ATR: Ask the Reports Answers Your Baseball Questions: Special Edition – Fixing the Boston Red Sox
Sunday August 19th, 2012
Jonathan Hacohen: Posted every Weekend: Your top baseball questions from the past week are answered. E-mail all questions to email@example.com, message us on Twitter, post on our Facebook Wall and leave comments on our website! There are many ways to reach us and we will get to your questions from all social media outlets!
This week we are going to do things a little differently people. We have been receiving hundreds of e-mails and social media messages on the Boston Red Sox all season long. Red Sox/baseball fans are trying to figure out what went wrong with the team; where is the team heading; and how can the Red Sox be fixed. I have been compiling your questions in preparation for this feature. I was originally going to prepare a featured report titled “How to Fix the Boston Red Sox”. But instead, this week’s edition of ATR will cover all of the issues that you, the readers, feel face the Red Sox. It is a little different, perhaps even scary. Given the number of times we have received each question, I will present the major ones as the “issues” followed by my proposed solutions. Let’s face it…whether you love or loathe the Red Sox, you need to know: What will happen next…
In today’s special edition of ATR, you are about to find out!
Before we jump into analyzing the “Red Sox Issues”, we present or our Batting Stance Guy featured video of the week. Keeping with our Red Sox theme, Gar brings us “9 Things Red Sox Nation Misses About Youkilis”. The end of the Youkilis Era really cemented the downward spiral of the Red Sox in my mind. But keeping Kevin Youkilis close to our hearts, enjoy this little BSG clip:
Now that we have your hearts pumping and motors racing, let’s get right into “Fixing the Boston Red Sox”:
Issue: How much do you blame the Red Sox owners on the team’s current problems?
JH: I am definitely not a person shy about passing the blame. Taking a look at the Red Sox head honchos, we see that the team is led by John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner. While I have not seen Werner’s name tossed around much, I certainly have seen Henry and Lucchino prominently in the news. My thoughts are that a good owner should not be seen or heard from. They can pay the bills, approve/veto major transactions- but otherwise, let the professionals run the show. The fact that there was even the idea of the owners meeting with key players of the team to discuss the state of the franchise is disturbing to me. Look, Henry and Lucchino clearly have money in their pockets and the right to do as they wish. I would never take that away from them. But there is no doubt that key personnel/management decisions have their fingerprints all over them. Who really hired Bobby Valentine? Who really decided to trade away Kevin Youkilis? Lucchino/Henry or Cherington, the GM? Nobody knows for certain, but many of us have an idea. Remember the comments by John Henry in the offseason that essentially showed the displeasure of signing Carl Crawford? Exactly. If you are going to go into the kitchen and start messing with the meals that are being produced, you are going to have to take responsibility. The Red Sox ownership may be very smart individuals. But as long as they continue to meddle, they will have to shoulder at least part of the responsibility of the misfortunes. Long-term, I would recommend getting the right GM/manager/management in place and starting becoming more hands-off. As long as we continue to see the names Henry and Lucchino in the news when it comes to the Red Sox, I see the same patterns continuing to emerge.
Issue: Ben Cherington: General Manager of the Red Sox or Puppet?
JH: I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this question spoken. I would say the fact that Bobby V is the Red Sox manager should answer that question. Baseball folklore tells us that Ben wanted Dale Sveum, while the ownership group wanted Bobby V. Who won out? When the power struggle began between Youk and Bobby, who stayed…and who left? Exactly. Bobby Valentine is understood to be the choice of ownership. Considering that Cherington took the reigns in October 2011, it certainly feels like he has been in his role for a lot longer. Granted that few GMs can sign/trade/release major players without the input of ownership. Budgets and payroll rule the day in today’s modern MLB and dollars tend to dictate many decisions. But as far as hiring a manager: if you are going to let your GM do his job properly, he should get his own people into place. Quite frankly, I would have done everything to get to Mike Maddux into the position. Smart, highly respected, disciplined. He talks quietly and carries a big stick. A solid veteran coach that would have been a perfect fit for the Red Sox. Plus considering that he is one of the brightest pitching coaches in the game. But location apparently won out and Mike chose to stay in Texas. But if the Red Sox had shown him the love and gone all-out to get him, maybe he would have been there today. That is my nice way of saying that if Cherington had the grapefruits, he would have made his own decisions and made it clear to ownership: “it’s my way or the highway.” So while ownership may be playing a big part in running the Red Sox, Ben Cherington in this respect only has himself to blame. I am not proposing that he has no power to make his own decisions. Perhaps it was his decision to move Youkilis when he did. But considering the state of the team at the time, he may have had no choice.
