"He is," said Red Sox owner John Henry in a Friday morning radio interview with WEEI that was simulcast on NESN. "But I think everyone has to understand a couple of things and I think [former manager Terry Francona] alluded to it -- I think there's a certain shelf life in these jobs [in Boston]. You can only be the general manager if you're sane. You can only be the manager for a certain amount of time. There's a tremendous pressure cooker here.
"There's 162 games. It's a long season and the pressure here is 365 days. Theo is not going to be the general manager forever. Just as, if Tito had come back for the last two years, would he have gone past 10 years? I can't imagine that he would have. I think that Theo ... he's the guy now, he's been the guy. We've had tremendous success. We fell apart at the end of the season. As [president/CEO] Larry [Lucchino] expressed, we're upset about it. No fan could be more upset than I am about the result this year. He's done a tremendous job for us over the last nine years."
With rumors swirling that the Cubs have asked for permission to speak to Epstein about a position in their front office, the extensive interview that Henry and Lucchino did with the team's television network and flagship radio station was certainly timely.
However, the situation will remain in limbo until Epstein publicly states that he wants to return to the Red Sox for the last season of his contract and beyond.
The Red Sox still haven't confirmed or denied that the Cubs asked for permission to interview Epstein. The Sox are fierce in their belief that it's a private matter.
"Those things are supposed to be kept private and we have a policy of not discussing whether permission has been asked for X or Y or Z," Lucchino said. "In fact, every year we get requests for people. We never discuss them publicly. It's been our policy and our practice."
If, in fact, the Cubs have asked for permission to speak to Epstein, Lucchino said that wouldn't be a first.
"A few years ago, we got a request from another team about Theo Epstein. You heard nothing about that because we didn't discuss it publicly," Lucchino said. "I think there's good reason for it, too. There's some privacy considerations here. I don't know that people would want their career development or their job decisions to be debated publicly, for people to know what they're considering or not considering.
"And I'm not sure the other team would like that to be made public. Our consistent policy and practice is not to discuss whether there's been a request made for permission.
"We don't mean to sound evasive on this, but this is one subject where we don't think there needs to be full disclosure. Our fans have a keen interest in knowing as much about this team as we can possibly know. There are some things that come up against the lines of personal privacy, where there are some considerations that should be factored into it, and that's where we are with respect to this thing."
Epstein was candid last week in saying that his recent track record of free-agent signings had not been good, and it was a process that needed to be reviewed and dissected as an organization.
|"I think there's a certain shelf life in these jobs [in Boston]. You can only be the general manager if you're sane. You can only be the manager for a certain amount of time. There's a tremendous pressure cooker here."|
|-- Red Sox owner John Henry|
"That's what we spend all our time doing is trying to create an atmosphere. People talk about, we're business oriented. Well we're business oriented for one reason. This guy [Lucchino] is a tremendous revenue generator for one reason, and that is to be able to give the right people the amount of money it takes to be successful. You can criticize the things [Epstein's] done but we've averaged, what, 92, 93 wins?"
If the Cubs want to talk to Epstein about a position that carries more power than the one he currently holds, it's hard to imagine the Sox won't at least let him discuss the opportunity.
"There is a certain protocol in this game," Henry said. "If someone asks permission for a job that's not lateral, you give them permission. Now, I'm sure there are examples where it didn't happen. I'm sure we've done that in the past."
This is a critical offseason for the Red Sox. For starters, they are searching for a new manager.
Can that process go full speed ahead without knowing for sure if Epstein is coming back?
"We're actively engaged in that search for a new manager. We're not sitting around twiddling our thumbs," Lucchino said. "There's a lot to be done. Theo is actively engaged day to day in that search. We just had a meeting with him the other day going through a list of candidates, possibilities. [Assistant general manager] Ben Cherington is actively involved in the process. Certainly John, [chairman] Tom [Werner] and I are involved in it as well. That process is moving ahead. It's not going to happen overnight. There will be some time that will pass. There's a lot to work to be done, and Theo and Ben are knee-deep in doing it."
If Epstein does depart, Cherington would seem to be the logical candidate to take over as GM. It was notable that Cherington was involved in the meeting last week with ownership, Epstein and Francona to determine the manager's fate.
And since the season ended, the Red Sox have made more comments than ever about Cherington's involvement in organizational meetings.
Whether it is Epstein, Cherington or somebody else who occupies the GM's seat, ownership is examining some key issues to see how they might have contributed to the team's late-season fade.
Henry, in particular, is concerned that the last three times the Red Sox failed to make the playoffs -- 2006, '10 and this season -- the team had major health breakdowns down the stretch.
"This is the second straight year that on Aug. 1 we looked great and looked like we were headed for a potential World Series, and the second straight year that the team broke down physically," Henry said. "That was the concern that started at some point during that decline. The biggest concern we had was we're just not doing well physically."
Is it conditioning?
"It's certainly an issue that's important to us, physical conditioning," Lucchino said. "That's another one of the issues we are looking into examining. It's our responsibility to try to right this ship and give the fans what we promised when we got here, which is a team worthy of their support. We're going to do that.
"We're going to look into the whole conditioning issue. I take exception to pointing to any individual. I don't want to talk about any individual in particular. But I will talk about the general notion that our team has to be in first-class physical condition. And as John said, the last couple of years,we've seen a dramatic decline at the end of the season. That is one of a myriad of issues to look at going forward."
What about the report -- which nobody has come out and denied -- that starting pitchers were drinking alcohol in the clubhouse during games they weren't pitching in.
"There are certain principles that are important within the clubhouse culture," Lucchino said. "I think that's one of them. It's not something that we think should be tolerated. There's a rule about it and it should be enforced. It was much after the fact that that was brought to our attention. We're still trying to dig in, trying to figure out how pervasive it was, how extensive it was and not try to superficially conclude that it was a major factor in anything."
The owners were as stunned as anyone that Fenway Park wasn't playing host to baseball games in October.
"I think that was a reasonable assumption [that the club would be in the postseason] at that point, given the lead, where we were in the season, and the statistical probabilities of what would happen," Lucchino said. "Certainly none of us anticipated a collapse of biblical proportions that we endured."
They will spend the next several weeks trying to fix whatever might have contributed. The one question that remains is whether Epstein will still be around during that entire process.