What Theo Epstein’s return means for the Red Sox, and why they brought him back
The Red Sox made headlines on Friday by announcing the news of Theo Epstein’s return as a senior advisor to Fenway Sports Group and part-owner of the team, surprising many in the industry. But the timing of this move is not a coincidence.
According to people with an understanding of the arrangement between Epstein and the Red Sox, he was brought back into the fold, at least in part, because Red Sox ownership privately admitted that, at times, they did not give the club the attention it deserved. It has accrued in recent years as FSG’s portfolio has grown rapidly.
Epstein, though in a part-time advisory role behind the scenes that includes involvement with all FSG properties, will be tasked in part with re-establishing the processes and lines of communication that made the Red Sox so successful during his tenure as general manager from 2003 to 2011. Although the team president has confirmed Sam Kennedy and others have repeatedly stressed the ownership group’s commitment to the Red Sox Publicly, within the organization, there has been an internal realization that the club needs to be more of a priority for FSG – and that winning back fans is crucial after three last-place finishes in four years and a season. Disappointing included inconsistent rhetoric from team bosses.
Epstein’s role with FSG will allow him to be involved in all of the group’s properties and will allow him to work in a multi-sport group for the first time in his career. He will be an advisor not only to the Red Sox, but also to Liverpool FC, Pittsburgh Penguins, RFK Racing, Boston Common Golf and the group’s other endeavors. The press release announcing Epstein’s role noted that he “sports the company’s operations across the portfolio and consults on strategic growth and investment initiatives.”
While Epstein will have a behind-the-scenes voice with Liverpool (who will be tasked with finding a new coach following Jurgen Klopp’s departure), the Penguins (whose general manager, Kyle Dubas, is one of the youngest players in hockey and is in some ways similar to Epstein ) and other projects, it’s clear that his experience with the Red Sox will see him spend a significant amount of time working with the team.
Epstein will operate mostly from his home in Connecticut and will not, as he did as general manager, make decisions for the club or be closely involved in day-to-day operations. His role will be more operations-oriented, allowing him to take a broad look at the organization and listen to a range of key people who have a history with him and trust him.
Epstein’s relationship with Kennedy, a childhood friend, is well-documented, but he also remains close to FSG president Mike Gordon and has a strong relationship with principal owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner even if his departure from the Cubs in 2011 cooled relations on a temporary basis. Epstein is also a close friend and former mentor of chief baseball officer Craig Breslow and the person who first gave Breslow a front-office job with the Cubs in January 2019. Before he had an official role with FSG, Epstein was involved in Breslow’s hiring before the Red Sox teamed in the fall. The past serves as a point of contact for Breslow and Kennedy’s two close friends, albeit on an informal basis. This arrangement would continue with Epstein assuming an official role — and access to information he may not have had from the outside. During his tenure as general manager, Epstein benefited from having an experienced former general manager, Bill LaJoie, as an advisor. He will serve a somewhat similar role to Breslow even if his responsibilities are more spread out.
Epstein’s previously successful working relationship with Henry and Werner would allow him to get the ear of both owners immediately in a way that top baseball decision-makers like Chaim Bloom and Breslow may have found difficult in the early years of their tenure. There is a feeling among those familiar with the dynamic that Epstein will be able – based on his skillful ability to manage personalities and track record of success – to push Henry outside his comfort zone on potential moves in a way that others have not been able to. One source cautioned that it will likely be too late to start implementing that this winter with most of the free agent market optioned, spring training about 10 days away from the start, and the Henry-managed Red Sox team firmly committed to building from within while keeping the payroll at Self-imposed limit level.
The Red Sox, with Kennedy taking the lead, have been seeking a reunion with Epstein in some capacity since late last summer. They were not alone in their efforts. Other teams have also pursued Epstein in the years since he left the Cubs in November 2020. As part of the move to FSG, Epstein will no longer serve as an official advisor to the commissioner’s office but will remain unofficially involved. The 50-year-old has always wanted the opportunity to own a team or potentially take on a key role in a future expansion team, so it makes sense that he would want to gain knowledge about the inner workings of the highest level of organizations around the world. Multiple sports.
The move, which continues the team’s focus on strengthening the organization’s infrastructure this winter, gives Epstein a small ownership stake. Prior to Epstein’s return, the team focused specifically on improving pitching development with the appointment of pitching coach Andrew Bailey, pitching director Justin Willard and consultant Kyle Boddy.