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Already a legend in the city, would Theo Epstein consider returning to Boston?

Theo Epstein

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Theo Epstein is going to the Hall of Fame. There’s no doubt. He is not a fringe pick. He will not have to wait for the nod of a veterans committee harangued by a special interest group. There needs to be no sentimentality. Pangs of guilt from those who think they’ve neglected his legacy need not emanate. He’s in.

You do not orchestrate the first World Series championships for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs in generations without receiving the proper due. In fact, if there would be an administrative wing in the Hall’s museum, it should be named after Epstein. He has made history. Twice. And he’s only 45 years old.

But that’s not something Major League Baseball needs to consider for a very long time. Meanwhile, Epstein is in the prime of his career, the president of the Cubs. Who knows, there may be a few more championships in his future.

And that is why he will always be in demand, whether his days in Chicago end or roll continuously through good times and bad. Some team who doesn’t have someone like him will want him. And maybe they will sweeten their pot by offering Epstein an ownership share.

Which brings us back to the Red Sox.

The hottest rumor in baseball these days is Epstein, perhaps thinking he’s tapped out in Chicago three years after winning the World Series, may be considering a return to Boston.

What’s certain is both the Red Sox and Cubs are facing transition in the offseason. The Sox fired president Dave Dombrowski less than a year after they won a fourth world championship since 2004. And on the heels of a major collapse in the NL Central, the Cubs are considering replacing manager Joe Maddon among other changes in their front office.

There was a column in the Boston Globe this week that raised the possibility that Epstein might at least consider a return to Boston. He was asked about it on Wednesday when the Cubs were in Pittsburgh.

“There’s nothing to that story,” said Epstein before the Cubs were officially eliminated from the postseason. “I’m here. We have a lot we need to work on to get back to the level we’re accustomed to. I’m invested in that. That’s what I’m focused on, so, yeah, there’s nothing to that.”

Perhaps that is true. But what would you have expected Epstein to say at this point? If there was mutual interest, it’s likely in the early stages of development, maybe a wink and nod from the Red Sox that requires some thought and introspection.

What’s true is Epstein made his name in Boston as its general manager for nine years. He was behind the wheel for their World Series championships in 2004 and 2007. He is beloved in the city.

“I will say I have really good relationships with a lot of people there, and I certainly wish them the best. But there’s nothing to the story,” said Epstein.

It would not be unusual for the Red Sox to at least check Epstein’s pulse. He has been in Chicago since 2012. Maybe he’s bored. He knows the quirks of Boston’s ownership, understands the ins and outs of the organization, is familiar with the high expectations and passion of the fan base.

It would be a natural for the Red Sox to hire him. And it would be a move everyone would celebrate.

The Cubs are a mess right now. They have lost eight straight. Thanks to injuries and porous pitching, they blew a 3 ½-game lead in their division, a drop best illustrated by them getting swept over four games by the Cardinals in Chicago for the first time since 1921. And they owe a lot of money. The team’s payroll exceeds a back-breaking $240 million.

There seems to be no doubt the esoteric Maddon will be dismissed after the season. And that might be just the tip of the sword for an organization that has seemingly lost its mojo.

“The extreme nature of it — the degree to which we’ve stumbled here down the stretch — is definitely surprising and not something you anticipate,” said Epstein. “But it’s happened, so we have to try to learn from it and try to grow from it. When you have the best possible outcome — and you overcome a lot of things and you can do some transcendent things — I think you grow from that because you do something you haven’t done before.

“When you have the middle-of-the-road outcome, you can always tell yourself whatever story you want to hear. It’s a gray area. You can look at last year — we had some issues, but we won 95 games, so you can try to get to the bottom of some issues. But there’s always a ‘Yeah, but we won 95 games.’ When you have the worst possible outcome, like we’ve had recently, it reveals everything.”

Theo Epstein

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

There has been no call for Epstein’s job. The frustration doesn’t run as deep as it did in Boston this season after the Red Sox disassembled after winning 108 games in the regular season in 2018. But that doesn’t mean Epstein might not want to scratch an itch, look again at the challenge of rebuilding Boston in the face of the ascension of the Yankees.

“You can’t spin a narrative for yourself and avoid facing some reality,” said Epstein. “I think there are important things that we need to examine and fix in every aspect of our operation. That’s the mindset we’re all going to take.”

Time is growing short in Chicago. The window of opportunity is closing. After next season, Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber can be free agents. And that goes for Epstein, as well. How can the Cubs be expected to keep each stud without bankrupting their operation?

The Athletic makes a great point. When Epstein left Boston following the 2011 season, he referenced the sentiment of Bill Walsh, the former coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He believed the expiration date of coaches and executives was about a decade. Well, Epstein is on the clock.

What’s certain is the Cubs will not be Epstein’s final job in baseball. He eventually will leave and resurface in another city, perhaps in another capacity.

The question right now is whether he’ll move back to step forward. The Red Sox owe it to themselves to at least find out.