Stages of Grief: A Guide to Mental Health for the Yankees Fan

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I’m here to help Yankees fans.

They may not believe that; they may think I’m being sarcastic or wallowing in the new reality of their predicament, but I’m giving them a truth that few are either able or willing to dispense. Be it from willful blindness, partisanship, salesmanship, or bottom line stupidity, the fact is that there’s a profound absence of honesty regarding where the Yankees go from here with an ancient core of stars, unheard of payroll constraints, failure to develop prospects, and a dimming brand.

I’m the therapist with impartial and non-judgmental analysis of how to reconcile the glorious past with the dark future.

Let’s begin.

The Stages of Grief

Stage 1: Denial and isolation

The belief that because the Yankees have made the playoffs in 16 of the past 17 years, that the success rate will continue regardless of personnel and competition is delusional. It can be argued, I suppose, that the injuries suffered by the remaining members of the “core four” Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte were circumstantial and had nothing to do with the advanced ages of all three, but injuries become more frequent and harder to recover from as an athlete ages especially today without the aid of extra little helpers such as pills and shots that have been banned by MLB. Jeter and Rivera both had significant injuries to their lower bodies and required surgery. Pettitte had a fractured fibula due to a batted ball.

Alex Rodriguez has reached the point that if he were a horse, he’d be euthanized. CC Sabathia battled elbow problems all season and also required surgery. Mark Teixeira pulled a calf muscle.

In athlete years, these players are not just heading downhill—they’re plummeting downhill. We’ve only seen A-Rod’s performance decline significantly, but expecting these players to still carry the load with backup troops such as Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, and David Robertson who have been, at best, inconsistent is denying the inevitable.

There have been repeated references to GM Brian Cashman and his stealth “ninja” moves as if he’s a latter day assassin or spy. Except Cashman’s “ninja” move from 2012 included one brilliant and obvious deal for Hiroki Kuroda; one in which his Shuriken (or throwing star) left his hand and wound up being impaled in Michael Pineda’s shoulder. He made other lucky deals for Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, and Ichiro Suzuki.

Cashman, when asked if it was possible that Eduardo Nunez would play third base to replace A-Rod, he did his Cashman “thing” by giving the obvious answer, “No,” and following it up with an exercise in hardheadedness when, instead of saying the truth of “Nunez has a stone glove and is scatterarmed,” he clung to his “Joba Chamberlain is a starter”-type blindness and said, “I’ve looked at (Nunez) as a shortstop.”

This isn’t denial. It’s an arrogance of little-man syndrome and from working for the “I’m never wrong,” George Steinbrenner for so long that if he backs down on anything, it’s a perceived sign of weakness. He may have looked at Nunez as a shortstop like he looked at Chamberlain as a starter, but clearly he didn’t see.

The “poor us” lament is inviting the eye-rolling and laughter from other organizations that for years have suffered through the Yankees superiority complex permeating their entire being through the media and fans. Nobody wants to hear it and they’re certainly not getting any condolence calls.

Recommendation: Stop crying. The team’s old and falling apart.

Stage 2: Anger

Blame is everywhere. From the Steinbrenners for choosing to limit the payroll for 2014 to $189 million and preventing the team from doing what they did when the acquired A-Rod in the first place—piling on; to Cashman for his failed trades and inability to develop viable prospects to replace the aging stars; to field staff, trainers, and doctors; to the players themselves for daring to age like normal humans, there’s a movement to find someone to toss overboard as a means of sacrifice to end the “bad luck” that is, really, life itself reverberating back on the team that has had so many moments of serendipity since its acquisition of Babe Ruth.

Recommendation: Understand that you’re entitled to nothing and there’s no one to be mad at. It was because of fan demand that there was never a serious plan for the future regardless of reaction from the outside (and inside) forces wanting stars at every position and results now! There will be no results now!!! This is what it is. And what it is ain’t good.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Had the Mets not agreed to a contract extension for David Wright, how long before the desperate Yankees fans would push the club to make a trade for the Mets’ star? Of if the Marlins hadn’t traded Jose Reyes to the Blue Jays, would there be advocates to trade for Reyes and move Jeter to third base? How about Chase Headley? Or Evan Longoria? Or Miguel Cabrera? Or someone, anyone who would have a semblance of star power that the Yankees must have simply because they’re the Yankees?

There are already fans clamoring for Josh Hamilton as there were those a year ago pushing for Albert Pujols to replace Teixeira; or demanding the acquisition of Zack Greinke and/or Cole Hamels at the trading deadline last season because Sabathia was missing a couple of starts with his elbow trouble.

There’s no deal to be made. The Yankees have so many needs and so few prospects remaining—with Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances both having flamed out; Jesus Montero gone for Pineda—that they have very little they can afford to give up and not much after that that other teams want. You’ll get someone else’s junk/bad contract for what the Yankees have to trade.

They were said to be looking at Yunel Escobar, which is something I’d desperately love to see because Escobar has forced two teams, the Braves and Blue Jays, to get rid of him and all his talent in large part because he acts like an entitled, immature brat with no baseball or common sense. Joe Girardi would put him in a headlock and drag him down the clubhouse steps by late April.

Kevin Youkilis? Something else I’d love to see, but I cannot imagine Cashman—even in his most idiotic, “Let’s bring Javier Vazquez and Carl Pavano back because I’m just that obstinate,” moments of woodheadedness going there.

Recommendation: Forget the stars. They can’t get them. They’ll re-sign Chavez and probably a roll of the dice type player coming off an injury like Mark DeRosa; a journeyman like Greg Dobbs, or (now this would be funny), Cody Ransom!!

Stage 4: Depression

Once it sinks in that there’s no Steinbrennerean January explosion of a maneuver specifically timed to take the headlines away from the Super Bowl; that they don’t have the ability to do anything significant to get better than what they are now, the fans will look at the rest of the AL East with the young Rays; the drastically improved Blue Jays; the Red Sox in a similar predicament with the Yankees, albeit with more money to spend; and the Orioles no longer a running gag and punching bag, and realize that the odds of a championship run are nearly non-existent; a playoff run is pretty much a best-case scenario, and finishing at or under .500 a legitimate possibility.

There will be the epitome of brainless fan who equates the Yankees with an unassailable monument that must be a World Series contender and calls a Jeter/Rivera injury a “tragedy” and compares the walk back to the subway after the games in which their totems were injured to a “funeral procession.” That fan will think that there’s a conspiracy against the Yankees. The rest will just get depressed, overeat and drink.

Recommendation: Head to Cheeburger Cheeburger and gorge; then go to a bar and start drinkin’.

Stage 5: Acceptance

For a vast majority, this won’t occur until September when the season is long-since shot. Yes, in January/February there will be concern, but hope; yes, in March/April/May there will be the past to look back upon as a lifeline; by June/July when the contending teams that are buying available reinforcements for a playoff run and the Yankees are conspicuously on the sidelines or—dare I say it?—selling will the horror come to life.

Then they’ll start the process all over again expecting there to be a 2008-2009-type reaction to a disappointing season by spending a ton of money to fill the holes. Except they don’t have any money to spend due to the $189 million limit for 2014. They can backload deals, but they also have to sign Robinson Cano and replace Granderson and perhaps Rivera and Pettitte. In addition, teams are no longer leaving their players available to the big market clubs. If you think the Yankees will turn around and trade for Andrew McCutchen, well, forget it because he’s signed and committed to Pittsburgh. The Yankees will, by then, be more likely to scour the bargain bin that will get them Daniel McCutchen instead of Andrew.

