Theo Epstein is busy trying to turn the Chicago Cubs into contenders in the National League East. But that doesn’t mean Epstein isn’t still keeping tabs on the Boston Red Sox.
Epstein, who left his post as Boston’s general manager to become Chicago’s president of baseball operations after the 2011 season, said on WEEI’s Hot Stove Show on Thursday that he paid close attention to the Red Sox’ 2013 World Series run and continues to monitor his former organization from a distance.
“First of all, it was a lot of fun to watch it. I’m in contact with a lot of guys from the baseball ops department [in Boston] and cheering them on,” Epstein said. “It was a magical run. It was probably fun even for non-Red Sox fans to watch that team build momentum through the season, go on the run they went on in the postseason. The chemistry they had was incredible. But it was probably particularly fun for me, being this familiar with a lot of players’ backgrounds, a lot of guys have come up through the system, it was just a magical run and really fun to watch.
“[I'm] just really happy for [Red Sox GM Ben Cherington] and [assistant GMs Mike Hazen and Brian O'Halloran] and the guys in the office. Fans don’t think about this, but the year before that, with the difficult way the 2012 season went, people start thinking about their job security, how they turned around, things like that. To have their fortunes turn around in 12 months like that for a group that’s so good at what they do and so deserving, I saw them firsthand work diligently and make tremendous life sacrifices for the Red Sox over the course of a decade. It was really gratifying to watch that come to pass. [I'm] happy for the players, too, and Red Sox Nation, but the people on my mind first and foremost were the baseball ops staff I worked with for such a long time.”
Epstein guided the Red Sox to two World Series titles, yet many have criticized the former GM for seemingly leaving the organization in a state of disarray. The Red Sox, of course, went 69-93 the season after their epic collapse of September 2011, and Boston’s fortunes began to change only after Cherington and Co. unloaded a whole bunch of money on the Dodgers by trading Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to Los Angeles.
Epstein, whose Cubs have gone 127-197 in his first two seasons in charge, remembers the good times in Boston, though. He said Thursday that the Red Sox are well-positioned for the future, and that while many will criticize him for the club’s 2011 collapse, his hope is that his final draft class with Boston in 2011 — which included Jackie Bradley Jr., Blake Swihart, Matt Barnes and Henry Owens, among others — will change opinions down the road.
“I follow [the Red Sox prospects] really closely, probably with equal parts admiration, pride and jealousy. I am really proud of what we built,” Epstein said Thursday. “As far as GMs go, I think I was pretty hands-on as far as building our scouting department, went out and saw the players. It was just a great decade. I’m proud of those players, and that last draft, there was enough that went wrong in 2011. I think in time, it would be a wonderful thing for everybody if — maybe we’ll reach that day when people think of 2011 — they think of that draft class, my last draft with the Red Sox.
“That would be nice, because it would mean great things for the Red Sox and it would mean those players went on to have great careers that would maybe wipe some of the memory of September 2011 away for everybody and for myself, as if that hasn’t happened enough already with a lot of those same players helping to win a championship in ’13. It was a great decade in the draft there, and that was a great last draft. Those players are performing really well, and we see them up at the top of prospect rankings. I definitely root for them. I covet them here with the Cubs at times. But I wish them well.”
Epstein’s Cubs have a lot of work to do before they jump into the World Series picture alongside the Red Sox. Epstein’s plan is to implement a similar model in Chicago, though, as Boston clearly is set up for success both now and in the future.