Red Sox hire 28-year-old GM

BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox made 28-year-old Theo Epstein the youngest general manager in baseball history today, ending a long search for a front-office leader by promoting one of their own.

The Red Sox had been without a permanent general manager since Florida financier John W. Henry bought the team in spring training and fired Dan Duquette.

Mike Port was interim GM for the season and was a candidate for the long-term job that went to Epstein. The team said Port has been invited to remain as vice president of baseball operations.

Epstein, who was raised near Fenway Park in suburban Brookline, became director of baseball operations for San Diego in 2000, when Red Sox president Larry Lucchino was running the Padres. Epstein also spent two years each in San Diego’s media relations department and as a baseball operations assistant.

“The Red Sox are very much in my blood, which makes this — standing here today as the new general manager of this club — a humbling experience,” Epstein said at a Fenway Park news conference.

Randy Smith, previously the youngest GM, was 29 when he was hired by San Diego in 1993.

“We concluded that the right person was right before our eyes,” Lucchino said. “We believe this franchise will benefit from a new structure and fresh philosophies.”

Epstein said his immediate goal was to get the team into the postseason. A World Series title has eluded the franchise since 1918.

“We have Hall-of-Fame caliber players on the roster — and they’re in their prime,” he said.

He also wants to “turn the Red Sox into a scouting and player-development machine.”

Boston has baseball’s second-highest payroll at $110.2 million. The Red Sox finished second in the AL East at 93-69, 101/2 games behind the New York Yankees and six games behind Anaheim for the AL wild card.

The group headed by Henry and Lucchino bought the Red Sox in February, bringing Epstein to Boston as an assistant general manager. From the start, there were whispers the Yale-educated Epstein would eventually get the GM job.

“Irrespective of his age, we are confident Theo is among the best and brightest, and the brightest, in baseball,” Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said. “We believe that the team he’ll assemble will achieve results for which we so yearn.”

Oakland GM Billy Beane spoke glowingly of Epstein last night. Beane had been Boston’s first choice, even accepting the job before deciding to stay in Oakland for family reasons.

“He’s a bright, passionate individual,” Beane said. “I think the world of Theo.”

Epstein worked with Port to represent Boston at the recent general managers’ meetings, and he also worked on negotiating compensation for the A’s when it was thought Beane would take the job. But a day after accepting a five-year, $13 million offer, Beane decided to stay in Oakland.

After riding out the season with Port, the Red Sox pursued Beane and Toronto’s J.P. Ricciardi, but both chose to stay with their teams. Also identified as candidates were Mets assistant GM Jim Duquette, Baltimore adviser Mike Flanagan, Cincinnati director of player personnel Leland Maddox, former White Sox general manager Ron Schueler, Boston special assistant Lee Thomas and Phillies assistant GM Mike Arbuckle.

Thomas has been invited to stay with expanded responsibilities, the team said. On Nov. 14, Lucchino said the ideal candidate would have experience as a major league GM.

“Experience in the front office of a baseball team, we put that right near the top of the list,” Lucchino said. “It does not necessarily have to be as a GM, but it does have to be substantial front office experience.”

To make up for Epstein’s relative inexperience, the Red Sox are expected to surround him with GM veterans, possibly including Thomas and Port. Jim Duquette and former Montreal Expos GM Jim Beattie were also contacted about taking a position in the Boston front office.

“This is not a situation where there is only one piece to the puzzle,” Lucchino said after being jilted by Beane. “Billy represented one particular approach, a very strong general manager. But there are other approaches to this.”