Red Sox players, fans distressed by Epstein's exit

BOSTON -- Maybe it was too much to expect that something as
trivial as winning the World Series would be enough to straighten
out the Boston Red Sox.

One year after the team's first title since 1918 -- an event that
spawned books, movies, trophy tours and teary-eyed visits to
ancestors' graves -- the Red Sox are once again immersed in
bitterness and betrayal and a search for a general manager to
replace Theo Epstein.

"We've had a lot of changes in this organization for a team
that has just come off a world championship and was able to work
its way back into the playoffs," catcher Jason Varitek said
Tuesday, a day after talks broke down and Epstein's contract

"I'm very upset that we lost somebody like him. We seem to have
a lot of that going around."

The most successful general manager in franchise history,
Epstein rejected the team's offer of a $4.5 million, three-year
extension. His deal expired at midnight Tuesday morning, leaving
the team without a GM heading into the busy bazaar of the baseball
offseason. Negotiations with free agents such as center fielder
Johnny Damon are on hold, trade talks will have to wait and the
business of assembling the 2006 team has been interrupted by
Epstein's stunning decision to walk away from his dream job with
his hometown team.

"Given all the people's contracts that are up, we've got to get
somebody in there," Varitek said. "We've got to find a way to
right the ship. And we've got to start from the top down."

The Red Sox have clammed up -- a little too late. The ballclub
declined to comment again on Tuesday, a day after reports that
Epstein left because leaks about the negotiations convinced him
there had been a breach of trust with mentor Larry Lucchino.

Epstein released a statement describing, but not explaining,
"an extremely difficult" decision and has planned a media
availability for Wednesday afternoon.

That left Varitek to serve as team spokesman during a conference
call to discuss his first Gold Glove.

"I'm very upset that Theo's gone," said the Red Sox captain,
who sent Epstein a text message congratulating him after erroneous
reports that he had re-signed. "Yes, it was a shock. I was really
surprised that he is not coming back. But, hopefully for him it is
the best decision."

In addition to dealing with free agents -- including Damon and
three-fourths of the infield -- the Red Sox need to plug holes in
the starting rotation and bullpen that led to a first-round playoff
sweep by the eventual World Series champion Chicago White Sox.

Manny Ramirez and David Wells have reportedly asked to be
traded; Epstein's chief assistant, Josh Byrnes, is now the GM in
Arizona; the Red Sox trainer was let go; third-base coach Dale
Sveum decamped for Milwaukee.

Did the team take a step backward already this offseason?

"We'll find out pretty quickly," Varitek said.

San Diego GM Kevin Towers, who worked for Lucchino with the
Padres, has been mentioned as a possible successor to Epstein.
Towers declined comment when reached by The Associated Press.

Epstein was reportedly offered about $1.5 million a year --
quadruple his previous salary -- but money turned out to be less of
a problem than office politics that convinced him his dream job was
less than he'd hoped it would be.

Now, only one year removed from the unprecedented outpouring of
emotion that greeted the World Series title, Boston's
long-suffering fans are reeling from Epstein's departure and the
front office power struggle that reportedly provoked it.

"It's horrible. It's horrible," Steve Jordan said Monday at a
gym across the street from Fenway Park. "But what are we in Red
Sox Nation if not always worried about how next they'll break our

Epstein immediately becomes a candidate for any open GM position
-- the Dodgers and Devil Rays to start -- and some on Wall Street.

Or, it could turn out that building a World Series winner was
just something to do until he was old enough to run for Senator.