BOSTON (AP) – 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 expired.

“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 hearts?”

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.

AP Sports Writer Bernie Wilson in San Diego and Associated Press Writer Brooke Donald contributed to this story.

AP-ES-11-01-05 2052EST

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