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The Boston Globe

Sports

Dan Shaughnessy

Red Sox must act now on Theo Epstein’s status

Team owner John Henry has been too quiet amid turmoil

Aram Boghosian for the Globe

Theo Epstein took questions at a press conference Friday, but Red Sox fans don’t have any answers about him yet.

The silence from Yawkey Way has been louder than a Metallica concert. Other than a flurry of tweets from John Henry after this column was originally posted online last night, there has been nothing from Red Sox headquarters since that clunky Friday night press conference when Theo Epstein sat between Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner, looking like a 16-year-old kid waiting to take his driver’s license exam.

We’d love a little more communication from the Boston brass; just a puff of smoke emerging from the Fenway roof or maybe an actual question-and-answer session with the owner, especially now that the Cubs have asked permission to talk with the Sox general manager.

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Instead we get silence from the lambs.

Not good. Not good, at all.

Until the sudden Twitter deluge, the principal owner did not communicate after firing his manager of eight years and two championships. Henry had a legitimate excuse Friday night after his mishap on the yacht (though it was kind of a Jacko moment, what with the news choppers over the ambulance by the docks behind the Boston Harbor Hotel). Werner insisted that “John wanted to be here,’’’ but from Friday through the dinner hour yesterday, the only thing we got from Thurston Howell III was a tweet from Lovey explaining that John was home from the hospital in time to watch his beloved soccer team.

Speaking of soccer, you should know that the Red Sox’ epic collapse comes with a silver lining for Henry. Now he won’t have to choose between Game 6 of the ALCS and the Liverpool-Manchester United game Oct. 15.

It would have been nice to hear Henry explain why his former manager said ownership didn’t have his back, but that’s not the issue anymore.

At this hour, it’s all about Theo. If you are a Red Sox fan, this is what matters most.

Epstein is under contract for one more season, but according to a team source, the Cubs have asked the Red Sox for permission to speak with Epstein, and there were meetings regarding Boston’s response yesterday afternoon at the ballpark.

Chicago owner Tom Ricketts (a hardball neophyte) can’t speak publicly about another team’s GM, but when asked about Epstein by Fox Business Network, he said, “There’s a lot of good candidates. We’re going to talk to a handful of them and I’m sure we’ll come up with the right fit for the team. Ultimately it will be the decision of myself and my family.’’

The possibilities are endless. If the Red Sox grant permission, it would be for a short window, and they would try to pry some players or draft picks from the Cubs.

The Sox could also deny permission, but then they would have an unhappy GM on their hands if they didn’t let him explore a promotion.

Epstein also could tell his bosses he’s not interested in the Cubs.

It stands to reason that Epstein would be interested, because in Chicago he could have the powers of Lucchino and GM. He could make himself Hall of Fame-worthy by being the man who won in Boston after 86 years, then won at Wrigley after 104-plus years. He would be a baseball immortal.

Here’s another combustible alternative: Epstein could use interest from the Cubs to pry more years, money, and power from the Red Sox. Epstein quit in 2005 when he thought former mentor Lucchino was trying to harm him. Could he use this opportunity to get Henry to reduce Lucchino’s powers? Would Lucchino walk if he’s not backed by Henry?

It’s a whole bowl of uncertainty and unrest. And it matters greatly because there is no point to interviewing managerial candidates until the fate of the GM is settled. Same goes for attempts to unload the likes of John Lackey and/or Josh Beckett. Same goes for the decisions on contract offers regarding free agents David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon.

It’s no accident that assistant GM Ben Cherington was at the Francona-Epstein-ownership meeting Friday. The Sox need a ready successor if Epstein bolts for the Windy City.

I left messages with Epstein and Lucchino yesterday. No reply. I’ve left two messages with Henry. The owner tweeted last night, “Calls and maybe interviews next week.’’

It’s understandable that the Sox don’t want to comment on Epstein at this time, especially after the way things blew up in 2005 (Halloween is less than four weeks away). But they need to do something soon.

The Sox need to either announce they’ve extended Epstein or tell us that they’ve given their GM a short period to negotiate with the Cubs.

Epstein’s status needs to be clarified. Only then can the Red Sox go about the important business of rebuilding a ball club that went down in flames in such spectacular fashion in the final days of September.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.
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