Keys to 2013: Boston Red Sox

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Starting Pitching Key: Jon Lester

With Josh Beckett gone and the back of the rotation questionable, someone has to be the leader on and off the field. There are conflicting reports about Beckett’s leadership skills. Those within the Red Sox who’ve commented on it have nothing but good things to say about him; those outside see him as the ringleader to the increasing selfishness and laziness that tore down the Red Sox in 2011. Lester used to follow Beckett around like a baby duck, but he’s the man now and with the Red Sox still in flux after a 69-93 season and the one person who all seemed to blame—Bobby Valentine—gone, if they don’t play better other dominos are sure to fall. Lester’s performance can prevent or at least delay the inevitable.

Relief Pitching Key: Alfredo Aceves

Aceves is already irritating the new regime and manager John Farrell by lobbing balls in during what was supposed to be a live batting practice. What Aceves’s problem is is anyone’s guess, but if he continues to act up after his diva-like behavior in 2012, the Red Sox will have no choice but to get rid of him. The problem is, they need him and he was one of the few players who performed as if he cared during the 2011 collapse. He can pitch multiple innings as a reliever, can close and can start. They need Aceves’s versatility if they’re going to win.

Offensive Key: Jacoby Ellsbury

Ellsbury missed almost all of 2010 with a rib injury and half of 2012 with a shoulder injury. In 2011 when he was healthy, he finished second in the MVP voting and helped keep the Red Sox afloat in the waning weeks of the season. His injuries were impact-related and not pulled hamstrings and similar maladies.

If he’s 100%, he can do it all on the field. His presence will go a long way in the Red Sox being respectable. If they play poorly, he’s trade bait and the return on him could help speed their necessary rebuild.

Either way, he has to be healthy.

Defensive Key: Jonny Gomes

One of the reasons the Red Sox let Jason Bay leave after the 2009 season was his statistically and perceptively poor defense. Jim Rice’s defense was presented as a reason to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but he was good at playing the Green Monster because he knew its quirks.

Since it was built, playing the Green Monster in Fenway has been more about nuance and understanding the wall. But logic says that if they were worried about Bay’s defense and because Rice’s outfield play is a point of contention in his Hall of Fame candidacy that teams want a prototypically adequate defensive outfielder even for a place like Fenway. For 2013, the Red Sox primary left fielder will be Gomes who, by all comprehensible measures, is a terrible outfielder in a normal outfield. What he’ll look like at Fenway has nightmare potential and could severely harm the already shaky pitching staff.

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The Trout vs Cabrera MVP Battle Is Over, But The Argument Rages On

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Remember a player named Mike Blowers? He’s a broadcaster now for the Mariners and had a few relatively productive seasons for them in the mid-to-late-1990s. One season in particular stands out. In 1995, the Yankees castoff Blowers posted an .809 OPS with 23 homers and 96 RBI for a Mariners team that came back from 13 games out of first place in August to win the AL West. They bounced the Yankees in the ALDS coming back from 2 games to 0 down before losing to the Indians in 6 games in the ALCS.

That season, you will remember, was shortened by the strike, so Blowers only played in 134 games. Had it been a full schedule, he certainly would have driven in 110+ runs. On the surface, it looks like a solid season. But in reality, was it? Or were his RBI totals cushioned by big games? During that season, Blowers had games with RBI totals of: 8, 5, 5, 6, 4, 4, 4, and 7. Right there that’s 8 games out of 134 where he accumulated 43 of his 96 RBI. Add in that he spent the season batting behind Tino Martinez (.369 OBP); Jay Buhner (.343 OBP); Ken Griffey Jr. (.379 OBP); and Edgar Martinez (.479 OBP), and you wonder why he had so few RBI.

This isn’t to pick on Blowers as a random player, but it proves a point that any stat—not just the old-school ones such as RBI—can be torn apart when they’re examined in depth with an end in mind.

The debate between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera for American League MVP still rages even though Cabrera was given the award. The Cabrera backers present the following case: he won the Triple Crown; his team won their division; the opposing pitchers said they feared Cabrera more than any other hitter in baseball. The Trout backers point to his 10.7 WAR; his defensive brilliance; his speed; his power; and that the Angels were 6-14 when he arrived and went 81-58 with him in the lineup.

None other than newfound political celebrity Nate Silver made his case for Trout on his Fivethirtyeight.com blog here. Along with the stats such as WAR, Silver uses Trout playing in a “harder division” and other bits of randomness to bolster his case, but it’s not as clear-cut as he implies, nor is Cabrera’s case as clear-cut as the other side implies.

You can use a phantom argument as a means of patting the non-stat people on the head by saying, “Look at their record with him in the lineup and without it,” as if it’s connected on its face. I picture Silver rolling his eyes and thinking, “Here, idiots. Here’s a simplistic number you can understand. Wins.” It’s done as a concession to convince. Because Silver drilled the presidential election doesn’t mean his opinion and calculations in baseball are unassailable. In fact, his history at predicting baseball with PECOTA is quite pedestrian even though it’s promoted for its accuracy. PECOTA is a formula. It’s math and math isn’t the determinative factor with baseball players that it clearly is in the political arena. There’s no variable and no analysis. It’s a sum and when it’s wrong, there’s always an excuse of the faults of human beings in not living up to what was expected.

