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Francona’s departure hastened Epstein’s exit

Terry Francona

Terry Francona

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Updated: November 27, 2011 1:00PM

Theo Epstein always planned to be on a 10-year plan with the Boston Red Sox.

He assumed that meant leaving the Red Sox after his 10th season as general manager when his contract was up next year. Epstein even discussed this with his bosses when things were going well this summer.

How he ended up as the Cubs’ president of baseball operations a year earlier was the result of a perfect storm of good relationships, bad baseball and ugly endings.

In fact, it was the decision by friend and manager Terry Francona to tell Red Sox ownership he didn’t want his contract option exercised that proved the difference-maker in making Epstein a Cub.

‘‘The biggest factor of that timing was all of a sudden we looked up and had to hire a new manager,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘I remember what it was like for me as a young GM [eight years ago] to really run the interview process and bond with Terry Francona during that time. You develop a bond when you hire somebody, and you develop trust that serves you well for years and years to come.’’

With assistant GM Ben Cherington already set up as his heir apparent and with Epstein planning to be gone in a year, he said he felt it served all concerned to leave the job to Cherington now.

If not for Francona’s departure? ‘‘Yeah, I’d probably still be there.’’

Whether Cubs ownership knew its ideal candidate was even available when Tom Ricketts fired GM Jim Hendry, the announcement in August planted the first seed for Epstein, if only because he was an immediate object of speculation.

But it wasn’t until the Red Sox followed four months of spectacular baseball with a spectacular collapse in September that the Cubs zeroed in on Epstein.

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