Maybe some fans will be fooled.

Recommendation: It’s acceptance. So accept it. The Yankees are old, can’t spend a ton of money, and are in trouble. A lot of it.

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Red Sox Return to a Strategy From 10 Years Ago

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After a last place finish and disastrous 2012 season, it’s a convenient storyline for the Red Sox to get back to their “roots” that built the annual title contender under Theo Epstein from 2003-2011. That the reality of this narrative isn’t precisely accurate is beside the point. They won. Because they won, the SparkNotes version of how it happened has degenerated into a brief and simplistic summary that using stats and undervalued attributes while also spending money was the “formula”.

Facts get in the way, so the facts are being eliminated in most Red Sox-centric circles.

I’m indifferent to allegiance and twisting truth to fit into what a constituency wants to hear, so here are those facts:

  • A large chunk of the Red Sox 2004 championship team was built by Dan Duquette
  • What Billy Beane had planned to do (according to Michael Lewis, so take it with a bucket of salt) had he followed through on his agreement to take over as the team’s GM after the 2002 season would’ve resulted in a horror movie
  • The Red Sox were somewhat dysfunctional during that whole time with the mad scientist closer-by committee experiment; Epstein eventually resigning and returning to win a power struggle with Larry Lucchino; and other examples of infighting
  • They were lucky with players like Mike Lowell, whom they were forced to take even though they didn’t want him
  • The 2007 club that won their second World Series in four years was the product of tossing money at their problems as a reaction to fan anger following their 2006 stumble
  • There were numerous other unquantifiable occurrences that were equally as important in the building of the brand as their adherence to new age statistics.

Rises of this nature tend to take on lives of their own and the Red Sox, who had turned to the new age techniques in part because their new ownership was intent on running the club as a business and in part because what they’d tried for so many years—keeping up with the Yankees and other clubs by doing the exact same things—had failed repeatedly. They made the switch to cold-blooded calculation out of necessity as much as design. What they were doing wasn’t working; what Beane was doing in Oakland was working, so they consciously mimicked the template and souped it up by hiring Bill James and backing up their newfound convictions with money.

Eventually though, after two championships, it wasn’t enough. There could no longer be the intelligent free agent signings stemming from their own analysis and volition, reactions and outsider perspective be damned; they had to compete with the Yankees and get the biggest names; a season in which the club finished with 95 wins and lost in the ALCS was not good enough anymore. In the World Series win or bust world, the Yankees had been joined by the Red Sox. It’s an almost impossible vacuum in which to function over the long-term. When operating under such self-administered constraints, teams tend to do things they might not otherwise do. The Red Sox were bounced in the 2008 playoffs by the low-budget Rays; the Angels took them out in 3 straight games in the 2009 ALDS; they were riddled by injuries in 2010, but still somehow won 89 games and missed the playoffs; and they spent wildly and absurdly in the winter of 2010-2011 to import more names whose suitability to Boston should have been known beforehand as players to avoid. Unlike acquisitions from the early days for the transformation when Johnny Damon and Curt Schilling could handle the madness surrounding the Red Sox, Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Adrian Gonzalez couldn’t.

Culminating in the overriding expectations and disaffected personalities that behaved as entitled and disinterested brats, the 2011 Red Sox undermined their manager Terry Francona, acted as if they were entitled to a playoff ticket simply due to their payroll and reputation, and collapsed. Trying to patch it together with one more run, the club took the shattered strategy to its logical conclusion by hiring a “name” manager to replace the discarded and exhausted Francona, Bobby Valentine. Epstein climbed the exit hatch to take over as President of the Chicago Cubs and the new GM, Ben Cherington, didn’t want Valentine. Lucchino overruled him, the coaching staff and factions in the front office passive aggressively set Valentine up to fail. Predictably Valentine’s reputation and personality resulted in a mid-season mutiny and exponential selfishness that dwarfed that which doomed Francona.

A 69-93 season, endless ridicule, and a livid fanbase spurred the Red Sox to get back to the drawing board and they’re in the process making a show of returning to what it was that sowed the seeds for their decade long dominance.

Amid all the ESPN headlines of expectancy for the 2013 comeback; with the money freed from the salary dumps of Crawford, Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett; the promises of a return to the past by hiring a link to that past as the new manager John Farrell, the signing of “character” players such as Jonny Gomes, David Ross, and the pursuit of Mike Napoli, it’s taking the tone of an on-paper back to basics of a strategy that is now behind the times.

When Epstein sought to remake the club in the statistical image, it was new and few clubs understood it, were willing to implement it, or knew what they were doing if they tried. Already in place was a megastar starting pitcher in Pedro Martinez and some young players in the organization such as Kevin Youkilis who would cheaply contribute to what they were putting together.

These factors are no longer the case. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are a good place to start a rotation, but are not on a level with Martinez and there’s little backing them up; the bullpen is weak; the lineup is pockmarked with gaping holes. In 2012, when clubs scour the market for players, everyone has the same numbers and uses them. It’s not 2002. Clubs are taking the initiative by signing their young stars long term; the Red Sox farm system has been gutted by ill-thought out trades for “name” players. Players that had undervalued attributes like on-base percentage are not floating around for a pittance. When the Red Sox made the decision to dump Shea Hillenbrand in favor of a player who had been a journeyman, Bill Mueller, it was reasonable to wonder what they were doing. It was a stroke of genius as Mueller won the batting title, the Silver Slugger, and was a key component to the 2004 championship.

Is Gomes a Mueller? Is he going to develop into something other than what he’s been his whole career? How about other players they’re avidly pursuing like Napoli or Nick Swisher?

Yes, they’re good players and likable personalities who will help the Red Sox be better than what they were in 2011-2012 on and off the field. Unfortunately, that doesn’t eliminate the inherent problems of clinging to a bygone template to sell to the fans and media to put forth the pretense of getting back to fundamentals. The days of a player being different from his perception are over. Substance is required, but the substance is lacking as the Red Sox revert to the past.

Farrell is straight out of central casting as a manager. He’s well-spoken, handsome, big, intimidating, and the remaining players from his time as Francona’s pitching coach like him and lobbied for him. Everyone from the front office is onboard with his hiring and they’re giving him a freedom to hire coaches he wants and a voice in the construction of the roster that was not given to Valentine. That doesn’t alter the fact that no one from the Blue Jays has expressed regret that he’s gone; that the Blue Jays were one of the worst run clubs in baseball during his time and were atrocious in the most rudimentary aspects of the game to the point that had the Red Sox not wanted Farrell back so desperately the Blue Jays were probably going to fire him. Francona, for his faults, was a sound strategic manager who had managerial experience with the Phillies. But like the Francona Phillies, the new team Francona has been hired to manage, the Indians, doesn’t have very much talent and his mere presence isn’t going to change that or the end results on the field. The same thing applies to Farrell on a different scope tied to higher expectations. Farrell’s limited managerial experience and terrible results won’t be glossed over in Boston as they will for Francona is Cleveland because Francona knows what he’s doing and Farrell doesn’t.

The Red Sox of 2004-2010 would have won with Farrell as the manager because they were so talented that there was little for the manager to do other than write the lineup, make the pitching changes, deal with the media, and steer the ship—perfect for a figurehead. It also helped that the competition in the division was mostly limited to the Yankees and, for a couple of years, the Rays. Now, with the Red Sox lack of talent and stiff competition in the division, they can’t toss out their return to glory concept and expect to win because they’re all on the same page with the manager and they have a couple of gritty players added to the clubhouse. They need pitching; they need bats; they need guidance; and they need to be managed.

