Life after Manny begins for Red Sox
Epstein discusses move to trade unhappy outfielder for Bay
BOSTON -- Theo Epstein had experience with a buzzer-beating trade involving a franchise icon. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Red Sox's general manager made it happen again, finding a new home for Manny Ramirez, just like he did for Nomar Garciaparra exactly four years earlier.
If there is one thing Epstein has demonstrated in his time with the Red Sox, it's that he never makes a rash decision and he never acts alone.
As the examples piled up in recent weeks that Ramirez's off-field antics were beginning to outweigh his All-Star stats, Epstein began taking a closer look at the atmosphere in the clubhouse, even soliciting opinions from his players.
He also spent plenty of time with manager Terry Francona, ownership and the rest of baseball operations. Though the club had made several attempts to trade Ramirez in the past -- often times at the request of the unpredictable slugger -- it became clear this time that the move almost had to be made.
"There was a dynamic that had been created that made it more difficult for us to go play at our best and for the players to perform," said Epstein on Friday, discussing the trade for the first time. "There was doubt, there was even exhaustion on the part of some players and a pretty major distraction. That led us to want to address the situation one way or the other.
"It didn't mean we had to trade Manny. You can't go into the Trade Deadline thinking that you absolutely have to move one player at all costs. I think it made us take a good hard look at what could be made of the situation for the rest of this year to put us in the best possible position to make the postseason and hopefully do some damage in October, and put us in the best position going forward in 2009 and possibly beyond."
For days, Epstein had known that Jason Bay was probably the only player on the market who could come close to supplementing Ramirez's production. He also knew there wasn't a straight-up match with the Pirates. At first, the Marlins were going to be the third team. But once that fell through with just hours to go before the Deadline, Epstein had to scramble. Fortunately, he found a willing third party -- the Dodgers.
A few hours before Bay began his tenure with the Red Sox on Friday night, batting fifth and playing left field, Epstein reflected on all that went down into making it happen.
"It was a typical Deadline day," Epstein said. "Trade Deadline days are crazy. It was very reminiscent of 2004 [with Garciaparra] -- there were three teams involved. There were four teams involved in 2004. Again, we were right up against the Deadline, 3:59 [ET] -- and 59 seconds to a certain extent. It was just a crazy day. There was a lot of doubt. There were different versions of the deal that had died.
"This particular version didn't truly get resuscitated until a couple of minutes before the Deadline. It didn't leave a lot of time to finish it off. It was complicated and it was crazy, but I think we had a firm foundation in place to deal with the different possibilities in place. We had obviously our whole baseball operations staff dealing with it; we had ownership downstairs so they could be there and participate. Tito was obviously on board. I think we came together as an organization and decided to do what we felt was the right thing, on a number of different levels."
Epstein knows full well the caliber of player that he traded in Ramirez. He is also excited about the player who arrived.
"We lost one of the best hitters, probably in the history of baseball yesterday, but we gained a really good baseball player who is going to help us win," Epstein said. "So I don't think we have to catch lightning in a bottle. We have to get back to being a team and go out and perform up to our expectations. I think we've been underperforming for a lot of different reasons. We have the talent here to go out and win a lot of games the rest of the way and get to where we want to go."
And Bay, 29, will get to play in a pennant race for the first time.
"If I was a free agent, I couldn't have picked a better place to go to," Bay said. "From what everyone says about Boston and having played here a couple of years ago in Interleague, the atmosphere and obviously, the winning, I couldn't have hand-picked a better place."
It was clear that the Red Sox felt the Ramirez situation had changed the atmosphere in the clubhouse, and perhaps even contributed to the club's 4-8 skid coming out of the All-Star break.
"There was a lot of things going on around here lately," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. "We don't need that."
In an effort to generate a fresh start and get everyone refocused, Francona held a meeting with the players before Friday's game against the Athletics. Epstein was also present.
"It didn't seem like we were handling the challenge how we needed to," Francona said. "We discussed some of that today, about how we're going to go forward and what's important to us, what's been important to us, handling frustration, handling distractions, what's made the Red Sox so special and how do we go about that. I actually thought it was an exciting time to stand in front of your players and our players and feel like that. I think we all felt like that and it was a good feeling."
Some of that unity had been absent of late, and it was becoming palpable. The Red Sox weren't only losing games, but looking sluggish at times.
"What matters, ultimately, is winning, and winning the right way," Epstein said. "I felt it was important to gauge what was real and what was imagined. I spent a lot of time with Tito lately and in the clubhouse, and it's undeniable that there was an environment that was not conducive to winning surrounding this club. We wanted to change that if we could. We also wanted to make a good baseball trade -- for now and for the future. I hope we were able to accomplish that."
There was an energy around the Red Sox on Friday that had been lacking in recent weeks.
Bay got a monster hand as he stepped to the plate for his first plate appearance in a Boston uniform, walking and then scoring on Jed Lowrie's sacrifice fly in the second inning.
With their team in place, the Red Sox are glad to no longer have uncertainty hovering over them.
"I was pleased, I was very pleased," Francona said of the trade. "What we care about, all of us together, is our team. I think we sit here today feeling pretty good about our team."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.