Oct 04, 2011, 06:50AM

Theo Epstein and the Future of the Red Soxs

First things first, get the management squared away.

[Is it disrespectful to do a post-mortem on the 2011 Boston Red Sox while the playoffs are going on featuring teams that were actually deserving and good? Sure. Now ask if I care.]

The offseason following the greatest-collapse-in-regular-season-history won’t be an easy one for the Boston Red Sox. It’s already cost them their manager of eight years, arguably the greatest Sox manager ever. The airing of the grievances that has resulted from Terry Francona’s de facto firing, depending on whom you listen to, has given us an image of a Red Sox clubhouse that more closely resembles an Old West saloon than a facility for major league ballplayers. No doubt there are many responsible for that, most notably the manager whose job it is to put the players in the best position to win, as the Red Sox are fond of saying. The players can’t escape blame for the incredible collapse either, but as the old saying goes, it’s easier to fire one manager than 25 players. That old saying was around in the days before seven-year, $100 million-plus contracts too.

More changes are on the way. Removing all or some of the players responsible ranges from difficult through to impossible, so who else is responsible? The owners of course, but people never fire themselves (something to remember when you watch clips from Francona’s presser). That leaves the General Manager, Theo Epstein.

Like Francona, Epstein was a huge part of the Red Sox World Series wins in 2004 and 2007. He brought in the players and Francona molded them into an elite fighting force, the Israeli army of major league baseball. In the years since 2007, the team has had difficulties, including finishing third despite one of the highest payrolls in baseball each of the past two seasons. It’s easy to look at the third-place finishes with first-place payrolls and say the front office should be gutted including the potted plants. That’s a simplistic sports talk radio answer though. Outrage from an entitled fanbase isn’t enough reason to clean house and I’d submit neither is one bad month of baseball, even if it was one mother of a bad month.

Decisions must be judged by the information available at the time. Applying that to the recent Red Sox leads us to ask the question, “Was there any reason to think the players and management in charge of this team would lead to such an inglorious ending?”

This gets into sticky territory. There are two further questions. The first is, analytically speaking, was there any reason to expect the Red Sox to perform the way they did? Could the Red Sox front office have looked at reliable data of any sort and determined that Carl Crawford was going to be an awful giant black hole of suck this season? Ask the same question substituting John Lackey for Crawford. Conversely, was there any reason to hope Jacoby Ellsbury would lead the team in homers and put together a legitimate MVP case? The second question is, was there reason to believe the exact mix of characters would have the issues of effort level, physical shape, and cliquish behavior that would become so poisonous as to torpedo the team’s success?

I think it’s fair to say the 2011 Red Sox had some incredible performances, and I use “incredible” in its truest sense. It was incredible that Jacoby Ellsbury would come off a lost season and became a power hitting force at the top of the lineup. It was as incredible that Carl Crawford would turn into a $21 million per year version of Darnell McDonald. The ultimate point of contention, however, comes when diagnosing the front office’s thought process. Are the people in charge capable of making the right decisions for the franchise going forward? Or, is there some fatal flaw in their decision-making process that will lead to a team of Carl Crawfords and John Lackeys thereby causing the entire New England region to reexamine Major League Soccer?

The man who put this spectacular disaster of a team together is still running the show on Yawkey Way. There have been rumors, but at least for now Theo Epstein will be hiring a new manager, deciding which of the team’s free agents to bring back and at what price and, God forbid, dipping his toes back into the free agent pool. Epstein has a resume that would entice most baseball owners; he wins ball games, and he puts butts in the seats at Fenway Park.

Though he has brought a lot of success to Boston, like Terry Francona, that doesn’t mean Epstein’s the right man to lead the franchise. The ownership group is likely involved in debating and deciding this question because without an answer the offseason cannot go forward.

  • I figure we need to keep Theo, just because his replacement would most likely be Ben Cherington. Not that I don't trust Cherington, it's just that there are better options out there. If Billy Beane could potentially go to the Cubs, why couldn't he go to the Sox? I know he turned us down once, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. Getting Friedman or Anthopoulos would be the dream.

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