Is Theo Epstein to blame for the Red Sox’ skid?

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The Red Sox’ late season implosion is the talk of the morning, and the focal point of that talk is Jeff Passan’s column over at Yahoo! in which he assigns blame for Boston’s post season collapse.

It’s a failure — or potential failure, depending on how the next ten days go — that has many fathers, but Passan leads with Theo Epstein as the primary culprit. The reason: Epstein left his team’s cupboard bare and made blunders that resulted in the Red Sox’ rotation being painfully thin (Exhibit A: Kyle Weiland pitching critical games during a pennant race).

I’ll admit that it’s an awful state of affairs. But I’m struggling to see how this is a matter of Theo Epstein’s poor planning as opposed to just a lot of rotten luck.  Passan and I have had a lively back and forth on this on Twitter this morning (still in progress as I write this!), in which I have accused him of second guessing and he has accused me of being a Theo Epstein apologist.  But to me it seems that it comes down to whether or not you think Epstein screwed up in only trading for Erik Bedard at the deadline (Passan’s view) or if you think that Epstein did the best he could have done at the time given the situation on the ground.

In my view, that situation saw the Red Sox with a two-game lead in the AL East and a several games lead for a playoff position. It saw them with one real hole in the rotation — Clay Buchholz’s injury — but with a team that was otherwise in good shape.  It’s obvious now that they’re not in good shape. Beckett has been hurt, Lester has missed time and all manner of other things have gone wrong. But was that sufficiently foreseeable?  To be fair, Passan saw only trading for Bedard as a risk at the time (see #29).

But what else should Epstein have done?  Traded good prospects for pitching when, at the time anyway, the playoffs seemed totally secure?  And what pitching would you trade for?  It was a terribly thin market for starting pitching. Passan just tweeted to me that Boston should have considered “at least one proven starter like Kuroda/Wandy/Fister/EJax/Lowe/Guthrie. Even Marquis or Harang or innings-eater.”  Of course most of those guys weren’t ultimately traded because of their price tag, be it in terms of current salary or the prospects they would have cost. Marquis flamed out.

I’m not a Theo Epstein apologist. I think it’s fair, once a season is over, to look back at what the GM did or did not do and say what did or did not work.  But I think that there’s a difference between that and saying that he “blundered” and is the person most responsible for the Red Sox’ “choke” down the stretch.  Carl Crawford wasn’t supposed to suck. Daniel Bard wasn’t supposed to implode.  Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz weren’t supposed to have multiple nagging injuries. A lot of stuff has happened.

So what do you think?  Is Epstein the author of this failure-in-progress? Or is this just a perfect storm?

Padres may have more interest in Dallas Keuchel than Bryce Harper

Dallas Keuchel
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An interesting tidbit today from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, who noted that ongoing talks between agent Scott Boras and the Padres have focused more on starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel than slugger Bryce Harper. Earlier this week, there were conflicting reports on the Padres’ level of interest in Harper — MLB Network’s Jon Heyman heard the club had not ruled out another big signing after getting Manny Machado, while Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune talked to multiple sources who believed otherwise — but any agreement between the two is looking unlikelier by the day.

As for Keuchel, Rosenthal cautions that a potential deal is still a “longshot,” especially as the team has other, cheaper options in mind. The 31-year-old southpaw turned down a qualifying offer from the Astros last year and is likely angling for something north of the five-year, $90 million contract extension he rejected from the club in 2016. He’s coming off of another solid performance in Houston, where he went 12-11 in 34 starts with a 3.74 ERA, 2.6 BB/9, 6.7 SO/9, and 3.6 fWAR through 204 2/3 innings in 2018.

While Keuchel has failed to garner substantial interest around the league this offseason, Heyman points out that the Phillies are looking to establish themselves as frontrunners for the lefty — and they’re far less likely to have hang-ups about his asking price, too.