Napoli, Swisher, Gomes, Ross, and Farrell aren’t going to undo the dilapidation that was an end result of years of patchwork repairs reaching its nadir in 2012. The obvious thing is to blame Valentine and make the claim that the mistakes are now understood and won’t be repeated. It’s easy. It’s also inaccurate. Farrell’s back; James is more involved; everyone’s working toward the same goal. The Red Sox are upfront about operating from the 2002-2003 playbook in 2012-2013. Is that going to vault them from 69-93 to 90-72 or a similar win total that will put them in playoff contention in a bearish American League?

Do you see the problem there? Considering what they’re doing and how they’re marketing it, the Red Sox clearly don’t.

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2012 MLB Rookie of the Year Award Winners

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Here are my picks for the Rookie of the Year in each league along with who I picked in the preseason.

American League

1. Mike Trout, CF—Los Angeles Angels

Many say Trout should be the MVP over Miguel Cabrera even though Cabrera won the Triple Crown, so how could he not be the Rookie of the Year?

Trout was recalled by the Angels at the end of April in a “save us” move as they started the season at 6-14 and were on the verge of panic. At age 20, he did everything possible to save the season with 30 homers, 49 stolen bases, a league leading OPS+ of 171, and Gold Glove defense in center field. He may not win the MVP—in fact, I think he won’t—but he’s Rookie of the Year.

2. Yoenis Cespedes, OF—Oakland Athletics

Cespedes was a risky signing for the Athletics and many, myself included, wondered what Billy Beane was thinking about. Cespedes started the season looking raw and unschooled; he was also frequently injured. Talent won out, however, and he hit 23 homers, stole 16 bases, with an .861 OPS.

3. Yu Darvish, RHP—Texas Rangers

Darvish shoved it to everyone who dismissed him under the absurd logic that he was from Japan and because Daisuke Matsuzaka was a disaster, that Darvish would be a disaster as well.

Darvish went 16-9, struck out 221 in 191 innings and showed dominating potential.

4. Ryan Cook, RHP—Oakland Athletics

Cook took over as closer when Grant Balfour slumped. Balfour eventually retook the role, but without Cook, the A’s wouldn’t have made the playoffs. He posted a 2.09 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 73 innings and made the All-Star team.

5. Will Middlebrooks, 3B—Boston Red Sox

His season was cut short by a broken wrist in August, but he entered a toxic atmosphere and replaced a former star player Kevin Youkilis, performing well enough to spark Youkilis’s trade to the White Sox. Middlebrooks hit 15 homers in 286 plate appearances.

***

My preseason pick was Jesus Montero of the Seattle Mariners. He hit 15 homers, but struggled for extended periods.

National League

1. Bryce Harper, OF—Washington Nationals

The key for Harper wasn’t whether he could play at the big league level at 19—he probably could’ve held his own at 17—but if he would act like the spoiled, loudmouthed brat he was in the minors and engender vitriol not around the league (that was unavoidable), but in his own clubhouse.

He behaved with an impressive maturity for the most part aside from the usual bits of stupidity like nearly hitting himself in the eye with his bat during a runway tantrum, and did most of his talking on the field. He had 22 homers, 18 stolen bases, and an .817 OPS. His humiliation of Cole Hamels by stealing home after Hamels intentionally hit him was a thing of beauty.

2. Norichika Aoki, OF—Milwaukee Brewers

Very quietly, the 30-year-old Aoki had a solid all-around season. He played very good defense in right field; had a slash line of .288/.355/.433 with 10 homers, 37 doubles, and 30 stolen bases.

3. Wade Miley, LHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

With the injury to Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy falling back from his work in 2011, Miley saved the Diamondbacks from a season under .500. Miley began the season in the bullpen, but made the All-Star team as a starter and won 16 games with a 3.33 ERA and only 37 walks and 14 homers allowed in 194 innings.

4. Todd Frazier, INF—Cincinnati Reds

Scott Rolen missed a chunk of the season with his usual injuries and Joey Votto was out with knee surgery, but the Reds didn’t miss a beat on the way to 97 wins and the NL Central title in part because of Frazier’s power and production as a utility player. He hit 19 homers and had an .829 OPS in 465 plate appearances.

5. Lucas Harrell, RHP—Houston Astros

Somehow Harrell managed to finish with an 11-11 record, and a 3.76 ERA for an Astros team that lost 107 games and by August resembled a Double A team with all the gutting trades they made during the season.

***

My preseason pick was Yonder Alonso of the Padres. He had a good season with 39 doubles, 9 homers, and a .741 OPS. He would’ve wound up around 6th or 7th on my list.

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Bobby Valentine and Causes of Failure

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The one thing we can take from Bobby Valentine’s interview with Bob Costas from Tuesday on Costas Tonight is that Valentine was set up for failure, so no one should be surprised that he failed.

No one.

From day 1 it was known that the new GM Ben Cherington didn’t want Valentine. It was known that the reputation Valentine carted around with him wasn’t going to let the players give him a chance. It was known that the Red Sox, having collapsed in September of 2011 amid a lack of discipline, disinterest, and lack of cohesion, were on the downslide. How this was going to end was relatively predictable in that it wasn’t going to succeed, but I doubt anyone could have envisioned the Red Sox cleaning out the house of Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez—not because they wanted to keep them, but because no one was expected to take them.

Let’s look at the Bobby V statements and implications (paraphrased) and judge them on their merits.

He yelled at Mike Aviles in spring training.

In retrospect, it was called an “ugly” scene, but it sounds like Valentine was speaking loudly and telling the players how he wanted an infield drill handled—directed at Aviles, but for all of them to hear—and the players, accustomed to Terry Francona’s laissez faire attitude and already waiting for something to attack Valentine about, seized on it as a “here we go,” moment.

And if he did yell at Aviles, so what? Is the manager not allowed to yell at the players anymore without having other players come into his office to whine about it? The purpose of bringing in a more disciplined manager is so he can instill discipline that was missing; discipline that was a proximate cause of the downfall of the club in 2011.

Cause of failure: Valentine tried to discipline the players as a manager and they refused to be disciplined.

The coaches undermined Valentine.

I find it at best bizarre and at worst despicable that the Red Sox are allowing new manager John Farrell to have significant say-so in the constitution of his coaching staff and didn’t let Valentine pick the people on his staff.

In the Costas interview, Valentine said the coaches have to speak the manager’s language, but if the coaches—specifically bench coach Tim Bogar and pitching coach Bob McClure—barely knew Valentine and didn’t speak to him (or he to them), then how was it supposed to be functional?

The contentiousness between the manager and his coaches permeated the clubhouse. McClure didn’t want to make the pitching changes as Valentine prefers his pitching coaches to do and from the start, that was a bad sign of what was to come. Bogar sounds as if he was rolling his eyes and shaking his head behind Valentine’s back from the beginning.

Valentine has something Farrell doesn’t: managerial success in the big leagues. So why is Farrell receiving the courtesy that Valentine didn’t unless Cherington was waiting out the inevitable disaster of Valentine’s tenure knowing his contrariness in the hiring would make him essentially bulletproof if events transpired as they did in the worst case scenario?

