hall, Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, Josh Reddick, and Ryan Kalish) having a healthy Jason Bay would have been optimal. Of course, a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury would have been exponentially better than Bay. 

Derek Lowe

After a solid seven-year stint in the Red Sox lineup, Derek Lowe struggled in 2004 as a starter. While the World Series victory endeared him to the fan base, he

was clearly a weak link the rotation. Lowe left for the Dodgers, and had success in their rotation, as the #2 guy behind Jeff Weaver.

While there is debate as to whether letting Lowe go was the right decision, he pitched well in 2005-2008 with Los Angeles, and didn’t show any real signs of decline until he joined the Braves rotation in 2009.

Removing a veteran pitcher like Lowe from the rotation to make room for young pitchers like Lester, Buchholz, and Matsuzaka might have been the right decision, but for a pitcher with experience in the bullpen as well, the Red Sox could have used someone with his skill set in past seasons.

Mark Teixiera

It seemed as though Mark Teixiera was a lock for joining the Red Sox for the 2009 season, but as the price for the nine-figure free agent continued to rise, Epstein and owner John Henry backed out of negotiations with Teixiera and his agent Scott Boras.

While the Yankees did win the 2009 World Series with their Texiera-Sabathia-Burnett spending spree, it seems that the Red Sox made the right decision in backing out of the talks with Teixiera.

Kevin Youkilis was an excellent temporary solution for the Red Sox first basemen needs, while they waited for the right candidate to come along: Adrian Gonzalez, who was signed to a 7yr/$154MM deal at the beginning of the 2011 season.

In just his third of eight seasons on his contract with New York, Teixiera is showing decline in performance already, in all aspects of his slash line (.248/.341/.494 in 2011). With five more seasons left in pinstripes, it seems that the Red Sox have found a bunch better fit in Adrian Gonzalez.

Though this list of non-moves by Epstein is not exhaustive, the calculated decisions of Theo Epstein really have shaped the Red Sox organization in his tenure began in 2002. 

Epstein’s commitment to winning with a combination of big-name free agents and players that brought production at a cheap price (like Aceves, Mueller, Ortiz, Millar), really did make the difference. Though there have been some blunders along the way (and hindsight always being 20/20), his absence could be felt in the coming offseason.