I have heard people defend Cherington, including several senior baseball analysts, that he had no choice but to move Youkilis. He got the best deal that he could get. To them, I say bologna. Youkilis is a superstar player whose value was driven into the ground by the Red Sox organization. A true GM should have sat down the manager and player, worked out the differences and let everyone function professionally. Rather, Cherington let the team turn into a 3-ring circus…which still continues today. Make a clear team policy: shut up and play. It’s that simple. If you don’t follow the team policy, you will sit or be traded/released. The feeling around the Red Sox clubhouse as I understand it is that Youkilis got a raw deal. Valentine threw him under the bus, the team did not support him and then he was gone. The heart and soul of the team, gone. Now what? Get rid of Valentine? Beckett? Papi? When does it end?
The bottom line on Cherington is simple in my estimation. If he is indeed a puppet and anyone else in his role will have the same limitation of control, keep him. It doesn’t matter then who is the GM. But if Cherington is making many of his own choices and is not under the thumb of ownership, then he needs to be accountable for this mess. It is too easy to blame Theo Epstein. Since Cherington has come on board, too much bad blood has been spilled and the team has completely gone off track. A Kevin Towers would not take this kind of bull. Neither would Dave Dombrowski. You can’t let a kid do a man’s job. The direction of an army is dependant on its top leaders. A baseball team starts at the top, with the ownership and general manager. Someone needs to stand up and take control of this team. With the news that Carl Crawford is apparently going to request to have TJ surgery already to fix his elbow is just another stir of drama, after the news of the ownership/players meeting. You can blame the owners. You can blame the manager. But I see the real lifeline as being the GM. The conduit between the manager and the owners is the GM. This is the person who is to get the field management in place and to decide the future of the players. So while you can’t get rid of the owners, I think we need to see a stronger GM in place. And fast. Someone who can save the Red Sox from themselves.
Issue: Fire Bobby Valentine IMMEDIATELY, right?
JH: Wrong. Dead wrong. I have struggled with this one for many days and nights. It literally sickened me to come up withe solution. I will firstly admit that I am a big Bobby V admirer. I have been for many years. While the world screamed in horror when he was hired, I was very pleased. He is tough, he is brash, he is cocky. But he takes not s*^* from anyone and is a leader. The only question is whether the troops will follow. Bobby made only one real mistake so far in my estimation. And it was a biggie. Calling out Youk and questioning his heart was dumb. Really d.u.m.b. in my book. Those types of conversations are meant to take place behind closed doors. But the manager spoke and the media ran wild with it. But where things headed from there, is neither the fault of Bobby or Youk. It was the team. The owners. The general manager. Like I indicated above, the GM should have sat down Bobby and Youk properly. Hashed everything out, made peace and move on. But he didn’t. The situation was allowed to escalate to dangerous levels, to the point that Youk was finally run out-of-town. The team sent him to the White Sox for a utility player (later released) and an arm. Kindof. Did I mention that the Red Sox are paying most of Youk’s salary this year? Ridiculous. But not Bobby V’s fault. He may have started the incident but it could have been finished quickly and without a need for further turmoil. But at the end of the day, he is left holding the mess and being made to be the scapegoat.