Farrell’s qualifications as Red Sox manager are basically that he was the Red Sox pitching coach during their glory years, knows how things are done, isn’t Valentine, and the players like him. If a club was looking at the work Farrell did with the Blue Jays as manager as an individual entity, they would look elsewhere before hiring him and they certainly wouldn’t give up a useful player like Aviles to get him.

Cause of failure: They hired Valentine and handcuffed him.

Management was spying and suffocating.

In the Costas interview, Valentine said that he never received a series of binders (possibly a veiled shot at Joe Girardi) or stat sheets telling him what to do, but that there was one of Cherington’s assistants in the manager’s office before and after every game.

Not even in Moneyball, amid the ridiculous characterization of then-Athletics’ manager Art Howe as a hapless buffoon, was it written that a front office person was in Howe’s office to that degree. One of the issues Valentine had with Mets’ GM Steve Phillips during his tenure in New York was that Phillips was constantly huddling with leaders in the clubhouse like Al Leiter after games; he was also said to stalk around with a grumpy look on his face in what appeared to be an act of an upset GM following a loss.

After the lack of involvement in Valentine picking his coaches; the Aviles incident; the uproar over Valentine’s mostly innocuous comments about Youkilis early in the season; and the front office spying, Valentine should have gone to Larry Lucchino and asked if they wanted him to manage the team or not. The claustrophobic situation of a front office person loitering so constantly in the manager’s office exponentially adds to the stress of a long season. No one—especially someone with Valentine’s experience—needs to have this level of scrutiny from the people he’s working with.

Cause of failure: The factional disputes permeated the running of the club and that segments wanted and expedited Valentine’s downfall.

David Ortiz quit.

Only Ortiz knows if this is true. Valentine would probably have been better off not saying that Ortiz quit because if there’s a chance for him to manage again—and there is—he doesn’t need another, “Well, why’d you say this?” soundbite hanging over his head.

There’s an indignant reaction if it’s implied that the players went through the motions or decided to use an injury to spend time on the disabled list rather than play when they could have. Ortiz had had a brilliant season until he got injured and, with the season spiraling down the toilet and the looming probability of this being his final chance to get paid as a free agent, Ortiz might very well have chosen to shut it down.

What’s ironic about it is that Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia seemed to be two of the few veterans who gave Valentine a chance when the manager was hired, but in true Bobby V fashion, he’s detonating the bridge.

Players think about themselves more often than is realized. It’s easier in baseball than it is in other team sports because in football, basketball, and hockey, no individual can function without the group. In baseball, it’s an individual sport in a team concept. It’s not farfetched that Ortiz just sat out the rest of the season when, if the Red Sox were contending, he would’ve played. Ortiz, Valentine, the Red Sox, and their medical staff know what really happened here. True or not, Valentine shouldn’t have said this.

Cause of failure: Reality that’s generally swept under the rug.

The Valentine hire was a disaster in large part because the Red Sox made it a disaster. That’s not an exoneration of Valentine because a he deserves a large share of the blame, but it wasn’t going to work. It was never going to work. And the small chance it did have of working would’ve included making the drastic trades they made in-season before the season; letting Valentine have a voice in the constitution of his coaching staff; and allowing him to do the job he was hired to do.

None of that happened and these are the results we see. Let’s wait and watch if Farrell does any better, because if he doesn’t then Cherington will learn what it’s like to live in the shoes Valentine did for a miserable year of his life. These things have a habit of solving themselves.

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Blame for Bobby Valentine’s Red Sox Failure Extends Worldwide

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Bobby Valentine was fired as manager by the Boston Red Sox yesterday with approximately $2.5 million remaining on his 2-year contract. He’s taking the fall for what wasn’t simply an organizational set of problems, but for issues that extended far beyond Boston and were negatively influenced by people, perceptions, and circumstances. Valentine certainly bears a portion of the responsibility for what went wrong in his dream job that rapidly—immediately–degenerated into a nightmare, but there’s plenty to go around.

Let’s look at the map with percentages as to who’s at fault.

Boston, MA

The Red Sox were in total disarray after their collapse in September of 2011. Manager Terry Francona’s contract options were not exercised (technically he wasn’t fired, but he was fired); GM Theo Epstein left for the Cubs shortly thereafter; and the roster was essentially stagnant with owner John Henry slamming shut the vault that had bought and paid for Carl Crawford, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

They had a choice: either hire one of the names that GM Ben Cherington preferred like Gene Lamont or Dale Sveum, or do as team CEO Larry Lucchino wanted and hire the polar opposite of Francona and a big name, Valentine. Lucchino was reestablishing his power with the departure of Epstein and, as expected, got his way. This implication that had the Red Sox hired one of Cherington’s choices as manager, everything would’ve been okay, is ridiculous. The team needed structural changes on the field—changes they didn’t make. Such maneuvers would’ve been nearly impossible to construct with other clubs and sell to their fanbase and media, but they could’ve done something to break from the past by dispatching a veteran or three.

I understand why they did what they did with Valentine, but do they? Are they willing to admit it and look into the mirror? Does the Red Sox front office know what they did wrong and why it didn’t work? That it was a huge gaffe to drop Valentine into that toxic stew without altering the ingredients by getting rid of Josh Beckett over the winter? That saddling Valentine with coaches that were a sure bet to undermine him would serve nothing apart from giving the players a sympathetic ear to complain to and the media an “unnamed source” through whom the players could anonymously air their gripes? That these coaches would play clubhouse politics to expand their own influence and possibly become the manager of the team themselves?

The transformation from intelligent and comprehensive decision-making that was implemented under Epstein was gone in favor of spending on free agents and making headline-worthy trades for big names to keep up with the Yankees.

After the 2011 debacle, rather than formulating a cogent plan that may or may not have included Valentine, everyone was looking out for himself. Lucchino with his freedom from Epstein to do what he preferred and have the world know he was in charge again; Cherington going along to get along and letting Lucchino have his way; Valentine for not making sure he wasn’t surrounded by a pack of Judases; and the players for behaving as spoiled, entitled brats.

35% at fault

Arizona

I’m sure Francona, observing the Red Sox train wreck from the ESPN booth and his Arizona home, was amused and satisfied at the 69-93 record and last place in the American League East that the Red Sox “achieved”. Not to imply that Francona wanted the Red Sox to disintegrate as they did, but the implosion somehow validates that the 2011 collapse was not the fault of the former manager when, in part, it was. Francona’s lackadaisical discipline and inability to stop the breakdown of intensity; stem the rise in overwhelming arrogance; and harpoon the sense that because the Red Sox had become such a machine over the years that they were automatically anointed a spot in the post-season, made 2011 inevitable. Francona had been there too long; the team had become complacent under his leadership; and his refusal to appear at the Red Sox 100th anniversary celebration and then decision to show up in a passive-aggressive display of selfishness against Lucchino while he knew the difficulty Valentine was having only exacerbated the situation.

His looming presence as a popular and well-liked person who happened to be in the ESPN broadcasting booth shadowed Valentine and the Red Sox. The idiotic entreaties from the likes of Ken Rosenthal and now others that the Red Sox bring him back are similar to a divorced couple that splits and only remembers the good times and not the reasons they broke up in the first place.

Francona is a good, but not great manager who will do well if he has the players to win. Put him in a rebuilding project such as the Indians and he’ll revert to the, “nice guy, okay enough manager…I guess” individual he was with the Phillies when all he did was lose. He got the Red Sox job because he was willing to take short money for the opportunity, he was agreeable to Curt Schilling whom the Red Sox were trying to acquire, and he would adhere to stat-based principles and do what the front office told him. In short, he was the opposite of Grady Little. The concept that he’s more than that because he was the manager of a loaded Red Sox team is a concocted story that will be proven to be false if he does indeed go to the Indians. (I don’t think he will. He’ll wait out the Tigers/Angels/Dodgers/Diamondbacks jobs.)