Does that make it okay to be wrong? To suggest that they would’ve been right if X happened and Y didn’t? If (BLANK) great pitcher didn’t mistakenly groove a fastball to Cabrera so he could knock it into space? If (BLANK) mediocre pitcher didn’t throw the best curveball of his life to strike Trout out with the bases loaded?

If we begin with the premise that Trout’s presence was solely responsible for the Angels rise from that atrocious start, how do we figure where it began and when it ended? How about the acquisition of a reliever named Ernesto Frieri who stabilized the Angels’ atrocious bullpen after they’d demoted closer Jordan Walden? The Angels were 10-17 when they acquired Frieri. Is he suddenly the MVP because they were 79-56 with him on the roster? With the Angels talent—dysfunctional and infighting as it was—do you truly believe they were going to keep playing as badly as they started? The concept of a statistical formula like PECOTA would tell you that it wasn’t going to happen; that they’d get themselves straightened out with or without Trout, but that is conveniently glossed over to promote Trout as the MVP because of his “presence”. Did he show up with donuts every day? Did he smell really good to make the other players happy? The presence argument is fleeting and incalculable before or after it happens and is mitigated by both Cabrera and Trout having positive things said about them. Which is accurate and which isn’t? Which counts and which doesn’t?

The comparison of home runs that were hit to whether or not they would have left a different ballpark is questionable as well. The pitchers pitch differently in a bigger park than they do in a smaller one; they might be more willing to challenge a player like Trout knowing who’s batting behind him (a guy named Albert Pujols) and test the rookie rather than run the risk of putting runners on base for Pujols and the other Angels bashers. Everyone knows the numbers nowadays and applies them to a certain degree. With everyone knowing the numbers, the strategies pitching coaches impart to their catchers as a way of devising a gameplan are contingent on what the opposing lineup does with pitches in various locations. Unless everything—everything—is torn apart to examine when, where, how, and why, WAR or the Triple Crown cannot be the final arbiter of the MVP.

You can’t have it both ways. When lobbying for the Hall of Fame, you can’t say that a player like Ron Santo was far superior to Jim Rice because of his defensive greatness at third base, ballpark factors, and plain factional disputes of arguing for the sake of it and then criticize a Cabrera because he was a bad third baseman, simultaneously crediting Trout because he’s a great center fielder. Rice was playing half of his games in Fenway Park with the Green Monster—a spot more nuanced than reliant on speed and range. He was good at playing that wall. Also he was a prideful and somewhat misunderstood black man playing in Boston in the 1970s which put more pressure on him, pressure that can’t be examined through a statistical lens. Third base is a harder to fill position and, despite his defensive inadequacies, Cabrera was serviceable at the position considering the expectations. He made the routine plays, which was all he was asked to do.

Asked to do.

If you’re asked to do something at work, are you criticized because someone whose duties are totally different from yours; whose skills are in a different category; is working in a totally different department, does their job in a “better” way than you do by metrics that are not in line with one another? That can’t be in line with one another?

No. So why do it with Cabrera and Trout?

With that comes the inevitable question, not of replacing these players with a baseline, invisible Triple A player as WAR does, but with an actual person. The Tigers had no one viable to play third base to take over for Cabrera while the Angels could’ve cobbled it together without Trout had they stuck Peter Bourjos out there (a 4.8 WAR player in 2011) and hoped he reverted to what he was in 2011 after a terrible start in 2012. Does that matter?

This is a tribal debate with the stat people on one end jumping up and down for Trout while shouting about the “injustice” and the old-schoolers gloating that Cabrera won. No one’s going to change their minds. But if this is the way it’s going to be, then it shouldn’t be about the Triple Crown, WAR, team results, aura, or whatever. It should be completely dissected pitch-by-pitch, play-by-play, everything-by-everything. Then there will be a final answer. Until that happens, there will be this endless presentation of supposed facts twisted to suit the purposes of the one arguing, truth and willingness to listen irrelevant and ignored for the sake of the self.

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Larry Lucchino’s Letter to Red Sox Season Ticket Holders

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If Red Sox fans weren’t overly concerned about their club’s mediocre first half, clear lack of a coherent plan and inability of organizational factions to get on the same page, then the latest news should wake them up with the cold fear of a premonition of an oncoming natural disaster that they can neither avoid nor stop.

Team President/CEO Larry Lucchino sent the following letter to season ticket holders.

Dear Season Ticket Holder:

As we cross the midpoint of our 2012 season, we thank you for your loyal support thus far. We met many of you at our new spring home, JetBlue Park at Fenway South, and renewed more acquaintances as we opened the 100th Anniversary season at Fenway Park.  We sensed that the nostalgia touched you, and we hope to continue to celebrate this special anniversary from time to time throughout the year.