Look at the Red Sox injuries. Almost the whole team has been on the DL at some point this season. Look at the listing of walking wounded. It would be quicker to list the healthy players than the injured ones. Not to mention the sub-par performances of many of the players. Andrew Bailey is injured and Mark Melancon blows up. Daniel Bard blows up. Adrian Gonzalez is far from the typical star numbers we expect from him. Jacoby Ellsbury is out. Lackey is lost for the season (although Red Sox Nation is not complaining about that). Josh Beckett is ineffective for the most part. Jonathan Papelbon is a Phillie. None of these factors relate to Bobby V’s doing. This is the mess that he was handed. John Farrell had a similar injury depleted Blue Jays team this year. Farrell even came out and said his GM, Alex Anthopoulos needs to go out and get him more pitching given the injuries. Jose Bautista says the same thing. And the media does nothing. Put the same incident in Boston and watch out…the world will explode!
I am not saying Bobby Valentine is perfect. Far from it. But given the mess that the team is in, no manager can save it right now. The team thought it had to make a choice between Valentine and Youkilis. It chose the manager. Now the team’s star players are apparently calling for Valentine’s head. Get rid of the manager, and you have made an even bigger chaotic mess. A baseball team cannot let the inmates run the asylum. Firing Valentine sends the wrong message to the players. They do not control the team. Ownership and management do. The players need to remember that they play for an amazing team in one of the greatest cities in the world. They get paid millions of dollars to play a game. Life is not so bad. Blaming the manager is an easy target, but it does not solve the problems that underlies this team. Keeping Valentine sends the message that the players need to respect the people in charge and must perform their jobs. Shut up and play. It is that simple.
The philosophy in baseball is that it is easier to fire 1 guy than 25. Often a manager change can make the difference. But until someone grabs a hold of this team and organization, the chaos will continue. If the Red Sox had stayed healthy this year and the team had underperformed, then there is a stronger case to criticize the manager. But Bobby did not have much to work with this year. Injuries really crippled the team. Then remember the stories of the fried chicken and beer from last year? Remember the September collapse? This team still has huge wounds that have not healed since. Again, not Bobby V’s fault. The man was put in a no-win position and people need to step back and think about it. Take away the Youkilis incident, and you are really left with a team that needs order. Discipline. Let the manager do his job. Let’s get healthy and tweak the roster. Until you have the top-level of management in order, it really won’t matter who is the manager in the dugout. Remember that guy Francona who led the team to 2 World Series titles? He doesn’t even want to make an appearance on behalf of the team anymore, given how he was treated after his departure. If a great manager like Francona can be treated so poorly, what chance does Bobby V have? Whether he is the right or wrong man for the job, the bottom line is that the players cannot control this team. The organization chose Valentine and he must remain for at least another year until the team can be straightened out.
Issue: John Farrell- should the Red Sox try to acquire him again from the Blue Jays?
JH: Living in Toronto, I have had to listen to this painful question for the last few days. The answer is no. And it is quite an easy question to answer actually. Farrell has it really good in Toronto. He has a talented team and is well-respected as the team’s manager. Looking at what happened to Francona and Valentine, why would he want this mess? Toronto apparently wanted Jon Lester last offseason when the Red Sox requested for him and the price is not likely to change. Moving Valentine out sends the wrong message and I don’t see how Farrell would be different. Farrell is very tough and strong. It is his way or the highway. Much like Bobby V. I could see him clashing with the Red Sox vets in the same manner and the result not being pretty. The Jays are a much younger team and with a different attitude. None of the players act like they are above the team and controversy is rare around the squad. I am not trying to make Toronto seem like it is better than Boston. It is not. The Red Sox enjoy continuous sellouts. There is a greater passion around the team and with a much higher budget and recent record of success. The manager’s job should be the envy of baseball. But the Jays have an ownership in the background and a GM that keeps in the distance as well. The GM is allowed to do his job and make his decisions, while the manager is respected to do his part on the field. The Red Sox can take a page out of that book in setting themselves up.