12% at fault

Toronto, Canada

The Red Sox are enamored of John Farrell. They wanted him a year ago and didn’t want to surrender what the Blue Jays supposedly asked for (Clay Buchholz) in compensation for their manager. Farrell desperately wants to go back to Boston and he is the next manager of the Red Sox, for better or worse.

That the Blue Jays are willing to let him go to a division rival should be a warning sign to the Red Sox that they may not be getting the problem-solver they’re looking for. Farrell is popular with the players, beloved by the Boston media, and a conduit to the memory of when the Red Sox were a championship team. But, as the Blue Jays and their fans will attest, his in-game managerial skills are lacking and the Blue Jays were an undisciplined and haphazardly run bunch that was expected to be much better than they were in 2012. His longing gaze back at Boston and that Boston was gazing back didn’t help Valentine either.

1% at fault

Chicago, IL

From poor drafts in 2008 and onward, to overpaying for free agents nationally and internationally, the 2012 Red Sox were largely put together by the current president of the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein. Those are the same Cubs that lost 101 games under Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, and the manager that Cherington preferred, Sveum. The Cubs were in need of a total overhaul and that’s what Epstein and his crew are doing, so he can’t be blamed for the monstrosity they were this season, but the 2012 Red Sox are absolutely Epstein’s responsibility. He decided to git while the gittin’ was good, but that doesn’t absolve him of the carnage that his acquisitions, signings, and failure to address lingering issues created.

Also in Chicago was Kevin Youkilis of the White Sox.

One of the seminal moments of Valentine’s downfall in Boston was his innocuous criticism of Youkilis early in the season in which he said he felt that Youkilis’s commitment was lacking. It was amazing how a presence like Youkilis, who had begun to be seen as a problematic clubhouse lawyer and divisive busybody in September of 2011, evolved into a rallying point for the Red Sox veterans to say, “See?!? Valentine’s a jerk!!”

Whatever the catalyst was of Valentine’s criticism and Youkilis’s eventual trade to the White Sox, was Valentine wrong?

The injury-prone Youkilis wasn’t hitting for the Red Sox, they had a replacement at the ready in the younger and cheaper Will Middlebrooks, and after Youkilis joined the White Sox, he was the same inconsistent, limited player he’d become for the Red Sox.

Youkilis was an outlet for strife within the Red Sox roster, but he was one of convenience.

30% at fault

Los Angeles, CA

Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Crawford were traded to the Dodgers in a salary dump that the Red Sox were beyond lucky that they were able to complete. Gonzalez was a bad fit for Boston due to his laid back West Coast personality and desire to be left alone to do his job. As the veteran leaders like David Ortiz got injured and Gonzalez was called to the forefront on and off the field, he was swallowed up, unable to come up with any legitimate, intelligent response as to why the club faltered in 2011 and was coming unglued in 2012 aside from referencing God.

Crawford tried hard, but was hurt. His deployment was a point of contention between Valentine and the front office with the random decision that he would play X number of games and get Y number of games off to account for an elbow that required Tommy John surgery.

Beckett is the epitome of the problem child bully who needed a smack, but no one in Boston willing to give him that smack. The one person that Valentine needed to come to an understanding with was Beckett. Or the Red Sox had to trade Beckett. Neither happened in time to save 2012, and when they finally traded Beckett in August, it was too late to do any good.

Is it fair to blame Beckett for not behaving as a professional and an adult when he’s never done it before in his entire career and it was up to the front office to accept that and get rid of him? Is it fair to blame Gonzalez for not being any more of a leader than he was with the twice-collapsed Padres clubs for whom he was also the centerpiece? Is it fair to blame Crawford because he was hurt?

Not really.

4% at fault

Stamford, CT

After waiting so long to get back into Major League Baseball as a manager, there has to be a sense of embarrassment for Valentine that he got the chance of a lifetime with a team that spends a lot of money and was rife with stars and that he “blew” it.

But did he blow it?

Valentine, being Valentine walked into the job with the knives already out to get him. The perception of him being a loud, arrogant, condescending, abrasive, micromanaging nuisance notwithstanding, it was up to him to get the players to take him at face value based on their dealings with him rather than dredging up old criticisms from those with an axe to grind such as John Franco, his deposed closer with the Mets.

Valentine saw how Francona became lauded and celebrated after breaking the “curse”; that it could have been him who was managing the Red Sox back in 2003 had he been willing to compromise on his principles and tell Lucchino during an informal chat that he disagreed with Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to pitch in that fateful game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. But he refused to criticize Little, wound up in Japan for several years, missed out on the Marlins and Orioles jobs and was left with one final opportunity.

Early in the season, had Valentine been the strategic wizard he was portrayed to be, then it might’ve been okay. But he was rusty having not managed in the big leagues for 10 years and in the American League for 20. In an apropos analogy considering Valentine’s bicycle spill in Central Park during the last series against the Yankees, managing is not like getting on a bicycle. Valentine tried and fell.

Valentine won’t regret taking the job, but he will regret not making a greater effort to get the veterans on his side; on not allowing coaches that he didn’t want and were likely to be undermining influences to be on his staff; and for not making a greater effort to dispel the aura than he carried around with him. Making the effort could have helped. Telling Beckett and others, “Listen, I’m sure you’ve heard all the stories about me. Some are true, some aren’t. But I was in my 40s then. I’m 62 now. This is my last chance. I know it, you know it. I wanna win. You guys wanna forget about what happened last year. Let’s work together to make it happen.”

Beckett would probably have still acted the way he did (and does), but Valentine could say he tried.

This was Valentine’s last shot. There are two strategies to take when facing a last shot: 1) go for the deep strike and say, “If I’m going down, I’m going down my way,” and make sure you’re comfortable with everything for better or worse; or 2) be conciliatory and agreeable, hoping it works out based on talent level and available money.

Valentine chose the latter with the results we see. He bears a significant portion of the responsibility and was jettisoned, but this was a combined effort from all over the map and top to bottom. No one should be spared from their part in the horror film that is the 2012 Boston Red Sox.

18% at fault

//

The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part II—The Red Sox Alter Their Reality

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Judging by their actions in recent years of chasing championships at the expense of sanity and common sense and the magnitude of the contracts on their ledger, the conventional wisdom was that the Red Sox would keep the players they had and move forward. They would patch the holes with tape, placate the whiny veterans by changing managers, and concede to having a team in 2013 that was barely distinguishable from the 2011-2012 squads that embarrassed themselves, their organization and their fanbase with unprofessional, self-centered, obnoxious, and disinterested behaviors and hope that they’d somehow take advantage of the second Wild Card to make a playoff run.

Of course there wasn’t going to be a playoff run. When a team collapses amid turmoil and doesn’t drastically change the personnel, it has one way to go: down. That Larry Lucchino was reveling in the departure of Theo Epstein and that he once again held certain sway over the personnel only sped the decline. No one knew who was in charge; what strategies were being deployed; whether the inmates were running the asylum and their disdain for manager Bobby Valentine would predicate a managerial change because it’s easier to hire a new manager than it is to try and get rid of massive contracts for declining players.

Easier.

