Thursday, October 13, 2011

Theo’s gone, Francona’s gone, and Red Sox Nation is in turmoil

Six weeks ago the Boston Red Sox taking a serious run at their third World Series in seven years, a remarkable feat given that before 2004 they hadn’t won in 86 years. Their September collapse is being called the biggest in Major League Baseball history.

Two weeks ago Red Sox Manager Terry Francona, leader of the 2004 and 2007 World Series Champion teams, was tossed under the bus. Theo Epstein, the architect of those championship teams, is leaving the Red Sox for Chicago’s North Side Cubs. And in the midst of all this change, an explosive report in The Boston Globe has shaken Red Sox Nation to its foundation.

Epstein and the Chicago Cubs have agreed to a five-year $15 million contract making Theo the highest paid sports executive in any sport. On top of the $15 million, Theo leaves the Red Sox with a $3.5 million bonus -- $18.5 million for the 38 year old Epstein, who nine years ago became the youngest general manger in Major League Baseball history.

Theo’s time in Boston was filled with major highs (2004 and 2007) but also several glaring mistakes that led to his demise in Boston:

November 2002: Epstein, just 28, is named general manager of the Red Sox. He had previously served as assistant general manager after joining the organization in March 2002.

May 2003: Epstein made his first big trade with the acquisition of pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim from the Arizona Diamondbacks for infielder Shea Hillenbrand. Kim would eventually become the Red Sox’ closer and save 16 games that season, which began with the team attempting to close games by committee.

October 2003: The Red Sox were eliminated from the ALCS by the Yankees after a crushing Game 7 defeat in extra innings. The team then parted ways with manager Grady Little.

November 2003: Epstein acquired Curt Schilling from the Diamondbacks in a blockbuster deal. It came after he spent Thanksgiving at Schilling’s Arizona home attempting to convince the starter to waive his no-trade clause.

December 2003: The Red Sox hired Terry Francona as the second manager in Epstein’s tenure. Later in the month, Epstein signed former A’s closer Keith Foulke to a four-year contract. Epstein also aggressively pursued a trade for then-Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez, only to see the Yankees pull the trigger on a deal for the slugger two months later.

July 2004: Epstein gambled by trading disgruntled franchise icon Nomar Garciaparra at the trading deadline. A series of deals landed Garciaparra in Chicago and Orlando Cabrera, Dave Roberts and Doug Mientkiewicz in Boston. The Red Sox went on a 20-2 run shortly after the deals en route to the postseason.

October 2004: The roster Epstein assembled came back from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Yankees in the ALCS and then swept the Cardinals in the World Series for the Red Sox’ first championship since 1918.

December 2004: The Red Sox allowed another franchise icon, Pedro Martinez, to leave via free agency and sign a long-term deal with the Mets (an Epstein decision that was validated when Martinez tore his rotator cuff less than two years later). Epstein also made one of his most glaring personnel mistakes when he signed Edgar Renteria to a four-year contract. A year later, the underachieving shortstop would be dealt to the Braves.

October 2005: The Red Sox were swept 3-0 by the White Sox in the ALDS. At the end of the month, Epstein announced he would not return to the Red Sox as general manager following a dispute with management. He left Fenway Park that night in a gorilla suit in an effort to evade reporters.

January 2006: Epstein returned as general manager after clearing up problems with Red Sox management. He had remained an unofficial advisor to the club in the interim. (The club acquired Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell during his absence.) “Looking back, before Oct. 31 obviously we were not all on the same page when it came to the vision of this organization,” Epstein told Sports Illustrated at the time. “That’s been resolved in the last 10 weeks. That shared vision goes a long way in creating a harmony throughout the front office. I believe that we were not going to get to that point without (his resignation) happening.”

October 2006: Red Sox missed the playoffs with a record of 86-76, the team’s worst record since 2001.

December 2006: Red Sox made international headlines by signing premier Japanese free-agent pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka to a six-year contract. For the second time in two years, Epstein signed a free-agent shortstop that would come back to haunt him. Julio Lugo inked a four-year, $36 million deal, but would be dumped by the Red Sox in July 2009.

January 2007: The Red Sox signed free-agent outfielder J.D. Drew to a five-year, $70 million deal. Epstein also married his girlfriend, Marie Whitney.

July 2007: Epstein acquired closer Eric Gagne in a deadline-day deal with the Rangers. Gagne, who left as a free agent after the season, moved into a set-up role for the Red Sox but was not a factor down the stretch (2-2, 6.75 ERA).

October 2007: Red Sox won their second World Series in four years.

July 2008: Epstein finally parted ways with Manny Ramirez, the dynamic slugger whom the general manager had tried to move several times before. The Red Sox dealt him to the Dodgers in a trade that netted them Pirates outfielder Jason Bay.

October 2008: The Red Sox were eliminated in Game 7 of the ALCS by the Tampa Bay Rays. And while some of Epstein’s personnel moves were backfiring, others were flourishing. Dustin Pedroia, whom Epstein drafted in 2004, won AL MVP honors, one year after being named Rookie of the Year. And Matsuzaka went 18-3, which gave him a two-year record of 33-15.