So while John Farrell may be a great guy and fantastic manager, he will not cure the Red Sox ills. Let Bobby V have another year at the job. If Farrell does not re-sign with the Jays, take a look at him next year if he is available. But do not base on the future of your team on his. Farrell is not the be-all, end-all. Look at Robin Ventura and Mike Matheny. They came out of nowhere to prove themselves to be superior managers. Yet it still all starts with strong ownership and GM in place. That continues to be the theme in Boston.
JH: The answer again is no and no. But not for the reasons that you may think. I have tremendous respect for Jason Varitek and I think that he will make a great manager one day. But this is too soon and too much for a rookie skipper. He is also too connected to the current crop of players and more separation is needed. I think of Alan Trammell getting hired as the Tigers’ manager as well once upon a time. That didn’t end too well unfortunately, and now Alan is coaching in Arizona. What does Trammell have to do with the D-backs? Not much…other than his connection to Kirk Gibson. It breaks my heart to see a lifelong Tiger now away from the organization. Same thing with Ryan Sandberg. In Ryno’s case, he paid his dues and was ready to manage in the big leagues. Or so many thought. But whether it was ego or other factors, Ryno is coaching in the Phillies organization, not the Cubs. I really would not like to see the same thing happen to Tek.
What to do with Jason Varitek brings me up to an even stronger point with the Red Sox organization. It is time to bury all the hatchets. It is time to embrace all of the ex-stars of the team and get them involved once and for all. Terry Francona. Jason Varitek. Mo Vaughan. Bill Mueller. Curt Schilling. Roger Clemens (ok maybe not Roger…yet). Wade Boggs. I am really talking everyone. Start embracing the starts of the past. And fast. More jersey numbers retired. Tribute days. Naming of streets. Hiring in the front office. Minors. Scouts. Whatever it takes, get as many of your former stars/managers back with the organization in some capacity. Too many guys leave on bad terms and not enough guys are embraced after they leave. Jason Varitek is an interesting one. I would take things slow with him. Maybe a front office job, assistant to the President. Associate GM. Roving Instructor. Whatever. Just get the man in the organization. The fans will feel good. The former members of the organization will feel good. And the current players especially will appreciate it. Make it fun to be a part of the Red Sox and create a situation of harmony and a “Red Sox Family”. No, the time is not right for Jason Varitek to be the manager of the Red Sox. But make sure the captain of the team, as well as the other former greats of the Red Sox, will be with the organization forever. The good feelings will go a long way in curing much of the teams ailments.
Issue: What is the core of the 2013 Red Sox? Do they need to tweak or overhaul the team?
JH: The Red Sox are not as bad as people make them out to be. Get back the key players healthy and producing…and you still have a great team. Let’s start with the 2013 squad. Behind the plate, set with Salty and Lavarnway. Adrian Gonzalez at 1st, Dustin Pedroia at 2nd, Jose Iglesias is ready to take over at shortstop and Will Middlebrooks at 3rd. Jacoby Ellsbury in the outfield, with Cody Ross. Papi as DH (yes, he must return). So offensively, this team really needs a couple of outfielders and it will be fine. Nick Swisher anyone??? The rotation starts with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett as the core. From there, maybe Cook or Morales can make up the 4th spot and all you need is one more starter. In the pen, let Daniel Bard grow back into the closer’s role. From there, hopefully Andrew Bailey is healthy and Mark Melancon is effective. So in my estimation, you only really need a couple of bullpen arms.
For simplicity then, this team really needs a couple of outfielders, a starter and 2 relievers to fill itself out, if everyone is back playing and healthy. Not too far away. The Red Sox thus really don’t need to start over. They need to tweak and fine tune. Not too shabby.
Issue: Is the Curse of the Youk Real?
