Epstein, Sox reportedly close to deal

Epstein, Red Sox reportedly close to deal

BOSTON -- A day after Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and club president/CEO Larry Lucchino had contract discussions over lunch, many Red Sox fans were hoping they'd get to dessert, i.e., the finalization of a new deal for Epstein.

However, while there are indications that the sides have made considerable progress the past couple of days with regard to the re-signing of Epstein, a Red Sox club official indicated that no announcement was expected by the close of business on Friday.

Another team official said that even if an agreement was struck this weekend, it likely wouldn't be announced until Monday.

Epstein's current contract expires on Monday night at midnight. If the unexpected occurs and no deal is made by then, Epstein would become a free agent.

There was one formal announcement with regard to the Red Sox on Friday, as Josh Byrnes, Epstein's valued assistant the past three years, was set to be formally introduced as the next general manager of the Diamondbacks.

"We are all thrilled for Josh," Epstein said in an e-mail. "He's been an invaluable member of the Red Sox, both in terms of assembling our big league team and the behind-the-scenes work in scouting and player development. He blended intelligence, creativity, baseball instincts, and integrity to become a force in our baseball operation. We would not have won the World Series without him."

There are many people out there who would say the same about Epstein, some of whom wear Red Sox uniforms.

In a radio interview Friday morning, Red Sox ace Curt Schilling admitted that earlier this week he was pessimistic about the chances of Epstein being retained. The big right-hander now has a much sunnier outlook on the matter.

"From what I'm hearing, I'm excited," Schilling told WEEI-850 AM in Boston. "I really, honestly thought that this was not going to happen. I thought that Theo was going to be gone, and I was upset and disappointed at the thought of that happening. My impression of everything that's happened is that if he came back, he was going to have a lot more latitude to do the things he wants to do as the general manager, and I wasn't sure that was necessarily going to happen, and I'm guessing it is now."

Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin shared Schilling's optimism.

"I believe he's pretty close to getting that done," Timlin told MLB radio. "I talked to him, I asked him what his status was and he said, 'We're kind of close, just a few things here and there.' But hopefully they'll get his done. He's a great guy to work for and I've enjoyed it, so hopefully that will be done."

The Boston Globe reported Friday that Epstein and the Red Sox were on the verge of reaching a new three-year agreement. Reportedly, Epstein rejected a three-year offer worth $1.2 million annually earlier this week, but that figure wasn't far off from what he was seeking. Epstein, according to reports, was hoping to reach the $1.5 million per year mark.

As far as Schilling is concerned, it would be money well spent by the Red Sox.

"I think Theo wanted to be -- and I think in a sense, rightly deserves to be -- one of the better-paid GMs in the game," said Schilling in his interview with WEEI hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan. "I look at his situation and I see a general manager who is equivalent to an arbitration-eligible player. He's after his third year, he's put together a club that has gone out there and gone to the postseason three times and won a World Series. He's certainly deserving of whatever he can get financially."

Of course, one of the most storied moves Epstein made was the deal struck over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2003, when he persuaded Schilling to waive his no-trade clause and come to Boston.

While Schilling's first impressions of Epstein were favorable, the right-hander has gained more respect for his general manager over the past two years.

"The most important to me is, Theo is a good person first and foremost," Schilling said. "And I think that has a lot to do with it. He's not deceitful. He's an honest guy, a good guy. There's a lot more to this thing than it being a job for him, being born and raised here, the Red Sox being as important as they are to him. Above all else, Theo understands he's a compromiser. A lot of teams I've been on, the players don't even want to see the general manager, much less see him in the clubhouse. Theo understands that the clubhouse is our home. He doesn't invade that privacy often. When he does, he doesn't make you uncomfortable, and that says as much about him as anything."

The business of baseball may have been slowed on Yawkey Way because of Epstein's uncertain status, but it hasn't stopped.

The Red Sox next week will announce the re-signing of trusted reliever Timlin, who would have been eligible for free agency. The sides have agreed to terms, and the only hurdle that needs to be cleared is Timlin passing a physical.

The Red Sox were also quick in hiring third-base coach DeMarlo Hale, who replaces Dale Sveum.

There are other issues coming up. Center fielder Johnny Damon and Tony Graffanino filed for free agency on Friday. First baseman Kevin Millar and third baseman Bill Mueller did so on Thursday. John Olerud and Mike Myers are also set to become free agents. Will the Red Sox accommodate David Wells and trade him to the West Coast? Is Manny Ramirez still happy in Boston?

All these issues will be tackled in the near future, presumably by Epstein, who appears poised to remain with the team that has qualified for postseason play three times in a row for the first time in franchise history under his watch.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.