July 2009: Epstein dealt promising right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson to Cleveland in a deal that brought slugging catcher Victor Martinez to Boston.

October 2009: Red Sox were swept 3-0 by the Angels in the ALDS.

December 2009: Epstein made an aggressive jump into the free-agent market when he signed outfielder Mike Cameron, shortstop Marco Scutaro and pitcher John Lackey.

July 2010: Epstein acquired catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia at the trading deadline.

October 2010: The Red Sox finished in third place in the AL East with a record of 89-73.

December 2010: Epstein acquired perhaps the two biggest-name players of his Red Sox tenure when he signed free agent Carl Crawford and traded for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Crawford agreed to a seven-year, $142 million deal, while Boston sent three top prospects to San Diego for Gonzalez.

January 2011: With third baseman Adrian Beltre signing in Texas and catcher Victor Martinez joining Detroit, the Red Sox allowed two of their three best offensive players from the 2010 season to leave as free agents.

June 2011: The Red Sox parted ways with Cameron, who hit seven home runs and had 24 RBIs in Boston after signing a two-year deal worth $15.5 million.

July 2011: Epstein acquired starting pitcher Erik Bedard from the Mariners at the trading deadline.

September 2011: The Red Sox set a major league record by blowing a 9-game playoff lead in September, when they won just seven of 27 games. After entering the season the World Series favorite among many analysts, they finished 90-72, one game out of playoff contention.

October 2011: About two weeks after Francona left the Red Sox after eight seasons as manager, Epstein reached an agreement with the Cubs to take a front-office role, according to sources.

Epstein deserves full credit for the Red Sox success but he also needs to be held accountable for the mistakes he made.

He took big risks that paid off, such as trading fan favorite Nomar Garciaparra at the 2004 trade deadline. Nomar wasn’t working in the team’s clubhouse anymore. Days after Nomar was traded the team went 20-2 and Red Sox fans saw their dreams come true in October.

He also made mistakes, some costing the Red Sox hundreds of millions of dollars. Those mistakes include: John Lackey ($84 million), Carl Crawford ($142 million), Matt Clement ($50 million), Julio Lugo ($36 million) and Edgar Rentería ($40 million).

Wednesday’s Boston Globe offered a report written by Bob Hohler that painted a picture of a baseball team gone amok as the 2011 season came to its terrible end. The report alleged that starting pitchers Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey drank beer and played video games in the clubhouse on days they weren’t pitching.

The report also suggested there was little leadership in the Red Sox clubhouse. A report in the Palm Beach suggested during the 2003 season Josh Beckett was exhibiting the same behaviour in the Florida Marlins clubhouse.

The optics of players drinking in the clubhouse at anytime isn’t good, but at the end of the day baseball players drink beer and starting pitchers have been known to pay little attention on their off days. This behaviour wasn’t a major contributing factor.

Of greater concern, according to Hohler’s report, was Terry Francona’s use of painkillers and the impact that had on his ability to manage.

Former Red Sox ace Curt Schilling made it clear in an ESPN report where he believes the Francona pill-popping report originated.

“It starts at the top," Schilling said. "These are some bad people. This guy (Francona) gives everything he could give. They spent nine or 10 years building this into a model franchise, so to speak, and I think they destroyed it in a matter of …"

Schlling’s sense of loyalty to Francona continued when he told ESPN: “Again, the information coming out in this article couldn’t have come from other people. It could have been sourced through other people, but it had to start at the top.

“You remember Tito’s press conference, when Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner were talking to Theo about the [Carl] Crawford signing and said all our free agents are a collective effort. Then the comments in this article were that Theo did his own thing here and had to convince the owners. This was them preparing the road for the exits. A very low-class, horrible thing to do.’’

Schilling believes the 2012 Boston Red Sox are going to look at whole lot different than the 2011 club.

“I don’t think John Lackey can ever put that uniform on again” and predicted “there will be some guys who will walk on that field on Opening Day next year and get booed louder than any New York Yankee who ever set foot [on the field].

“Why would he want to go back there?’’ he said. “I think we all know now what Terry was saying when he said I don’t feel like I had the front office’s backing. I think it was very clear why. And for the ownership to follow up that interview by saying I was kind of caught off-guard by the fact that he said that was disingenuous at best.’’

Schilling is both right and wrong, but in pointing his fingers directly at the teams’ ownership while having no real basis for his opinion isn’t right. John Henry the teams’ principal owner suggested a few days ago that any employee isn’t an employee for life, setting up the end of the Theo Epstein era in Boston.

Here’s the bottom line, the Red Sox haven’t made the playoffs for the last two years and for ownership that’s two years too many. The five players mentioned in this report cost the Red Sox $352 million and there are several more examples of Epstein mistakes (Bobby Jenks $12 million).

Epstein deserved to go. Terry Francona lost his team in September and deserved to be fired. Were the pill-popping accusations warranted? Not a chance.

Sports is a “what have you done for me lately” business and both Epstein and Francona failed to deliver recently. Case closed.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: the Boston Globe

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,