Our play on the field has at times tested the mettle of the faithful.  It could be maddening one day, enthralling the next day.  Along the way, we have seen our bullpen gel, young players emerge, and veterans lead.  We have watched the team coalesce into a close group.  Personalities are enhancing the chemistry, such as the cheerful Cody Ross, the friendly Mike Aviles, and the inspiring story of Daniel Nava.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia has shown power, in the clutch, worthy of an All-Star.  And as the talented Will Middlebrooks forced his way into the lineup, we bade farewell, with gratitude, to Kevin Youkilis, who helped us win two World Championships.

The one constant on the field has been our beloved Big Papi, David Ortiz.  How thrilled we were that our gregarious leader reached the 400-home run plateau in a career that we hope will forever be with the Red Sox.

The one constant off the field is that we have had a veritable All-Star Team on the disabled list.  As we begin the second half, we look forward to the return of the “varsity,” including Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Andrew Bailey, and the ever-dirty Dustin Pedroia.

While this infusion of such talent in late July may make other General Managers green with envy, you can be sure that Ben Cherington and his Baseball Operations Staff will approach the July 31 trading deadline with their tireless work ethic.  If someone can further help this club, and if the deal makes sense, we will be aggressive.  We want to play October Baseball this year.

Meanwhile, as you come to Fenway Park throughout this season, we hope you will come early—the secret to fully enjoying a sports venue.  Now “A Living Museum,” Fenway Park probably leads the league in bronze plaques and commemorative displays along the concourses.  Enjoy them at your leisure early, well before the escalation of excitement as game time approaches.  And as always, if you have reactions, suggestions, or ideas that will make the ballpark experience even better, we invite you to send them to fanfeedback@redsox.com.

By the way, if we’re in your neighborhood for a visit during “Acts of Kindness Month” this month, please come over and say hello.  We enjoy listening to you, and we enjoy talking baseball with you.  We’re your biggest fans.  So, on behalf of John Henry, Tom Werner, our partners, and our entire organization, we thank you again, and we look forward to seeing you at Fenway Park.

Keep the Faith,

Larry Lucchino

I’ll ignore the obvious laughlines like “cheerful Cody Ross,” “friendly Mike Aviles,” and “the return of the ‘varsity’”. What would concern me if I were a Red Sox fan is that Lucchino is sending a letter like this out in the first place and is implying that the Red Sox are going to be “aggressive” at the trading deadline in order to play October baseball this year.

There are times to be aggressive and there are times to hold one’s fire, wait and let things play out without chasing the past—a past that had the Red Sox in legitimate title contention for almost the entire decade of 2000 to 2011. I don’t see this letter as an organizational boss assuaging the concerns of an angry (and somewhat spoiled) fanbase. I see it as the man behind the scenes putting his voice out there in the public and pulling levers to make sure he’s having a significant influence in team construction.

This is a problem that’s been ongoing since the departure of Theo Epstein and will continue until owner John Henry steps in and lets someone—anyone—take charge as he did with Epstein. The letter is not baseball related and coincides with the series of decisions that were made last winter to try and patch over the issues that caused the self-destruction on and off the field of a club that, before the fact, was compared to the 1927 Yankees.

There’s no one in charge and willing to say, “I’m in charge.” Cherington’s certainly not running things because if he was, Bobby Valentine would not be the manager. And that’s not a defense of Cherington’s preferred choices because neither John Farrell nor Dale Sveum are lighting up the world with their baseball brilliance as the respective managers of the Blue Jays and Cubs.

Lucchino wanted Valentine, again, to have a “name” to replace Terry Francona and lay down the law that the lack of discipline that was blamed for the club’s demise last season wouldn’t happen again. Naturally Valentine has butted heads with the veterans and his almost immediate battle with Youkilis greased the skids for Youkilis’s departure from the team. Not that that’s a bad thing. Even though they gave him away, they probably should’ve traded Youkilis over the winter to shake things up before the inevitable happened with Valentine.

Lucchino sending out this letter to keep the season ticket holders happy is indicative of a fanbase that’s gotten so greedy that they’re blind to the reality that they’ve become mirror images of that which they despise more than anything: the Yankees. Do they need to be given assurances that the Red Sox are going to try and win? Wasn’t the breaking of The Curse in 2004 and another championship 3 years later enough to keep them happy for awhile? To maintain loyalty and, even if the team isn’t performing up to expectations and lofty payroll, ensure that the season ticket holders will keep their plans intact due to reciprocal appreciation?

Like him or not, Lucchino helmed the rise of the Red Sox and was a major part of turning Fenway Park into a rebuilt place to be where the tickets were hot rather than an aging and dilapidated relic with players, coaches, managers and front office people who only cared about themselves. If a lean year or two is necessary for the greater good and to prevent the whole thing from crashing to the ground, isn’t it worth it to accept that and say, “We’ll take an 81-81 season if it means we’ll be contending for a title in 2014 or 2015”?