JH: Hey now. I don’t joke about curses! While the Curse of the Youk was developed by our MLB reports writers following the Youk trade, I do believe there is some merit to it. He is too much of a heart and soul guy to have been traded like that. I am not sure where Youk will be in 2013. Maybe the White Sox will pick up his option. Maybe he will go back home to Cinci as a free agent. Either way, trading Youk was not the right move for the Red Sox. Yes, he got off to a slow start. But if the drama could have been dealt with and resolved, he could have remained with the team. No room for Youk to play? Try injuries at different times to Papi and Middlebrooks. Youk could have played 1B, 3B and DH at different times. You can never have too much talent and you just don’t give up Youk for nothing. For that I continue to blame Red Sox ownership and its GM. The fans love Youk completely. Getting rid of Youk did not send the right message to the team or the fans. Little has gone right for the team since. If the team hopes that the effects of this move do not linger and similar moves are not made in the future, the relationship with Youk must be repaired. He will either need to be signed back near the end of his career, or hired by the organization once he hangs up the spikes. But the bad feelings cannot be left out there forever. Kevin Youkilis represents a special part of Boston Red Sox history. He should always be remembered for being a part of this team. Do not shun him and make sure he is brought back and honored for his work and production. Otherwise, the team will not move forward and get back on its track. The drama will continue. And in fact, the Curse of the Youk may very well become a part of Red Sox history for decades to come.
Issue: What Should the Red Sox do with Josh Beckett?
JH: Simple. Keep him. He will be 33 next year. He is signed for 2 more years at $15 million+ per season. The Red Sox should not and cannot give up Beckett and eat his contract like they did with Youk. This offseason, the team needs to spend time with their ace pitcher. Talk things out. Come to an understanding. Get him on track. But you will not get any value for Beckett at this point after all that has been happening. He is still young and can be effective. Invest him and reason with him. He can still perform if given the motivation.
Issue: Is Daisuke Matsuzaka Finished?
JH: In Boston yes, possibly North America. His contract is ending this season, having earned $10 million in 2012. With a career 4.34 ERA and WHIP near 1.400, overall Dice-K will be viewed as a bust. He had a sparkling 2008 campaign (18-3, 2.90 ERA). But overall, he walked too many batters, gave up too many runs and was never the ace that the Red Sox hoped he would be. The gyroball turned out to be a myth and the adjustment just never went well. Dice-K fought with the team over his training and preparation (common theme). He will turn 32 this September and would be best back in Japan. I cannot see a MLB team giving him more than $3 million, considering he is recovering from TJ surgery still and is yet to get back to form in some time. Unfortunately, Dice-K will go down as yet another Japanese pitching bust in North America. But one thing you can pretty much count on- he will not be back in Boston in 2013. That is one change that I will say is a positive. This relationship didn’t work for either side and it is just better to move on.
Issue: What would you do with Papi? Sign him or let him walk?
JH: The Red Sox let one heart and soul guy leave. They cannot afford to do the same with David Ortiz. He will be 37 this year (in Dominican years). Making close to $15 million this year, Papi has earned every penny. 23 home runs and 1.024 OPS. Yes, Papi is very motivated. Something about being upset about going to arbitration with the Red Sox and what they said about him. How the team let things get to that level is beyond me. Hmmm…ownership and GM…remember what I said earlier??? This is Papi’s 10th season in Boston. Feels like he has been there forever, but in fact he played parts of his first 6 seasons in Minnesota. The answer with Papi is simple. Do not let him get to free agency. No arbitration. Apologize to him in public. Yes, swallow your pride. This man has a .962 OPS lifetime as a member of the Red Sox. Even in his last down year in 2009, his OPS was close to .800. Give this man a lifetime contract. Exactly what Wakefield had. A base of $10-12 million, maybe $15, with easy to reach incentives based on plate appearances. It is that easy. Papi should not go anywhere and the Red Sox can stop the bleeding now by extending him and making it clear that he is a member of the Red Sox for life. That’s all he really wants to hear.
