With the 2002 MLB season coming to an end, the Boston Red Sox seemed to have more questions about their roster than answers. By any other team standards, it would be a great season. They sent six players to the MLB All-Star game and finished the campaign with 92 wins. The boys from Beantown however faced a different reality. A three year playoff hiatus, coupled with an 84 year championship drought that left the team (and it’s fans) in a state of disarray.
Something had to give. So in November of 2002, the team signed the youngest general manager in MLB history (at the time). Enter the Theo Epstein era in Boston. With a young, fresh perspective on baseball and how it’s played, Epstein was now in charge of the team he grew up rooting for. He quickly went to work. He aquired the gritty utility man Kevin Millar in a waiver claim fiasco that was really frowned upon by other executives around MLB (see Kevin Millar acquired by Boston). He acquired David Ortiz a lesser known oft-injured slugger from the Minnesota Twins.
The 2003 version of the Red Sox ended up in a much better position at seasons end, 95 wins and a trip to the ALCS to battle their nemesis the New York Yankees. The series would go down to the wire of Game 7 and extra innings to boot. A crushing defeat by way of an Aaron Boone’s 11th inning home run would end Boston’s season (in dramatic fashion at that). Young Mr. Epstein was eager to help his squad finish what they started in his first season. He traded four prospects to the Arizona Diamondbacks for ace pitcher Curt Shilling. The lefty who stifled the Yankees in the 2001 world series was a hard nosed, gritty flamethrower and wasn’t afraid of the big stage. Epstein also signed Terry Francona to be the teams manager. The former Phillies skipper was ready to get back to basics.
The team played loose and energetic under Francona. A straight to the point attitude at the plate and a crafty veteran pitching staff led the Red Sox to more wins after the All-Star break than any other team. They seemed to gel together at the right time. They would meet their rivals again in 2004 and quickly fall into an 0-3 hole versus the hated Yankees. But the spirit of the Red Sox wouldn’t be deterred. Ortiz became “Mr. Clutch” and Shilling pitched one of the most memorable performances in MLB history bloody socks and all. Boston would beat the Yankees 4-3 in an epic comeback and earned themselves a trip to the world series. After quickly dispatching of the St. Louis Cardinals in four games, the Red Sox caught that elusive title after an 86 year drought, due in large part to the wheeling and dealing of the young executive. With Epstein at the helm, the Red Sox would capture another title in 2007. Epstein would be at the in charge until 2011, his work in Boston could only be deemed as a success.
So nice it happened twice.
In 2011 the Red Sox gave the Chicago Cubs permission to negotiate with their general manager. They didn’t hesitate to make Epstein their president of baseball operations under a lucrative deal. Chicago was facing a much different reality, although very similar to Boston’s in the historical sense. He took over a team that lost 91 games, the 9th time since 1980 they had lost 90 games. Not only in a championship drought, the Cubs had not even reached the World Series since 1945. In order to turn the “lovable losers” (as the Cubs were deemed) into World Series championship, he would have to make a bunch of moves which he did.
It’s safe to say Epstein had his work cut out for him. He acquired young first baseman Anthony Rizzo from the San Diego Padres. Rizzo was rated the top 1st baseman prospect and was actually drafted by Epstein himself in Boston (2007). Although it took a couple seasons, Epstein seemed to be up to his old ways. He traded away long time fan favorite Ryan Dempster. He swapped struggling pitcher Jeff Semardja and another player to aquire shortstop Addison Russell. He signed his former pitching ace in Red Sox’s John Lester to a lucrative deal. Lester would bring much added veteran leadership to a young pitching staff. He and the Cubs went against conventional wisdom and drafted Kris Bryant in 2013. It seemed simple enough if you have the 2nd pick in the draft, you draft the second best prospect (even though he’s not a pitcher). He made a deal with Baltimore Orioles to aquire young pitcher Jake Arietta. Of course you can’t build a championship team without a veteran manager. The Cubs signed Joe Maddon to be their skipper. The former Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays’ manager is a well respected baseball mind, and provides a strong veteran presence (like Lester) to a very young ball club.
Mix it up and stir it all around
The 2015 Cubs were said to be a year away from major contention. They apparently weren’t listening to that prediction. The team won 97 games in the regular season behind a stellar effort from the aforementioned Jake Arrieta (22-6 win loss record & a 1.77 ERA). The Cubs finished 3rd in the National League in team ERA and 6th in runs scored. With Epstein’s management, Chicago could well be on their way to capturing that World Series title that seems to be unreachable to Cubs fans. Locked into a playoff race as I’m writing this the Cubs future seems even brighter. According to Scouts inc., Chicago has the #1 rated farm system across MLB. I can’t say every deal Epstein has made turned out great. The architect of the “Red Sox Redemption” seems to be well on his way to delivering the same results to the Cubs. Whether or not it happens right away, Theo Epstein has the vision and the organization can start to think of a real world championship. It’s the thought every fan on the north side of Chicago have been dreaming about for the last 70 years, and now you have to believe they have the right person bringing it to fruition.