Epstein was a check on Lucchino. Cherington can’t be that same check. Now there’s no one in command and no single voice to put a stop to a lunatic maneuver designed to steal the headlines for a week, perhaps help the club win 2 more games than they would have otherwise and wind up in the exact same position they would’ve been in had they been prudent and held onto whatever assets they surrendered to make that incremental and meaningless “improvement”.

As the head of the organization, Lucchino is addressing fan concerns and trying to please his customers, but the customer isn’t always right and because the fans want the Red Sox to do something drastic doesn’t mean it’s wise. There’s a difference between compromising within reason for the constituency and compromising for expediency and self-immolating in the process. If he’s going to try and make sure his word is proven true and Cherington and the baseball people are forced to do something they don’t want to do, it’s only going to make the current predicament worse. Except now it won’t be short-term, it will be long term, deep and that much harder to dig their way out of.

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Somebody Wants You…Somewhere

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Let’s have a look at some players who have worn out their welcomes with their current organizations but could have some use for another club in the second half and possibly beyond.

Adam Lind, 1B—Toronto Blue Jays

Lind was recently recalled from the minors and is 8 for 23 since with 3 homers. 2 of the homers came in one game. He’s guaranteed $7 million so if the Blue Jays are going to get anything for him they’ll either have to eat most of the contract or take back another club’s problem player. He murdered the ball in Triple A after his demotion (.392/.448/.664 in 143 plate appearances with 8 homers); he’ll be 29 on July 17th; maybe he’s a change-of-scenery guy who’ll hit in another uniform.

Brian Matusz, LHP—Baltimore Orioles

His first-glance numbers are dreadful, but he’s a flyball pitcher who does the bulk of his pitching the AL East with the bandboxes of Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. Then he has the Blue Jays who swing for the fences in every at bat. Consequentially he gives up a lot of home runs. He walks too many, strikes out too few and has luck reminiscent of someone who’s gotten struck by lightning multiple times. His BAbip last season was .384; this year it’s .335. If he lobbed the ball over the plate he wouldn’t do much worse.

A team with a big park—the Twins, Padres, Dodgers—might want to take a look at Matusz and see if does any better with them.

Kurt Suzuki, C—Oakland Athletics

Time to give some credit to Billy Beane and Bob Melvin for keeping this team competitive and more. Beane ended up swindling the Red Sox by getting Josh Reddick and received a chunk of the farm systems of both the Diamondbacks and Nationals for Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez.

One of the prospects he got from the Nats, catcher Derek Norris, has already helped the A’s win a few games with his bat and glove. That makes the erstwhile everyday catcher Suzuki expendable. He’s due $6.45 million next season and while he hasn’t hit a home run this season, he’s got 15 homer power. He’s have a good year defensively throwing out 37% of the baserunners who’ve tried to steal.

Suzuki’s the type of player who’ll go to a new venue, start hitting and the media and fans will wonder why the A’s got rid of him.

John Lannan, LHP—Washington Nationals

Here’s a case study in burying a useful arm.

The Nats don’t need Lannan, but are paying him $5 million to pitch in Triple A and he’s pitching well. They don’t want to give him away, but they have no place for him on their big league roster. One would think that eventually a team desperate for pitching like the Blue Jays or Royals would give up something the Nats would want for Lannan.

The Blue Jays had Jamie Moyer pitching at Triple A! That’s how desperate they are after all their injuries. (They just released him.)

Gaby Sanchez, 1B—Miami Marlins

Sanchez had almost identical numbers in 2010-2011 with 19 homers and similar slash lines. He was so dreadful this season that he was sent down to Triple A in May, was recalled and still hasn’t hit. When the Marlins acquired Carlos Lee, Sanchez was sent back to the minors where he’ll stay unless he’s traded.

Sanchez is the type of player the Twins should take a chance on.

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And Daniel Bard as Jack Chesbro

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The Red Sox plan for straightening out the same dysfunctional mess they’ve been since last September is apparently to take Daniel Bard and turn him into an über-Justin Verlander of the present day or a Jack Chesbro from 100 years ago.

According to this CBS Sports report, the Red Sox are skipping Bard’s spot in the rotation, will use him out of the bullpen (possibly as the set-up man), then he’ll go back into the rotation when his turn comes around again.

This scheme is appropriate considering the Red Sox just celebrated the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park with a lavish celebration.

Chesbro pitched in one game for the Red Sox after putting the horse in the word workhorse by setting Major League records that—pre-Bard—were never going to be broken.

41 wins in a season; 51 starts; 48 complete games; 454 innings pitched; a 1.82 ERA—all were cemented in baseball lore as case studies of the ludicrousness of comparing players from one era to another, statistically or otherwise.

Here’s what I’m thinking: they can use Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Bard, Clay Buchholz, Bard, Beckett, Felix Doubront, Bard, Bard, Bard, Lester (with Bard setting up and closing), Buchholz, Bard as the long man if Buchholz gets knocked out or even if he doesn’t, Bard, Doubront, Bard then Bard.

BardBardBardBardBardBardBardBardBard.

Then they can use Bard.

In 2025, the talk on barstools in Boston will sound something like this: “Remembah that Bahd kid? He saved ouwuh season from ouwuhselves.”