That’s been the hallmark of the Red Sox behaviors and player acquisitions since the winter of 2006-2007. It worked in 2007 as they won a second World Series. In 2008, they made it to game 7 of the ALCS. In 2009, they won 95 games but were bounced in 3 straight games by an Angels team that was running on emotion from the death of Nick Adenhart and having had enough of being a punching bag for the Red Sox.

In 2010, they maintained that grinding, gutty persona that had brought them the first championship and had down-and-dirty players who you’d have to kill to make them quit like Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia leading them on the field even though they didn’t make the playoffs; they won 89 games with rampant injuries and a patchwork lineup as their template of on base percentage, power and pitching was still intact, coupled with the steady guidance of manager Terry Francona.

In 2011, they morphed completely into a mirror image of that which they despised more than anything—the Yankees. They spent, spent, spent to fill their holes by trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing Carl Crawford to join with the remaining star-caliber players. So blinded by the splashy acquisitions, the Red Sox were ludicrously compared to the 1927 Yankees. They started poorly, righted the ship, then collapsed in September amid more injuries—expected occurrences with a veteran roster in the age of drug testing and banned amphetamines—and to make matters worse acted as if they didn’t care. Off the field, the players didn’t like each other, were not cohesive, and behaved as if their playoff spot was a divine right because they were expected to be so good; because the backs of their baseball cards were so gaudy.

We know what happened. Amid chicken, beer, and arrogance, the season came apart at the seams in September of 2011. Following the exodus of Francona and Epstein came the contretemps, blame, pure absence of accountability, the power vacuum and grasping for control. This led to the hiring of Valentine, the players squawking, more injuries, dysfunction and a team that was unlikable on and off the field, one that didn’t understand what it was that made them good nor what it was that made them bad.

Gonzalez is a star player who, in retrospect, was a bad fit for Boston and the poisoned Red Sox culture. As a quiet, subdued, religious person, he constantly appeared uncomfortable as the center of attention. As the star player on not one, not two, but three teams that have collapsed out of playoff spots and one who referenced “God’s plan” when the Red Sox were bounced last September, it was clear that the acquisition had been a mistake. Gonzalez is not a leader, nor is he made to be the “man”. He’s a great player as long as there’s a David Ortiz, a Youkilis, a Pedroia to take the brunt of the media scrutiny. When the media comes to him to ask what happens, he’ll paw at the floor with his foot and utter clichés and religious invocations long enough until the reporter just wanders off. But they’re not going to wander off in Boston as they did in San Diego or as they will in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, Matt Kemp is the out-front star and the media will leave Gonzalez alone in a way they never would have in Boston. In a way, Gonzalez exemplifies what the Red Sox have become.

Beckett had worn out his welcome in every single aspect. Apart from a rubbernecking at a car crash, “let’s hear what this idiot has to say”, John Rocker-style curiosity, we’ll wait for Beckett to unleash on Boston, on Valentine, on the media, on everyone. The one saving grace he’ll have is if the change in venue reverts him back to the solid pitcher he once was and, the Dodgers hope, a post-season ace.

Crawford is a good guy and, when he’s healthy, a terrific all-around player. He, like Gonzalez, was ill-suited for Boston, tried too hard and got hurt. Also like Gonzalez, he doesn’t need to be the center of attention.

The Red Sox played checkbook, brainless rotisserie baseball in the winter of 2011-2012, drew accolades from all quarters for their aggression but abandoned what it was that helped them build an annual championship contender using intelligence, numbers and good old fashioned instinct, continuity (will this guy fit in Boston?), and scouting acumen.

They became the Red Sox of the 1990s or the Yankees of the 1980s and it showed on and off the field.

The Red Sox had two choices: move forward with the players and the immovable contracts, fire Valentine, give the toy to the tantrum-throwing baby that had become the club’s roster and shut it up, or do what they did. They were lucky that the Dodgers have a new ownership that is willing to do something this lunatic; that in order to get Gonzalez (who they claimed on waivers), the Dodgers were willing to take on both Beckett (who they claimed on waivers as well), and the injured Crawford. They were also lucky that the no-trade clauses in the contracts of Crawford and Beckett weren’t hindrances because they wanted to get out of Boston just as desperately as the Red Sox wanted to be rid of them.

The amount of money the Red Sox cleared—$261 million after this season—will allow them to sign players who will fit into what Valentine wants (if they keep him); who will act as if they’re there to play baseball and not bully the front office due to contractual obligations, veteran status, and threats; to re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury and, rather than chase the same stars as the Yankees and overpay to do it just to keep up and one-up, will go back to doing it the way they did it between 2000 and 2010. Most importantly is the off-field dynamic. Red Sox fans cheered for these players wearing Red Sox uniforms, but they didn’t like them—they were unlikable. I’ll discuss the prospects they got in the trade in an upcoming posting, but the players they got are secondary to the message that was sent loudly and clearly with the players they got rid of.

Now they can freshen the polluted air of the attitude of Beckett, the reticence of Gonzalez, and the injuries and desire to depart of Crawford. They sent the message to the players that regardless of how much they complain, they’re not going to decide who the manager is. They got rid of Francona through their actions; they’re not going to get rid of Valentine through holding their breath until they turn blue.

The Red Sox front office could’ve accepted their future, looked at those onerous contracts, shrugged and moved on, keeping on doing the same things and praying for a different result. They didn’t. When the Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti claimed Gonzalez and Beckett and called to discuss a deal, they didn’t pull the players back and say, “Forget it.” They listened and they acted. They’re more likable, have money available to change the roster and the culture, and have stuck to a principle that looked to have been abandoned and was part of the rise of the Red Sox from for the decade prior to 2011—if you don’t like it here and don’t want to be here, we’ll accommodate you and find people who do.

They’re a better team and, more importantly, a better organization for not bowing to expediency and accepting reality. They changed it. Rightly or wrongly, successfully or unsuccessfully, at least they can look into the mirror. And at least when they look, they’ll no longer see the Yankees.

Self-respect is important too.

//

The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part I—Bobby Valentine’s Future

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I’ll function under the assumption that this deal will go through. The reporters are saying it’s kindasorta done; then not done; then done; then maybe done; then prematurely done; then done. They’re trying not to pull a Joel Sherman, vintage 2010, when he reported that Cliff Lee will be a Yankee (we’re still waiting), so the Dodgers-Red Sox trade could conceivably come apart. But it sounds as if everyone is motivated to make this happen. I’m moving forward as such.

The Dodgers-Red Sox trade reportedly goes as follows:

The Dodgers get: 1B Adrian Gonzalez, RHP Josh Beckett, LF Carl Crawford, and INF Nick Punto

The Red Sox get: 1B James Loney, RHP Allen Webster, INF Ivan De Jesus Jr., OF Jerry Sands, and RHP Rubby De La Rosa

Let’s take a look at its repercussions for teams, players, and people in separate postings and start with Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine.

This is a good sign for Valentine that he’s going to survive in his job and get the beginning of next season to see if the newly reconstructed roster responds to him. After this week’s firing of Bob McClure, he’ll have his own pitching coach (Bob Apodaca); he’ll have players over whom he has some power and, as a direct result, they’ll keep their mouths shut; and he’ll have say-so in the formulation of the on-field personnel.

This trade looks to be a tacit admission on the part of the Red Sox front office that they put Valentine in a terrible position with Terry Francona’s players, a group of arrogant and well-paid would-be or former stars who had the paycheck and history to ignore not only Valentine, but Francona, GM Ben Cherington, and CEO Larry Lucchino as well. It’s a bad sign when the ostensible bosses go up to a player like Josh Beckett and have to ask him to behave like a professional without knowing what kind of response they’re going to get.

