Inquiring minds want to know. What the hell is happening in Red Sox Nation? Boston fans became accustomed over the past decade to the belief that their team was one of the most stable franchises in baseball, both in finances and day to day operations. However, events that have transpired over the past couple of months have challenged those beliefs and made many wonder what is happening and in what kind of shape the team will be in come spring training.
The whole mess with the collapse at the end of the year, and the subsequent discovery of questionable clubhouse behavior has already been beaten to death. One aspect that does seem a bit underplayed is that if the front office knew what was going on in the moment (and it would seem that they did), why wasn’t the situation taken in hand? It could be argued that the team declined to act because they recalled winning the 2004 World Series in spite of the frat house behavior that permeated the clubhouse. But under that scenario, why would they let an excellent manager like Terry Francona go? Sure, a scapegoat had to be fed to the riotous legions of fans and press, but it didn’t have to be one of their pillars of stability.
Now that the Red Sox are searching for a new manager, their actions to date have made little sense. They paraded a line of candidates in Dale Sveum, Torey Lovullo, Gene Lamont, and Pete Mackinin, among others through interviews. Although none of these guys extracted much excitement from fans, it was generally accepted that one of them would be the next leader of the team.
Recently, news finally came that new GM Ben Cherington was about to offer the job to Sveum, but ownership swooped in, overrode him, and publicly announced that they were interested in contacting Bobby Valentine instead. Theo Epstein immediately sprang into action, hiring Sveum as the new manager of the Cubs, and leaving many to wonder if the Sox were so high on Valentine, why wasn’t he interviewed to begin with. More puzzling is that Valentine is considered an old school baseball guy who eschews many of the Moneyball principles embraced by the Red Sox. On many levels he seems like an odd fit with Boston, thus making the team’s roundabout pursuit of him all the stranger.
Cherington had obviously made his decision on who he wanted to be the next manager. He was effectively made into a eunuch by the owners, which has compromised whatever future he may have with the team. Publically challenging a GM is about as big a no-no as it gets in baseball. When Epstein was in GM, there was little doubt that he was in control. Recent events indicate that Cherington has been grounded before he ever even took off. If he has even a glimmer of a chance of succeeding in Boston, he will have to establish clear boundaries with the owners, and if those are not respected, he needs to consider leaving, because if he stayed under such circumstances, he would not be doing his career or the team any favors.
Something else the Boston front office has improbably blundered is the negotiation for compensation for allowing Epstein to sign with Chicago. At one point, Boston held all the cards. They had Epstein under contract for another year, with Chicago willing to do just about anything to get their man. The Red Sox could have asked for the moon (a.k.a Matt Garza) and had a reasonable expectation to receive it or something else of significance. By allowing Epstein to go to the Cubs before compensation was determined, the Red Sox lost all leverage, and will be lucky to get anything of consequence by the time a deal is finally struck.
It is mind boggling that the Red Sox were willing to make a deal without any parameters in place. This essentially lets Epstein, one of the shrewdest minds in the game; negotiate the deal for his new team. It is only natural that he is going to do his best to minimize whatever changes hands. It is increasingly more likely that Bud Selig is going bail out (a phrase no team ever wants to hear) the Red Sox, by stepping into the negotiations and putting an end to this embarrassment. Selig is known to not want to establish any new compensation benchmarks for front office staff changing positions, so his intervention would skew heavily in the favor of the Cubs.
As we hurtle towards 2012, the Red Sox have more doubt and uncertainty swirling about them than they have had in recent memory. With so many issues needing to be addressed, it is difficult, even with their existing player talent, to imagine the team being a top tier contender next season. Theo Epstein recently told me that past moves he made that he regretted the most were ones where he strayed away from “the process.” These were transactions where he jumped the gun or went against his established goals or boundaries. Right now, it seems that not only have the Red Sox strayed, but that they no longer even have a process.
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