Then one will raise his Sam Adams: “To Bahd!”

In unison, his drinking buddies will shout, “TO BAHD!!!!”

In all seriousness, this isn’t happening. The Red Sox are planting the seed before announcing the final decision of shifting Bard back to the bullpen as set-up man and eventually closer and calling Aaron Cook up to take his spot in the rotation.

The stated idea is madness. They’re going to protect their young pitchers by slowly integrating them into the starting rotation by managing their innings and pitch counts very carefully and then put Bard into this situation where he’s going to be talk show fodder if he’s used in both roles?

And what if he comes in on Wednesday and blows the Twins away with three straight strikeouts? Then what? Are they really going to stick him back in the rotation when they have a veteran starter in Cook who’s pitching well in Pawtucket, can opt-out of his minor league contract by May 1st and will be picked up by another team if he does so? The Red Sox need Bard in the bullpen and if they’re going to use him as a starter at some point, it has to be done when they have sufficient and reliable depth in either the starting rotation or relief corps. As of right now, they have neither, but they can survive with a rotation sans Bard; they can’t with the bullpen in the state it’s in.

Bard’s going back to the bullpen and the move is being made whether the Red Sox announce it officially in the coming days or not.

Like much of what they’ve done as an organization since last September, this is being handled strangely and poorly. In the past, they were able to gloss over their infighting and controversies by winning. Now they’re in disarray, are losing and the framing of the Bard story is only adding to that perception that there’s no one person making the decisions, but a college of cardinals who can’t get on the same page. They’re more concerned about how the public reacts than in doing what’s right. If they’re going to return to what they were from 2003-2010, they have to do what needs to be done rather than overthinking how to package it into something palatable for the fans and media. They have too many other things to worry about and fix as it is.

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After The Fenway Party, There Was a Game

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I didn’t see it, but by all accounts the Red Sox did a great job with their celebration of Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary.

You can read and see clips of the event here on Boston.com.

Here are other notables.

Manager irrelevant.

If Terry Francona, Joe Torre, Joe Maddon, John Farrell or Connie Mack were managing this Red Sox team, there would be less public feuding but the results wouldn’t be much different.

This is what Bobby Valentine was saddled with: a GM who didn’t want him; a dysfunctional, enabled and highly paid group of players; a starting rotation with questions from positions 3-5; a bad bullpen; injuries; and black holes in the starting lineup.

Valentine was expected to cause controversy and the expectation was so intense that when he said something seemingly innocuous (and by insider accounts, true) about Kevin Youkilis it was treated as if he’d said Ted Williams was overrated.

What do the masses want Valentine to do?

What can he do?

A firestarter might be needed.

Under no circumstances do I think Ivan Nova was throwing at Youkilis when he hit him with a pitch in the bottom of the 6th, but in the situation the Red Sox are in, intent doesn’t matter.

They need a spark and with Alex Rodriguez batting second in the top of the 7th, it was the perfect setting to retaliate.

“You hit my third baseman? I hit your third baseman.”

If it starts a fight, so much the better. The Red Sox need something to bring them together and maybe a brawl is it.

Joe Girardi wants you and everyone else to know how smart he is.

In theory I suppose I understand why Girardi decided to begin the bottom of the 9th inning with a sidearming waiver wire pickup Cody Eppley.

The Yankees had a 4-run lead and the conventional wisdom is not to use your closer when it’s not a save situation.

But after Eppley allowed a leadoff single to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Girardi called on Mariano Rivera to finish the game.

In spite of it being—in the grand scheme of things—a relatively meaningless game in April, in reality, it wasn’t.

On a day where the Red Sox and their fans were still in bliss at the celebration, why give them the opening to stage a comeback? How galvanizing would it have been had the Red Sox rallied—against the Yankees no less!!!—on such a day? All the acrimony within the organization would’ve been replaced with the joy of a huge win against their hated rivals and possibly save the Red Sox spiraling season.

It was a needless and self-indulgent risk.

For a smart man, a good manager and baseball man Girardi does some notoriously idiotic things in what appear to be repeated attempts to show how smart he is.

I’m the “don’t mess around” guy and can’t stand overthinking and overmanging. I thought we were past the “save situation” nonsense especially with teams like the Yankees who have intentionally shunned conventional baseball orthodoxy in favor of objectivity.

Keep your boot on their throats; don’t open the door; hold them down and keep them down. The best way to do that is with Rivera.

What’s Rivera there for?

Girardi’s overmanaging has gotten the Yankees in trouble before and he could conceivably have done it again yesterday. It wasn’t just unnecessary. It was stupid.

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The Red Sox Had A Right To Their Celebration Without Rehashed Drama

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Since the Red Sox have invited every former player, coach and manager to attend the 100th anniversary celebration of Fenway Park, will Eric Gagne be there? Grady Little? Joe Kerrigan?

The problem with inviting everyone to a celebration like this is that there are bound to be people who you don’t want to show up but only invited because you were inviting everyone and it would cause more of a distraction if you picked and chose who could and couldn’t come.