You can’t go half-in with Valentine. He was straitjacketed upon getting the job and the roster and media were waiting for Valentine to say or do the wrong thing to jump all over him. If a team is hiring Bobby Valentine, they should expect to get Bobby Valentine and let him be Bobby Valentine. If the intention was for Valentine to come in and right the ship as it was without making significant changes to the personnel, then the Red Sox shouldn’t be surprised at what happened; that Kevin Youkilis had to go; that Beckett had to go; that they needed new players who were more pliable to Valentine’s style and couldn’t run to management and cry because of Valentine, begging for him to be replaced. Those who were complaining should’ve thought of this before they behaved unprofessionally under Francona.

In a sense, I understand what the Red Sox were thinking when they hired Valentine in replacing the laid back Francona. In looking at the contract situations of the players they had, there was no way to get rid of them and simultaneously bring back players who could help them contend and more in 2012. They tried a different voice and hoped the players who undermined Francona would be shamed and embarrassed by what they did.

They weren’t.

They took a different strategy of exerting their will with Valentine than they did with Francona and achieved identical results except they’re the ones who are being cleared out. Instead of blatant disrespect and poor work ethic, hoping that talent would win out in 2011, they tried horrible body language, whisper campaigns and outright whining to daddy in 2012.

It’s difficult to distinguish the five months of 2012 from that fateful month of September in 2011. Combined, they set in motion the chain-of-events that culminated in this trade.

It still may not work with Valentine, but now he can quit the charade of skating around the problems that he presumably knew were there when he took over and he can be unfettered Bobby V. If he goes down, it’ll be his way. If that doesn’t work, so be it.

Valentine would tell you the same thing.

//

Your Alternate Red Sox Universe

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You’ve all heard and read about the Red Sox players running to ownership to complain about Bobby Valentine. Analysis of this is rampant, but I’m going to do something different. Let’s say that Terry Francona wasn’t forced out and as a corollary to that decision, Theo Epstein stayed on as GM to fulfill the final year of his contract. What would the Red Sox look like right now without Valentine as manager; without Ben Cherington in this no-win situation and having his power usurped by Larry Lucchino; without the moves they made to patch over holes while keeping the foundation of the team intact?

Epstein said that his future with the Red Sox was tied to Francona. Epstein was entering the final year of his contract and, in a benevolently arrogant Theo way, would’ve done the Red Sox a favor and stayed under those terms contingent on Francona being retained as manager.

I think Francona wanted freedom from the out-of-control nuthouse and expectations the Red Sox had become. I think his desire to leave was due to his physical and mental health. What had once been appreciated was no longer so; in a state of World Series win or bust, there’s no enjoyment, only relief in winning or devastation in losing. Francona had had it.

I also think Epstein wanted out. Whether it was to escape the pressure of his hometown and the victories that had turned into a burden or that he wanted a new challenge, he needed to move on. Both achieved their ends. Francona is able to sit in an ESPN booth and luxuriate in the accolades of what he presided over and be absolved of the blame for the lack of discipline, overt disrespect, poor play, and questionable decisions that led to the 2011 collapse and set the stage for the exodus.

Is it something new for voices in the Red Sox organization to unload on employees who’ve departed by choice or by force? They did it with Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Johnny Damon, and now Francona. This offended the players? It’s par for the course. They ripped David Ortiz and Jason Varitek before both decided to stay. In 2005 Epstein left in a power grabbing snit and came back. It’s the way things go in Boston. The “grand returns as beloved conquering heroes” for these star players as if there was no bad blood is inherent and hypocritical. It’s not going to change.

Would the 2012 team be different with Epstein and Francona? Would Josh Beckett be pitching better? Would Jon Lester? Would they have moved forward with Kevin Youkilis?

Considering how he views the closer role as easily replaceable, I can tell you now that Epstein would not have traded Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey. Epstein would also have blunted Lucchino’s incursion into the baseball operations. But it was Epstein who put together the 2011 team. It was Epstein who paid over $100 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka; signed Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Bobby Jenks. Most of the roster and the players who are underperforming and throwing tantrums were brought in by Epstein. It was Francona who let the players run roughshod over all propriety and behave as if they were entitled to do whatever they wanted just because. To think that the club would be better now if Francona and Epstein had stayed is ignoring the fundamental issues that caused the 2011 collapse in the first place.

Both Epstein and Francona can feel badly for players they have affinity for and who played hard for them like Dustin Pedroia, but privately don’t you think they’re wallowing in what the Red Sox are going through now? Loving it? Sitting there with smug half-smiles as they’ve moved along and their former organization is teetering on the brink of revolution?

The Red Sox are 57-60 and are not making the playoffs. It would be the same circumstances with different actors in the drama if Epstein and Francona had stayed. If that had happened, Epstein’s expiring contract would be the hot topic of discussion and those who are looking back on Francona’s tenure with the remembrances of a long-lost love would’ve called for his head in May and the Red Sox would’ve had no choice but to fire him. Do you think the players would’ve defended him? Or, just as they leaked the meeting with ownership regarding Valentine, would they be privately saying that the clubhouse had tuned Francona out and a change needed to be made?

This is not a good team. Valentine has brought on many of the problems himself because of who and how he is, but the players were ready to mutiny the second he was hired before even talking to him and it was all based on reputation. He was a bad choice to patch over the holes that led to the massive changes, but it was either make structural changes to the personnel or put a Band-Aid on them and try to find someone who they felt would handle the stat-studded roster they were stuck with. It hasn’t worked, but they wouldn’t be in a better position with Francona; with Gene Lamont; with Dale Sveum; with John Farrell; with anyone.

The issue of the players failing to look in the mirror and accepting that they’re part of the problem still remains sans Francona and Epstein and with Valentine targeted for elimination. Beckett refused to take responsibility for being out of shape, arrogant and selfish last season and the same issues are in play now. Adrian Gonzalez’s looking toward the heavens and referencing God’s plan at the conclusion of 2011 along with him having been the star player for three teams that have collapsed and his whining about Valentine are validating the perception that he’s not a leader and has a preference to being a background player rather than the out-front star.

Is Valentine to blame for Beckett? For Lester? For Daniel Bard? For Crawford?

No. But he’s the scapegoat.

Red Sox ownership is going to have to confront these hard truths. Yes, they can fire Valentine and install whomever as the new manager, but is that going to fix things? Will the players suddenly rediscover a work ethic that’s sorely lacking? And if Pedroia is so hell-bent on winning and doing things the “right” way, why didn’t he confront the players who were clearly acting in a manner that was diametrically opposed to winning and was affecting the team negatively last September?

The team doesn’t need a new manager. It needs a mirror. A big one.

//

Figures of Attendance, Part IV—the Lack of Simplicity in Drawing Fans is Self-Evident

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What teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and now the Phillies have learned is that when you achieve that level of success and fans begin investing financially and emotionally into the product, there’s no rebuild allowed. Would the Red Sox have been better-served to clear the decks after last season’s debacle and not necessarily tear the whole thing down, but accept that the prior era of annual championship expectation was over and realize that they had to dump certain players like Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett and others for the greater good of the franchise? Absolutely. But they couldn’t do that. So what they did was to hire Bobby Valentine, sign a few veteran names and try to patch it together using the extra playoff spot to put forth the pretense of still winning every…single…year.

