OK, OK enough about the collapse. We get it. A distracted and defeated manager felt betrayed by players and lost control of some monstrous egos. The team often played without emotion, with poor fundamentals and had several players become out of shape at the end of the year. The management was distracted by the moneymaking side of the business and was out of the loop on the problems.
Did Theo Epstein know? Did Larry Lucchino know? The real dysfunction has always been between those two. The tensions caused Theo to walk out once before, until management handed the reins of all baseball operations to Theo and moved Lucchino into the business-side management of the Sox.
But here’s why I am optimistic that the Sox can rebound next year. (Yes this is the obligatory hope-springs-eternal post.)
1) Epstein will likely be gone as general manager In past years, this would have disturbed me, but the house-cleaning has to start here. Francona may have gotten the bulk of the blame for losing the respect of the players, but Epstein was the only other official in a position to know this and he did little to deal with the crisis. Theo asked for this responsibility and was granted carte blanche over all baseball decisions. I will always be grateful for what the Francona/Epstein pairing accomplished, but it is seriously time to move on, before the legacy is tarnished even further.
2) Ben Cherington is just as smart as Theo and may not be as averse to working with Lucchino. Ben C. has been there throughout Theo’s reign and can step right in. It remains to be seen how Cherington works with others, but Theo’s problems have occurred since he banished all other advisors from his realm.
3) There is an awfully strong core in Boston. Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez were all mentioned as potential league MVP’s before the September collapse. The offense had a tremendous year–even with the collapse. The Sox led the AL in hits, runs, RBI and OBP. They finished 3rd in HR.
4) The collapse gives you the opportunity to cut out both the dead & the diseased wood. Varitek has been the team captain, but did nothing to try to control the clubhouse. His pathetic offense and inability to throw out runners cannot be excused any longer. Wakefield used to be the most loyal and respected member of the team. The recent chase for his 200th win this year (losing 7 times) showed both how his skills have eroded and how the game has become more about his personal stats. Daisuke Matsuzaka is in the last year of his contract and rehabbing from severe arm injury. Let him, rehab and then let him walk (unless you can find a team willing to take on his frustrating personality and mediocre pitching). J.D. Drew is a free agent, let him walk. John Lackey is the biggest bust in Red Sox free agent history and a nasty presence in the clubhouse. Get rid of him, even if you have to eat salary. And the biggest move of all: get rid of Josh Beckett. At times, he may be the best pitcher in baseball. At times, he begs off pitching for assorted maladies. At all times, he’s apparently an asshole. What better way to make a statement about team character than getting rid of him? You get some value in a trade and you keep him away from further corrupting Lester and Buchholz–the two young jewels of your staff.
5) Re-sign Papelbon. Yeah, he’s been all about the big free agent contract, but let’s face it–he’s that good. He also seems to give a crap and play with intensity. Daniel Bard surely did not inspire any confidence this year in a closer role.
6) Hire a manager that will inspire, motivate and kick some ass when needed. You need someone who will make sure the team utilizes the strength coach–a person many claim to be the best in the business. You need someone to inspire players to give a little extra, be openly supportive of their teammates. You need someone to personally straighten out the players who, although valuable, gave in to the temptations of disloyalty and envy that infected the clubhouse this year. I’m looking at you Big Papi and Youk!
Go Sox 2012! How many days until pitchers and catchers report?