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10/03/11 11:30 AM ET

Epstein's future with Red Sox unclear

BOSTON -- While the Red Sox start the process of trying to fix all the things that led to their historic collapse at the end of the 2011 season, one question that bears asking is this: Will Theo Epstein return for a 10th season as general manager?

Epstein has one year remaining on his contract.

The situation could come to a head soon if the Cubs request permission to speak with Epstein for their general manager vacancy.

The rumor mill has associated Epstein as one of several high-profile candidates who could be in the running for that job. The GM has steadfastly declined to speak to the media about that opening, but he's never said definitively he'll be back for another season in Boston.

"We're going to all get together with ownership and discuss everything," Epstein said the day before manager Terry Francona parted ways with the Red Sox. "I think the process that we're going to take is identifying all the issues, or continue to identify all the issues that need addressing, taking a hard look at ourselves and seeing whether we're the people to address them."

If the Cubs ask for permission to speak to Epstein, will the Red Sox grant it?

"When I'm speaking about things that aren't exactly the way we want them to be in this organization, our decision-making process on expensive free agents, big-ticket free agents, has not been satisfactory -- not at all."
-- Theo Epstein

"You don't think we have a full enough plate right now? You want to raise another question like that? We're not prepared to answer that question here," Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino said on Friday. "This is a press conference about the contributions that Tito has made to this franchise. Besides, Theo is under contract with us, so it is an issue that has not been addressed or discussed."

Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, who was seated next to Lucchino and Epstein at Friday's press conference, interjected.

"Nor do I hope to address it, because I think we feel collectively that he has been one of the best general managers in baseball and has been integral to the success of our club the last 10 years," said Werner.

Though Epstein is a Boston native who has put his heart and soul into running the team he's followed his whole life, the Cubs' job could be alluring. Epstein helped snap the Red Sox's World Series championship drought that had lasted 86 years and the Cubs are still looking to snap a dry spell that's lasted over a century.

Given how competitive Epstein is, it's probably less likely he will leave the Red Sox now than before the team had its epic September collapse.

It would be a tough way for Epstein to end his memorable tenure with the Sox, a run that has included six postseason berths, two World Series championships and four American League Championship Series appearances in nine years.

While the 2011 finish is by far the low point of Epstein's time as GM, he has been accountable in the days since the season ended.

"When I'm speaking about things that aren't exactly the way we want them to be in this organization, our decision-making process on expensive free agents, big-ticket free agents, has not been satisfactory -- not at all," Epstein said.

"That's another area we have to address and look in the mirror and dig deep into the process and see what we're doing wrong because the results demonstrate that that's not an aspect of the organization that's functioning at a high enough level to meet our standards. That's something we have to own. We can't run away from that. We've got to fix it.

"Does the roster need a complete overhaul? I really don't think so. I think there's an awful lot of talent here. Do we need to make changes? Absolutely, and we will. We always do. But there's a core of talent here that I think is going to make up the core of a lot of winning teams in the future, teams that compete at the highest level.

"Not to ignore April and September, because that's what we're focusing on -- and we should -- but the four months in the middle demonstrate how talented we can be. We need to make changes, but there's plenty of talent here. Raw talent, I don't think is necessarily the issue. With respect to the expensive free agents, absolutely, that's something we need to address the process of."

But until Epstein and the Red Sox definitively clear up his status, nobody can be certain if the current general manager will be part of the "we" that directs what should be one of Boston's most fascinating winters in years.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.