But life doesn’t work that way and the Red Sox are finally seeing that perhaps it was a bad idea to take that tack. As much as their fans would loathe to admit it, the Red Sox have become a mirror image of that which they despise most in the world: the Yankees. One championship and a shattered curse wasn’t enough. The failures of the club in years hence caused the spending sprees and ultimate decline and increased demand for more, more, more. Stars at every position; 110 win predictions; the gutting of the farm system—everything was hand-in-hand. Understanding the failure and acting upon it are two different things and they’re more likely to double and triple down rather than walk away from the table. In general, double and tripling down only speeds the descent toward 65-97. Then the fans will really stop coming.

This is how it gets to the point where the Yankees lose Alex Rodriguez for a couple of months and fans start speculating that they should trade for David Wright without letting facts get in the way of their delusions; it’s how people like Joel Sherman look at the Yankees when they lose CC Sabathia for a few starts and speculate on them trading for Cliff Lee. They lose Brett Gardner? Hey, go to the Rockies and take (because that’s what it amounts to) Carlos Gonzalez.

Where does it end? If a star pitcher in the year 2017 has a hangnail and has to leave a game or miss a start, do the fans demand a trade for another team’s star pitcher to replace him because they can’t stand one night—and going to one game—without seeing a megastar pitcher? You can scoff at the extreme nature of such a concept, but is it really that farfetched?

Fan attendance is not about a new park; it’s not solely about winning; it’s not about attractions and stuff. It’s about markets. No amount of bottom line, hard core, sacrosanct “rules” are going to change that. As much as the Mets are torn for their lack of attendance, it’s understood why fans don’t come to the games; why fans aren’t going to the new Marlins Park; why the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies have overspent and made clear mistakes in running their clubs, they’re not exactly mistakes or macro-factors. They’re instances of trying to twist reality. But reality won’t be twisted. It just is. Until that “is” changes, this is how it’s going to be.

Read Part I here.

Read Part II here.

Read Part III here.

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Dog Days Manager/GM Hotseat Grows Hotter

Ballparks, CBA, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Let’s look at the managers and GMs whose hot seats have gotten hotter as the season’s shaken out.

Bobby Valentine, Boston Red Sox

If I were to place a percentage on how much of what’s gone wrong with the Red Sox is the fault of Valentine, I’d say about 30%. The team was overrated and patched together; the front office has interfered with many of the things he wanted to do such as using Daniel Bard as a reliever; and they saddled him with a pitching coach in Bob McClure with whom he’s not on the same page.

Valentine has damaged himself with the ill-advised—and mostly innocuous—challenge he issued to Kevin Youkilis and it’s becoming abundantly clear that the cauldron of Boston probably wasn’t the best spot for him to return after a 10-year hiatus from managing in the big leagues. Valentine’s reputation put him on shaky footing as soon as he was hired. If he said “hello” the wrong way, the players and media would’ve pounced on it. He only received a 2-year contract and with the way this season is going to end, his reputation and that players are going to avoid signing with the Red Sox specifically because of him, they won’t have a choice but to make a change.

Barring any spending spree and a major infusion of better luck, the Red Sox will learn in 2013 that it wasn’t the manager’s fault. The team isn’t very good and is entering a new phase that will take time to recover from. Chasing the past with desperation moves that were diametrically opposed to what built the Red Sox powerhouse has done little more than stagnate that inevitable process.

They’re a mess and Valentine or not, that won’t change anytime soon.

Manny Acta, Cleveland Indians

I’m getting the Rene Lachemann feeling from Acta.

Lachemann was a well-respected baseball man who paid his dues. The players liked him and liked playing for him and, for the most part, he made the correct strategic decisions. But year-after-year, he was stuck with teams that had very little talent with records that reflected it. He managed the woebegone Mariners of the early-1980s; the Brewers for one season; and was the first manager of the Marlins. His managerial career ended with a .433 winning percentage.

Acta is much the same. He has a contract for 2013, but that won’t matter. The Indians had some expectations this season and, after hovering around contention, have come undone. It’s not his fault, but the Indians might bring in someone else. Sandy Alomar Jr. is on the coaching staff and has been on several managerial short-lists, plus is still revered in Cleveland. He’d take the pressure off the front office’s reluctance to spend money…for a time, anyway.

Acta’s young and competent enough to get another chance to manage somewhere.

Ron Gardenhire/Terry Ryan, Minnesota Twins

Ryan still hasn’t had the “interim” label removed from his job title and with the Twins’ struggles over the past two seasons, it’s not hard to think they’re going to bring in a younger, more stat-savvy GM and start a full-bore rebuild. If Ryan is out and the structure of the team is dramatically altered, the respected Gardenhire might choose to move on as well. He’d get another managerial job.

Ned Yost/Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals

This team was expected to, at the very least, be around .500 or show progress with their young players. Injuries have decimated them and the trade of Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez—completely sensible and understandable—was a disaster. Jeff Francoeur has reverted to being Jeff Francoeur after a very good 2011 season resulted in a contract extension. Moore has a contract through 2014 and ownership won’t fire him now. Yost’s contract option for 2013 was exercised and he’ll get the start of 2013 to see how things go.

Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariners

I discussed Zduriencik when talking about the Ichiro Suzuki trade.

I think he’s safe for now.

Ozzie Guillen, Miami Marlins

With any other team employing a “name” manager with a 4-year contract, a change would be absurd. But this is the Marlins and the Marlins are not a bastion of logic and sanity. Guillen invited the ire of the Cuban community in Miami with his statement in support of Fidel Castro and was suspended; the team is a nightmare on and off the field and is ready and willing to do anything.

He’ll survive 2012, but if this continues into mid-season 2013, he’s going to get fired.

Dusty Baker, Cincinnati Reds

He’s not on the hotseat, but why has Baker’s contract status not been addressed? Unless there have been quiet assurances made to him that the public doesn’t know about, his deal expires at the end of this season. Say what you want about him, but if he’s got the talent on his roster, he wins. The Reds are in first place and rolling. He deserves a bit more security than he has.

Brad Mills, Houston Asros

Mills has done as good a job as he possibly could with a team that doesn’t have much talent, is in a major rebuild and is moving to the American League next season. GM Jeff Luhnow inherited Mills and it made little sense to fire the manager and pay someone else to run a team that would lose 95-100 games if John McGraw was managing it. Luhnow is going to hire his own man to manage the team and Mills will get another shot somewhere else eventually.

Bud Black, San Diego Padres

Black has never been a particularly strong strategic manager and his contract is only guaranteed through 2013 with club options for 2014-2015. There’s a new regime in place with GM Josh Byrnes and a new ownership coming in and they might want to make a change. I doubt it, but it’s possible.

Jim Tracy, Colorado Rockies

Dan O’Dowd was recently demoted from running to the team to overseeing the minor league system. Assistant GM Bill Geivett will run the big league club.

This is an odd set-up for an oddly run organization. O’Dowd’s contract status is unknown, but manager Jim Tracy has a “handshake agreement” to manage the team for an “indefinite” amount of time, whatever that means. One would assume that O’Dowd has a similarly bizarre deal.

I get the impression that O’Dowd is relieved to not have to run the team anymore. Perhaps he himself suggested this new arrangement. It’s hard to see Tracy surviving this season even though he’s a good manager and man and this isn’t his fault. Things went downhill for the Rockies when Troy Tulowitzki got hurt, but that won’t stop them from making a managerial change.

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