Oh Theo, where art thou?


And just like that, it was over.

It was just 13 months ago that the Boston Red Sox were the story of the decade, with national fanfare and sappy HBO documentaries accompanying the team’s months-long victory march.

Of course, that was before the Theo Epstein/Larry Lucchino catfight and the ensuing 2005 front-office implosion, which has left the team without a general manager to dictate the direction of the club-usually not a good sign.

And thus, we’re getting mixed signals. They snag Josh Beckett and Guillermo Mota from the Marlins, they make a play for Billy Wagner, and they’ve inquired about everyone from Paul Konerko to Brian Giles to A.J. Burnett.

And yet, it’s curious that they don’t seem nearly as concerned about the team’s two most valuable players not named David Ortiz.

They’re hesitant to give Johnny Damon a long-term deal, despite the fact that he is coming off the two best seasons of his career and may have established himself as the best leadoff man in baseball.

And as for Manny-well, that’s a whole can of worms in and of itself. Sure, the man’s completely out of his mind, but he’s the best RBI man of his generation, and Lucchino and Co. seem all too receptive to his annual trade demands. Unlike years past, it’s looking more and more like Ramirez is headed out of Beantown. He’s even put his house on the market (for a hefty $6.9 million asking price)-though, to be fair, he might not even realize what that means.

(And, if he does end up going to the Mets, does he really think he’s going to find his much-sought-after privacy in New York City of all places?)

But it begs the question: Are the Red Sox rebuilding, or retooling for a postseason run? Honestly, I can’t tell. Granted, nothing has happened in the way of Damon or Manny just yet, but just go with me here. If they’re both gone by next year, the Sox will have lost six members of the starting lineup that propelled them to a World Championship last October, with only Ortiz, Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek remaining.

Without Damon and Ramirez, Ortiz’s protection in the lineup goes out the window and with it goes the explosive offense that has made mincemeat of American League pitching staffs for the last three seasons.

But if the Sox are, indeed, rebuilding, they’re going about it in odd fashion, what with two highly paid but aging (and possibly over-the-hill) former All-Stars manning the left side of the infield and a high potential for more veteran free-agent additions in the coming weeks.

Something tells me there wouldn’t be so much confusion around Boston if Epstein were still around-or, in other words, if John Henry and Lucchino had worked out a contract extension six months ago instead of waiting until the conclusion of the 2005 season.

Starting pitching was without question the Sox’s biggest problem this past season, so naturally I can understand the sudden push to bring in Beckett-even if his ERA was 4.50 in June, 5.02 in July and 4.30 in August, and even if he suffered through shoulder problems in August and September, and even if he’s been on the disabled list nine times in four years. Even so, I get it-they’re focusing on improving the starting pitching.

But what I can’t figure out is why they went to the trouble with Beckett-dealing their top prospect since Nomar in the process-if they’re only planning on depleting his run support and completely revamping a lineup that only needs a bit of fine tuning. Is it because, perhaps, the five-man tag team currently running the team doesn’t collectively know what it’s doing?

I know it’s hard to rebuild in a city with as much pressure and ingrown expectation as Boston. But the Sox had better make up their minds-and fast. This is the kind of mindset that has killed all too many big-market teams, as general managers frantically try to keep up the hopes of a massive fan base, while losing sight of the greater good and completely neglecting the big picture. Just ask the New York Knicks.

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