What makes it worse than the person showing up is when they make a great show of pronouncing that they’re not showing up and go into graphic detail as to why.

It’s like a wedding. “Well, if we invite X, then we have to invite Y! We have to!”

The Red Sox have done a Mets-like job of botching things since the final month of the 2011 season when they acted as if a playoff spot was an entitlement rather than something they earned; as if spending money on stars and formulating mathematical calculations based on runs scored and runs allowed that they’d make the playoffs on an annual basis and waltz into another “ultimate matchup” between themselves, the Yankees and the Phillies.

None of those teams made it past the first round of the playoffs.

There’s no right or wrong answer in designing this type of party, but like the aforementioned analogy of a wedding, for the organizers, it’s a case of not having it degenerate into a YouTube disaster.

The Red Sox made the mistake of adding fuel to the fire from the fallout of 2011 with the public dustups with Theo Epstein’s and Terry Francona’s “are they coming or are they not?” twin gaffes.

Francona was invited and initially declined because of the circumstances in which he was dismissed, then reversed course. He did it publicly and it was intentional.

Apparently, Epstein hadn’t been invited at all—a horrific mistake in propriety.

The way to handle situations like this is to rise above the fray. What the Red Sox should’ve done was asked Francona and Epstein to come and left it there.

If Francona said no, they needn’t have called him or gotten into a war of words in the media (dutifully blown up to increase the scrutiny on the reeling organization and shift the onus away from the “beloved” former manager) to rehash the back-and-forth that went on all winter as to whom said what and who’s been allocated the majority of blame for the collapse.

The right answer was the simplest. “We invited Tito and Theo. Of course we want them here for the celebration. It’s not about 2011. It’s about 1912 to 2012 and they contributed greatly to this organization. If they don’t come because of any lingering animosity, we regret that and they’re going to miss a beautiful ceremony.”

Bang.

Who looks worse if Epstein and Francona decline?

Francona’s not Mr. Innocent here.

Don’t think he was hit by a bolt from the blue of magnanimity and changed his mind after dredging up accusations of what led to the ugly split between him and the club. If you believe that, I have a ballpark on 4 Yawkey Way in Boston to sell you.

It’s 100 years old, but was recently refurbished and is a beloved landmark.

Make an offer.

Ask yourself this: if the Red Sox were 10-2 instead of 4-8 and reeling on and off the field under new manager Bobby Valentine, would Francona have so willingly decided to attend?

To an absurd degree, Francona’s been shielded from his part in this club’s decline. In truth, he’s lucky he’s out of there because as long as they keep playing like this and resorting to organizational cannibalism and self-preservation (“Hey, don’t blame me!!!”), he looks better and better when he probably shouldn’t.

Francona is getting his revenge on and off the field and when he steps out and hears the cheers and chanting (“Come back Ti-to!!!”). It’s a kick in the groin for Larry Lucchino, John Henry and Valentine.

Players on the roster will seek Francona out, hug him, shake their heads and complain about the new regime; they’ll express their regret for Francona being dismissed while shirking the reality that their behaviors caused the dismissal. That’s what players do.

The Red Sox are coming apart. Valentine is under fire from the players and media as the lightning rod when much of what’s gone wrong falls at the desks of both Epstein and Francona.

With Epstein, it’s ridiculous that he wasn’t invited. Both he and Dan Duquette played major roles in the rejuvenation of the franchise and deserve acknowledgement for that. They’re not among the generic “non-uniformed personnel” who were, as a rule, not asked to come.

All of the responsibility for what’s currently going wrong for the Red Sox is falling on the remaining actors in the ongoing tragi-comedy. Lucchino, Henry, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis were there for the explosion and are dealing with the fallout. Valentine was parachuted in like a banished general who hadn’t been in combat for a decade and is seeing first hand the factional disagreement, media vultures and fan anger. It’s becoming clear that even the polarizing Valentine had no idea what he was getting into. He thought he was managing a baseball team, not overseeing a zoo.

The entire off-field drama is a distraction from what this celebration is meant to be about: the ballpark and the history of the franchise.

Like it or not, that history going to be intensified by this downfall. It was inevitable as soon as they abandoned the initial blueprint they’d designed and altered the template to be the Yankees and purchased gaudy trophies in lieu of maintaining financial sanity and getting needs over wants.

They’ve succeeded in becoming the Yankees.

But it wasn’t the 1965 Yankees they had in mind.

Let them enjoy their day.

It’s going to get worse from here.

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Blame Valentine All You Want, But This Team Isn’t Very Good

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The biggest mistake is thinking the 2012 Red Sox would be any different with Gene Lamont as manager.

It was only one game and every team gets shellacked once in a while so the Red Sox 18-3 loss to the Rangers, in the cosmic scheme of things, isn’t that big of a deal.

The bruises from that beating will dissipate quickly; the foundational problems aren’t so easily covered up.

The scrutiny placed on Bobby Valentine for innocuous comments about Kevin Youkilis have brought to the forefront the concerns that baseball people have had about Valentine since his rise to prominence in late-1980s with the Rangers: great strategic manager; polarizing character; very difficult to deal with; a magnet for trouble.

