Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein gets paid to bring in top-flight baseball players and withstand the scrutiny of a nation of rabid baseball fans. Just how advisable was it to sign Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew to four- and five-year deals respectively? How big of a mistake did Epstein make when he inked Joel Pineiro and J.C Romero to bolster a bullpen that struggled mightily in 2006? While the signings haven’t yielded great results yet, and the latter two additions are no longer Red Sox — don’t be so quick to judge Epstein’s actions.

Production from relievers is so volatile. As a result, constructing a bullpen isn’t as easy as it seems. Some teams, like the Minnesota Twins, make it look easier than it is with their plethora of homegrown arms. Watching Joel Zumaya hit triple digits on the radar gun and baffle hitters can only make one crave a fireballing righty. But it’s not as easy that.

Most relievers who’ve become established closers will not settle for any less of a job. Furthermore, the most elite of set-up men are groomed into closers. Eventually, success permitting, they will pursue closing opportunities and chase a big contract. As a result, it’s not an easy task to lure free agents with proven, quality arms for your bullpen. The top arms usually stray to bullpens with unsettled closer situations, a place where they’re either promised the job or at least an opportunity to win the ninth inning duties.

With Jonathan Papelbon firmly entrenched for those late-inning situations, Epstein has often had to resort to lesser names. He has taken gambles. Sometimes they pay off, sometimes they’re busts. Pineiro and Romero have both seen better years and are no longer with the club.

Epstein lost those gambles.

If only for the mere fact that Epstein brought in Hideki Okajima from Japan and Okajima brought along an ERA that hovers around 1.00, it’s hard to criticize Epstein’s bullpen construction this season. He’s taken a team with a myriad of woes in that department and turned it into one of the best in the American League.

What about Lugo and Drew? No one is making up for their lack of production at shortstop and right field. It’s easy to make those claims, and frankly, it’s true. Anytime you sign a big ticket free agent and he’s hitting under the Mendoza Line in July, the outcry will be heard.

And it has been.

Don’t look now, though, as Lugo looks rejuvenated since the All-Star Break. A double-digit hit streak from the slender and soft-swinging shortstop seemed entirely improbable when he was stuck in his 0-33 slump. His streak helped to raise his batting average by 36 points over a 19-day span. He still sports an average in the low-to-mid-.200s, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to raise a poor batting average in August when a player has struggled mightily into the month of July.

Thus far Lugo has not performed as advertised over the duration of the season, but he is definitely coming around. Perhaps the jury convened a little too early on the newest Red Sox shortstop. It’s not surprising as Boston has seen the merry-go-round rotation of shortstops in and out of Boston as quickly as they came — including Alex Gonzalez, Edgar Renteria, Orlando Cabrera, and Nomar Garciaparra before Lugo — since 2004.

The other positional regular who has grossly underperformed expectations, J.D. Drew, was supposed to solidify the lineup. His full arsenal of skills that was supposed to combine average, on-base ability, some pop and solid defense in Fenway’s spacious right field has yet to fully appear. Before the season he looked to be the perfect guy to put with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. The trio of hitters were a promising bet to form perhaps the most feared trio in all of baseball.

The questions surrounding Drew had more to do with his ability to stay healthy, not his ability to produce. Health has not been the issue as he’s on pace to play in more than 130 games and record well more than 500 plate appearances. For the first time in Drew’s career, he isn’t hitting.

Drew’s single digit home run total and lowest slugging percentage of his career has done little to impress.

He hasn’t been all disappointment though. Remember the hot start he had in April? It seems like a long time ago, and it was. The streak lasted a few weeks for Drew, as 21 games into the season he was hitting .314. Fans were pretty pleased with him back then, but things changed quickly.

A rough series in New York followed his early success as Drew left the Big Apple without having recorded a single hit or walk. It spiraled downwards from there. Way down. Drew hit rock bottom, fittingly, against the Yankees again on a day he went 0-3 to drop his average down to a pathetic .222.

Despite the struggles, Drew still sports a very respectable on-base percentage. It’s true that he hasn’t been the guy that all of New England hoped and expected to reach base about 40 percent of the time, but he’s at least reaching base at a solid clip. Despite having difficulties driving the ball this year, he’s still able to occasionally make things happen with his keen batting eye.

No one can deny that Lugo and Drew have struggled this year. Individually, they have each gone through hot streaks of their own and we’ve seen encouraging signs from both at times. For the most part, however, they’re remembered more for their slumps and they’ve been viewed as flops, failures, and disappointments. Before we declare Epstein and the Red Sox brass losers in these deals, how about we give the deals time?

We should all remember that these are multi-year investments, for better or worse.

How much has your opinion on Coco Crisp changed in his short tenure in Boston? People were quick to denigrate Epstein’s decision to let Johnny Damon move on to the rivals in pinstripes as Crisp struggled to adapt to Boston in 2006. How does that deal look now? Would anyone prefer to have the immortally nicked-up Damon patrolling center field rather than the highlight reel that’s caught all the bloops, blasts and everything in between hit his way?

Wouldn’t it be great if Epstein gave Pedro Martinez the guaranteed years that Martinez demanded? The gamble on Martinez’s body to hold up through this year would have been lost and the only thing to show for it this season would be a gaping hole in the rotation.

Our short-term memories remember J.C. Romero giving away base runners to opposing teams but seem to forget some of the wise moves that can be credited to Theo Epstein in recent years. Lets give his new deals time. There’s a reason Drew and Lugo were signed to multi-year deals.

Will Lugo and Drew turn into good signings? Only time will tell.


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