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Red Sox know what Theo Epstein can and can’t do for you

Updated: June 15, 2012 5:47PM

Will Middlebrooks is just the latest poster child for what Theo Epstein can do with a few scouting visits, a laptop, and a fifth-round draft pick.

Before Middlebrooks was picked by Boston in the 2007 draft, there was Jonathan Papelbon, Class of 2003, and Dustin Pedroia in ‘04. And few in “Red Sawx Nation” can forget the 2005 draft, in which Epstein – then the Boston general manager – drafted Jacoby Ellsbury 23rd overall, Clay Buchholz with the 42nd overall pick, and even nabbed Jed Lowrie 45th overall.

“I think Theo’s a smart guy, obviously,’’ Middlebrooks, the up-and-coming 23-year-old Red Sox third baseman, said on Friday. “I mean look at his resume. As far as the poster child for what Theo did, I’m not a front office guy, I don’t know the ins and outs of all that, but I do know that he seems to have produced good players in the past. Is it development, is it coaching, is it him? I don’t know, but somehow he ends up getting good players.’’

It’s that “somehow’’ that the Cubs were banking on when they named Epstein the President of Baseball Operations last offseason.

It’s that “somehow’’ that still trumps all the “What the hell is this?’’ concerning what’s currently taking place on the field for the North Siders.

But with the Red Sox in town for an interleague weekend with the Cubs, it’s not all a best of Theo mix tape.

Pedroia was asked about his former GM several times before the opening game of the series, and was almost standoffish about being labeled a product of Epstein.

“I won [American League] Rookie of the Year, I was an MVP, I wasn’t a bad player [coming out of Arizona State],’’ Pedroia said half-jokingly, half-dead serious.

Then there’s the stain of Boston’s great collapse of 2011, and it’s not rubbing out with club soda anytime soon.

The Red Sox were on pace to win 100 games and strut into the postseason, before a 7-20 September crippled those chances. That was the state of Boston baseball when Epstein left for the Cubs job. A mess, stuck with the likes of ugly contracts held by John Lackey and Carl Crawford.

“I take responsibility for the team not getting to where we were supposed to go,’’ Epstein reiterated on Friday. “From what I could tell a lot of the people involved have taken responsibility and have learned from it and moved on.’’

Not without a scar or two.

“I remember stuff from 2003,’’ Epstein said. “I sit there and see Aaron Boone coming to the plate sometimes. Any time you have a chance to advance and do some damage in the postseason or get to the postseason and you don’t, that always stays with you. And last September in particular, we not only failed to perform in the standings but we lost our identity as a team.’’

That’s also why there are some that still believe Epstein is more snake oil salesman than savior.

The reality of where Epstein should be held? He’s your typical GM who falls into the category of very good – albeit with a bigger title and better parking spot. He’s not turning Wrigley water into wine or reinventing the wheel like some have portrayed.

All you can hope from a GM is to have more hits than misses, and there’s no doubt that Epstein accomplished that in Boston, no matter how poorly the last chapter read.

He’s accountable, he’s bright and he has a plan.

At the same time, that doesn’t guarantee anything. It gives direction for the first time in a long time for the Cubs, but Epstein’s presence doesn’t mean a trophy is waiting at the end of it.

“A lot of the work is similar,’’ Epstein said, when asked about the culture he’s tried to instill in both places. “Here [in Chicago] I think there is clearly a mandate for change.’’

Yeah, 104 years and counting will do that to an organization.

So there it was on Friday, Epstein’s past staring across the dugout at his present.

Both last-place teams, hoping for a better tomorrow.

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