This week’s questions


A couple of quick pitches, before the playoffs resume tonight:

If Theo Epstein goes to the Cubs, who wins?

This offseason’s class of free agents. Not that the Cubs need Epstein’s help to overpay talent, or lack thereof, as Alfonso Soriano’s presence will attest.

But this winter is going to be rich, if narrowly so, in high-level talent — Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes, C.J. Wilson, Heath Bell and Jonathan Papelbon are all potentially available (even CC Sabathia could opt out).

We’ll know the Cubs have changed their ways if they open next season with 29-year-old AAA slugger Bryan LaHair (.331 average, 38 homers, .664 slugging percentage at Iowa) at first base for the major-league minimum instead of Pujols or Fielder for $25 million. Because it will take a lot of conviction for the Cubs’ new GM to resist making a splashy signing of a rivals’ star first baseman as his first act.

Could Epstein? We’ll find out. There’s a different definition of immediacy even in Chicago, with fans who haven’t won the World Series in more than a century, than in Boston, with fans, having won twice in the last seven years, expecting to be the Yankees’ equal.

Gluttony, Red Sox fans might remember, is one of the seven deadly sins.

Free agency has been one of Epstein’s failings, although his record is decidedly mixed: he was almost perfect in allowing the Sox’s own free agents (Pedro Martinez, Jason Bay, Derek Lowe, even Johnny Damon, whose Yankee success was as a leftfielder, not a centerfielder) to go at the right time.

But he was almost imperfect in signing other people’s free agents. There’s no chance Epstein will be taking his two biggest recent busts — John Lackey and Carl Crawford — to Chicago with him. But they’re not alone — free-agent failures are as much a part of the debris around Fenway Park as alcohol refuse: Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo, Matt Clement, J.D. Drew, Bobby Jenks. The list goes on.

And yet none of that should detract, if Epstein leaves, from his legacy and contributions to the Red Sox (he’s come close to going before, taking a three-month sabbatical in 2005 before returning).

The Red Sox hadn’t won in 86 years before Epstein; they won twice under his stewardship. The Sox seem in turmoil today — the manager gone, the GM going, stories abounding of star pitchers misbehaving and uncaring in the midst of September’s collapse.

Perhaps another win would have alleviated all that. Perhaps not. Point is chaos follows collapse as much as it caused it. Would the 2004 Red Sox have been loveable or dysfunctional if the Yankees had finished off a sweep in the ALCS?

If Epstein goes to Chicago he should leave with Red Sox fans’ appreciation for the whole record, and not scorn just for part of it.

Should the Phillies bring Jimmy Rollins back at shortstop?

Depends how much they have to pay him. Rollins is finishing a six-year contract at just less than $8 million per year that was mostly a good one for the Phils, but the last three years much less so than the first three.

Rollins will be 33 on Opening Day 2012, and he’ll probably want more money. He’s not worth it. Rollins is in the top third of National League shortstops, but just barely. Reyes, Troy Tulowitzki and Starlin Castro are all better, Hanley Ramirez will be again, Stephen Drew might be if he can stay healthy, Emilio Bonifacio was in 2011.

Rollins was 12th in MLB in OPS among major league shortstops in 2011, which doesn’t sound like a $10 million a year player.

Rollins’ problems are the Phillies’ problems: He hits at the top of the order but doesn’t get on base often enough. His on-base percentages the last three years have been .296, .320 and .338; any team would have issues on offense with a leadoff batter reaching so rarely. Re-signing Rollins won’t fix the Phillies’ offense.

The Phillies will raise revenue by refusing to pick up No. 4 starter Roy Oswalt’s $16 million option, as they should; they might want to tread carefully on how much of it goes to a shortstop, and which one.

Thursday’s games

Tigers 7, Rangers 5: Tigers manager Jim Leyland said his top two relievers, Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit, weren’t available Thursday, which seemed curious given that if the Tigers lost, the two would be well-rested for 2012. Even more curious is the infrequent use of Al Albuquerque, who has gotten just one out in five games. Albuquerque is as hard to hit as he is to spell, although he is wild and his season was interrupted often by injuries. In 43.1 regular-season innings he allowed only 21 hits and fanned 67; Leyland said last week Albuquerque has been hampered by missing time in September. “You see the stuff is just not as crisp,” Leyland told the Detroit Free Press. “The control is just not as good.” Yo Jim. Albquerque’s control is never that good (he walked 29 in those 43.1 innings). But his stuff is better than Ryan Perry’s. Ask Nelson Cruz if you don’t believe us.

Brewers 4, Cardinals 2: Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is carrying eight relief pitchers and using all of them — in 4 games he’s made 19 pitching changes. St. Louis relievers have pitched 17.1 innings and allowed just 10 hits and four earned runs. That’s markedly better than their starters, none of whom has yet to see even the sixth inning. The best starter in the series was Brewers’ Game 4 winner Randy Wolf, who threw seven six-hit innings and held Albert Pujols — batting .533 in the series and with 6 hits and two walks in his previous nine plate appearance — to a single in four at-bats Thursday. Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum, the Brewers’ three best starters, were 46-23 in the regular season; they’re 1-2 with a 9.00 ERA in the series. The Brewers spent a lot to get Greinke, but in his first NLCS appearance he’s been more effective in hurling insults than pitches. The Brewers badly need him to do the latter tonight.

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