It’s only 11 games into the season and there’s plenty of time for every team with the talent to right their collective ships, but the question for the Red Sox isn’t Bobby V. The question is whether they’re actually talented and deep enough to get themselves straightened out.

Those who are wondering if Valentine is going to last the season are ignoring what’s led to this shaky start and caused the upheaval in the front office and dugout to begin with.

Their bullpen is bad. The starting pitching is short. They have black holes in the lineup. And they have veterans that may be on the downslide.

Whether it was Terry Francona and Theo Epstein or Valentine and Ben Cherington presiding over this group is irrelevant.

Of course, if Epstein had stayed, the roster would not look like this. It’s doubtful Epstein would’ve traded Marco Scutaro and the bullpen/starting rotation would probably be drastically different. That’s not saying Epstein had all the answers because he was the one who put together the team from 2011 that was expected to challenge the 1927 Yankees as the greatest of all time and was a dysfunctional, indifferent, fractured crew that undermined their “beloved” manager Francona and got him fired.

Those that are complaining about Valentine should’ve considered the alternatives before they sabotaged Francona.

Athletes are notorious for not thinking through consequences and if they were winning and getting away with poor behavior while they had a playoff spot seemingly locked up, there was no reason to change in September as their world came undone.

So now it’s Valentine’s baby. The manager had to essentially grovel for forgiveness from Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia for a comment about Youkilis that most close Red Sox’ observers have said might’ve been better left said privately, but isn’t wrong.

The Red Sox from 2003-2011 can be considered something of a modern day dynasty. They won two championships which, with the tiered playoff system and three short series, is a lot. They were in contention every single year. Boston became a destination for players not just because of money; it became a destination because of the chance to win and the passion surrounding the club—passion that was once drenched in negativity and shifted into an expectation of winning.

Drunk with success (and possibly buzzed from clubhouse beer), they grew complacent, spent money unwisely and aged quickly. Epstein and Francona are gone and Larry Lucchino interfered with the preferred template of Cherington who, rightly or wrongly, is looking increasingly like a figurehead, implementer and conduit to what his bosses want.

The joy from the Fenway Park anniversary celebration and a couple of wins against the Yankees this weekend will make Red Sox Nation feel a bit better, but they won’t repair the fundamental issues that plagued the team during and after the collapse.

This is how it goes as structures age.

And when they age and decay, they have to be rebuilt.

This wasn’t simply predictable. It was inevitable. No matter who was running the team, it was unavoidable.

No one should be surprised at anything that happens now.

Anything.

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Radio Appearances and International Disarray

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Terry Francona went on Michael Kay’s ESPN radio show in an apparent attempt to do some damage control to repair his fading image as the innocent bystander in the Red Sox’ 2011 collapse and only succeeded in making things worse.

You can read about the appearance here on ESPN.com.

In the piece, it’s revealed that—shocker!!—Francona is working on a book with none other than reporter Dan Shaughnessy who also happened to pen the piece in which Francona aired his reasons for not attending the 100th anniversary celebration to commemorate Fenway Park.

I’m not sure which upcoming book is going to fire more vendetta-tinged salvos, Francona’s or Tony LaRussa’s.

For someone who’s viewed positively throughout baseball for his good guy persona, Francona is doing his best Gary Sheffield impersonation.

Those who remember Sheffield know that whenever a reporter needed a hot story, all he had to do was walk over to Sheffield and ask him about something that he’d insisted he wasn’t going to talk about. Sheffield would invariably reiterate that stance…then go into a long-winded rant about precisely what he said he wasn’t going to discuss. Sheffield’s reputation made it easy to dismiss his complaints whether they were valid or not. Francona’s the opposite.

Francona backtracked on his decision to go public with his gripes and then snatched Kay’s bait like a starving shark.

Here’s a clip from the above-linked ESPN article:

Kay also asked the question many around Boston have been wondering: “As you sit back on Thursday, April 12, and the Red Sox are 1-5, is there a part of you that’s absolutely elated?”

Francona laughed at first, but then said: “I wouldn’t say elated. I know what you mean, though. You know, everybody has human emotions … there are so many people there that I’ve gone through so many things with, that I care so much about. You know, somebody asked me yesterday and I said ‘I hope (Dustin) Pedroia hits 1.000 and I hope (Jon) Lester wins every game.’ … At the same time, I recognize the way things ended there didn’t make me very happy. And actually really hurt me. And I’m aware of that also. So, you try to balance it a little bit. But being vindictive is not a good way to go through life. And I hope I’m not that way.”

No, the Red Sox are not playing well. Yes, it’s natural for Francona to feel a certain amount of satisfaction that they’re going poorly without him. But this looks and sounds bad because it is bad in perception and practice.

Would the Red Sox be better with Francona? If Francona had stayed, Theo Epstein was going to stay as well, so the construction of the club would be radically different. We don’t know what they’d look like with a different GM and manager, who would and wouldn’t be on the team.