Ortiz had 29 home runs and a .953 OPS last season. Why didn’t the team lock him up then? Would a 2-year, $30 million deal have really killed them? They may have even got him to sign for 3-years, $40 million. The team’s ignorance is likely going to cost them, as Ortiz will want at least $15 million this offseason, maybe $18-20 million. And he deserves it. Maybe not indefinitely, but he should have a sure contract going into next year. The team owes him that much after what happened last year. But at this rate and given the circus, Ortiz may bolt in 2013. Then both Youk and Papi will be gone. What will the team be left with? Empty buckets of KFC and beer in the clubhouse and a team with no heart. While I may be exaggerating, losing Youk and Ortiz is not the way to go. These guys are leaders. I would love to see Ortiz one day as the Red Sox hitting coach after he retires. That would be great for the team, the players and fans. Don’t alienate yet another star. Fix this one immediately!
Final Issue: Did the Red Sox Screw Up By Letting Papelbon Walk?
JH: Despite everything I have said about keeping star players and building up the team’s legacy and loyalty, this is one move that makes sense to me. While he was extremely loved in Boston, I think it was time for both player and team to move on. Despite Papelbon’s greatness, the team never seemed inclined to extend him. He asked and tried…but he kept signing year to year deals. Watching other players get extended, it was inevitable that Papelbon would seek his big payday one day. Between 2006-2008, Papelbon made $1.5 million in total salary. His contract was simply renewed and the team got him on the cheap. Then he went from approximately $6 million, to $9 million and then $12 million in his final year in Boston. Great coin. He made $11 million this year, and then the rate jumps to $13 million every season starting in 2013. Papelbon will be 32 come this November. He is the heir apparent to the Mariano Rivera for top closer in baseball. Yes he is that consistent and has 245 lifetime saves to prove it. This year he has been his usual steady self, with a 2.81 ERA, 1.125 WHIP and 26 saves. Struck out 57 in 48 innings and only walked 12. But despite Papelbon’s greatness, I have a tough time paying $13 million for the next 3-4 years for a guy who pitches 65 innings per season. That money is better spent in starting pitching a big bat. Case in point: Nick Swisher. Born 2 days apart from Papelbon, Swisher will be a free agent this coming offseason. Making slightly over $10 million this season, I expect that he will command a 5-year, $70 million deal. Not far off from Papelbon’s contract. I would personally take Swisher. Take the bat in the lineup. Take the energy and hustle. Plus piss off the Yankees and keep the feud going.
In the age of salary caps/budgets/luxury taxes, teams need to be conscious of budgets like never before. Having a steady closer is important, and Jonathan Papelbon is one of the best. But while he was a heart and soul guy, he was also a luxury that alters the team far too much for one reliever. Look at the number of pitchers, specifically relievers, who have gone down with Tommy John surgery this year alone. I have a hard time placing too many eggs in that basket. Plus, the Red Sox were lucky in that the Phillies signed Papelbon before the new agreement with the players came into place, so the Phillies lost their 1st rounder to Boston along with a supplemental pick. In a perfect world, Jonathan Papelbon would be a member of the Red Sox right now. But he also had a tendency to talk to the media. Maybe it was him, maybe it was part of the team culture. Who knows. But if Nick Swisher or a similar bat is obtained with Papelbon money, I am ok with this move. 30+ closers have a way of breaking down. It won’t necessarily happen, but the probability is fairly high. The Red Sox bet on the house in this case and took the safe route. Save the money and get the saves elsewhere. Between Bard, Bailey and Melancon, the saves should be there. Maybe Aceves will last another year. Maybe not.
It’s too bad that Bailey cost the team Josh Reddick. But that just becomes yet another blunder on Ben Cherington’s record. Remind me again why fans are screaming for Valentine’s head?
(*The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com*)
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Posted on August 19, 2012, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged adrian gonzalez, baseball, ben cherington, big papi, bobby valentine, daisuke matsuzaka, david ortiz, dustin pedroia, jason varitek, john farrell, john henry, jonathan papelbon, josh beckett, kevin youkilis, larry lucchino, mlb, red sox, will middlebrooks, youk. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.