It’s a question that can’t be answered.

What he’s doing is distracting and unfair to the club that gave him an opportunity that other teams weren’t prepared to give him in a situation that was ready-made to win immediately.

It’s clearly intentional payback.

Regardless of how it ended with the Red Sox, Francona’s in a far better position now with a lot more money in the bank and industry-wide respect that wasn’t there when he was fired by the Phillies after a four-year tenure of 285-363.

He wasn’t hired by the Red Sox because they were expecting the reincarnation of Connie Mack. He was hired by the Red Sox because the Red Sox were trying to get Curt Schilling to agree to a trade to Boston and Francona was an agreeable choice to the pitcher; Francona was willing to take short money for the opportunity; and he would do what Grady Little didn’t do—take orders from the front office.

This labeling of Francona being a “great” manager is directly connected to the results he achieved. That Red Sox team in 2004 was very good and it wasn’t his mere presence that was the final piece in the championship puzzle. They would’ve been good with or without Francona.

The Red Sox have earned the right to celebrate their ballpark and try to right the ship on the field. Francona’s gloating makes him look petty and babyish and won’t be lost on any club that considers hiring him as their manager in the future. He may feel safe in his new broadcasting job and is trying to retaliate for the shoddy manner in which he was treated when the Red Sox let him go, but he’s making himself look terrible and it’s casting the Red Sox in a far more sympathetic light than they were in before.

Francona needs to shut up.

Period.

On another Red Sox-related note, the football club their ownership purchased that was supposedly siphoning money away from the Red Sox—Liverpool FC—has made their own change at the top. This clip is from the NY Times:

Liverpool dismissed its director of football, Damien Comolli, after criticism of his transfer strategy since he was hired 16 months ago. Liverpool has spent $183 million on players since Comolli joined the club, but expensive recruits like Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing have failed to impress.

You can read analysis of this maneuver here.

Is Comolli going to go on Kay’s show? Will he write a book?

The mess has gone international and it shows no signs of abating any time soon.

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The Francona-Red Sox Cold War Gets Colder By The Day

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The Red Sox and Terry Francona need to put aside this contentious and unnecessary public back and forth that’s been going on since Francona was ousted as manager.

Both sides are to blame. It’s passive aggressive, tiresome and does nothing but fuel the fires of 2011—fires that the Red Sox are currently trying (and failing) to put behind them.

They’re a team in flux. Right now, they’re not very good. The last thing they need is the once again prominent CEO Larry Lucchino engaging in an open, pro wrestling style feud with Francona. The former manager is still worshipped in Boston because he was running the team on the field when The Curse was broken and led the team to another title 3 years later.

This is not a defense of Francona’s entire tenure as manager. He’s been absolved of a large share of the responsibility for 2011—responsibility that should end at his desk. If he got the credit for the wins, then he gets the blame for the losses. That’s the way it works.

Factions of the front office were never overly impressed with Francona and when he was hired, the organizational edict was to have someone who would work within the defined parameters of adhering to stat based theory, running the clubhouse and handling the media.

As the clubhouse came apart, so did the team.

The Red Sox are preparing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, Francona was invited to participate. He declined and it degenerated into a rehash of the circumstances that led to his dismissal/departure along with a new chapter for the paperback with Francona still wanting answers and Lucchino and John Henry defending themselves for denied allegations that they slammed Francona in the process of shoving him out the door.

You can read the details here on Boston.com.

Eventually, this was going to happen.

Francona still feels bitter.

The Red Sox clearly believe that Francona could’ve done more to head off the issues that led to their collapse.

Neither side is completely right, but neither side is completely wrong either.

The commemoration is meant to celebrate the Red Sox and their storied park and now it’s going to be, “Well Tito’s not here.”

Rather than engage in a public spitting contest, all that needed to be said was, “We invited Tito. He’s always welcome here, but he felt it would be a distraction if he came and we understand that.”

Ironically, the Mets faced a similarly uncomfortable situation with the new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine when they celebrated the 2000 pennant winning club and Valentine didn’t come, in part, because Mets’ manager Jerry Manuel was under fire and the fans were openly clamoring for Valentine to take over.

It was a courtesy.

Strangely it’s Valentine who’s considered the strutting peacock with the ginormous ego, eager to get his name and face everywhere while Francona is the hard-working everyman who receded into the background and let his players accumulate the glory.

Maybe it’s not that simple.

Does it matter whether it’s a personal decision on the part of Francona or it’s because of bad blood and wounds that have yet to heal?

The reasons should’ve been kept private. Both Lucchino and Francona look petty and angry and the selfishness inherent in a he said/he said dispute of this kind might’ve had something to do with why Francona’s no longer the Red Sox manager and Lucchino has interfered with the club to the point that they’re rapidly degenerating into a train crash.

Judging by the way they’re playing, the Red Sox have bigger things to worry about than Francona and Lucchino.

Much bigger.

They’d better enjoy the celebrating while they can because, from the looks of things, there’s not going to be much joy to be had this summer and, more importantly, in the fall.

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