The Aftermath Of Chaos—The Red Sox/Braves Collapses

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Let’s sift through the carnage.

Job security.

It’s fair to examine the whys concerning two teams that seemingly had playoff spots locked up and both fell apart. It’s reasonable to assess everyone’s job performance and come to an unemotional conclusion as to whether minor or major changes should be made.

With the Red Sox, I would expect something blockbuster in player personnel to be done. I’m talking about a massive trade of a name player or players.

With the Braves, don’t be surprised to see them go for an offensive force like Jose Reyes.

As for the managers, the idea that Terry Francona and Fredi Gonzalez should automatically be fired is idiotic; but so is the ironclad assertion that both should return without question.

It has to be analyzed.

Having watched Gonzalez with the Marlins and Braves, I was wrong about him in thinking he’d be fine as Braves manager. He makes too many strategic mistakes that a team fighting for a playoff spot can’t afford to have happen and I’d fire him.

I doubt the Braves will do that. If anything, they’ll make changes on the coaching staff, namely hitting coach Larry Parrish.

With the Red Sox, there’s a possibility that they will fire Francona.

I wouldn’t do that, but it’s their right if they feel it’s necessary to get a new voice in the clubhouse.

The Red Sox have to ask themselves whether they think another manager would’ve done a better job with the starting pitching in disarray; with unlocking Carl Crawford‘s talent; with patching together an injury-riddled bullpen along with handling the stifling, worldwide media attention the Red Sox attract and cultivate.

I don’t see who could’ve or would’ve done any better than Francona, but it’s their call.

If they do decide to make a change, one thing they absolutely cannot do is say something to the tune of, “we decided not to exercise Terry’s contract options; it’s not a firing; it’s moving in a new direction”.

That’s what they did to Grady Little and were hammered for it after the fact.

Fire him if you’re going to fire him. Be done with it and move on.

Michael Kay’s creepy world of “analysis” in the form of sycophancy and self-involved attacks.

In the midst of his rant about the Mets and Reyes’s individual decision to pull himself out of what was possibly his last game as a Met and try (successfully) to win the batting title, Michael Kay also defended the Yankees for their decision to play their regulars sparingly and use 4th tier pitchers in the series against the Rays.

The Yankees owed nothing to the Red Sox nor to the Rays. They didn’t “dump” the games like some latter day group of 1919 Black Sox, but they didn’t go all-out to win.

There’s a difference.

Saying the Yankees were trying as hard as they could needs to be placed in its proper context. By the metric of playing their starters and using their top players as the Phillies did against the Braves, the Yankees didn’t do that. Saying the players they used—Scott Proctor, Ramiro Pena, Greg Golson—tried as hard as they could is akin to saying that the Washington Generals try as hard as they can against the Harlem Globetrotters. Trying is great; winning is unlikely.

In a similar sense, the idea that the Red Sox spiral started with a series loss to the Yankees is a nice, neat, “we started this” story to get in on the action. The problem is there’s no factual evidence to support it. The Red Sox came undone because they were giving up 6+ runs every night after that Yankees series; not because of anything the Yankees mythic “aura” created.

Credit to the pursuers.

Much like the Phillies in 2007 against the Mets, the Rays played the Red Sox and beat the Red Sox. By doing that, they made their lives much easier in the chase.

The Braves haven’t hit well all year. Fingers will be pointed at Gonzalez and Parrish for that, but they were playing most of the season without a legitimate center fielder who could hit; with Jason Heyward needing to have the lowest grade dropped after his putrid (and injury-racked) sophomore season; Chipper Jones is more of a “threat emeritus” than someone for a team other than the Mets to be terrified of; and they had black holes in the lineup all year long.

Once they lost Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, the offense couldn’t pick up the slack and the bullpen was tired from Gonzalez’s overuse.

The Cardinals and Rays played well over the final month to stage their comebacks, but neither had a ridiculous 2007 Rockies-style run of never losing a game.

What will happen.

I believe there is a very good chance that Francona will not be back as Red Sox manager.

Jonathan Papelbon will be allowed to leave. J.D. Drew, Marco Scutaro, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek will be gone. They will listen to some drastic suggestions like trading Kevin Youkilis. And they’ll desperately look for a taker on John Lackey.

Fredi Gonzalez will not be fired; Larry Parrish will be. The Braves will make a move for a bat—they certainly have the organizational depth to trade for someone big like Andre Ethier, Carlos Quentin or see if the Marlins will move Hanley Ramirez (doubtful). Or they could go after Reyes. A trade is far more probable.

I won’t speculate on what either will say to explain themselves and mute the pain and embarrassment.

That, like suggesting the 2011 Red Sox will compete with the 1927 Yankees, is something that will only be judged in hindsight.

Both have long, long, loooooong off-seasons ahead of them and they’re undoubtedly looking for reasonable, believable answers at this very moment.

I wouldn’t expect much in terms of reason and believability. But I’m a cynic. And thankfully don’t live in the fantasy world of Michael Kay.

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Firing Francona Is Plain Stupid

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I’m the first one to say fire the manager when things don’t go as planned.

It doesn’t have to be his fault. If the team isn’t responding; if a shakeup is needed; if there are strategic blunders; or if there’s someone better available—all are viable reasons.

There doesn’t even have to be a reason. This is one of the things I never understood about the Billy Beane decision to fire Ken Macha after the 2006 ALCS playoff loss and he was searching for something to feed to his media idolators and claimed it was due to “lack of communication”; Beane didn’t exactly distinguish himself with Macha or Bob Geren when he blamed Geren’s firing on the continued media onslaught that was questioning Geren’s job security. Geren was the one who didn’t communicate with his players—the higher paid ones as well including Brian Fuentes.

Macha didn’t talk to backup catcher Adam Melhuse.

What could he possibly have to say to a fringe major leaguer and backup catcher? “Go warm up the pitcher.” What else is there?

All the GM has to say is, “I felt like making a change.”

End of story. But there always has to be some litany of criticisms to justify it; this is a new phenomenon accompanying the rock star status of some GMs in today’s game.

With the Red Sox, Theo Epstein is a rock star and there’s talk that Terry Francona could be in trouble if they blow their playoff spot.

It’s an easy decision to make if it’s decided that it’s Francona’s fault that John Lackey is one of the worst free agent signings in the history of the sport this side of Carl Pavano and Jason Schmidt. But at least Pavano and Schmidt were hurt; Lackey’s just awful.

Is Francona the one who caused the injuries to Clay Buchholz and Bobby Jenks? Has he sabotaged Daniel Bard?

Francona is a good man and a good manager. He acquitted himself well managing the Phillies as they were terrible on an annual basis—they had no talent.

He handled the media firestorm of being Michael Jordan’s manager during the basketball legend’s foray into baseball in Double A for the White Sox; he was a bench coach and a front office assistant with some very well-run teams with the Athletics and Indians.

Francona did not get the Red Sox job because of his managerial brilliance nor that experience. They were part of the work experiences that made him a candidate, but not the most enticing aspects of his resume.

These are in no particular order, but Francona got the job because he was willing to take a short-money contract for the opportunity; he would acquiesce to front office edicts in terms of strategy based on stats; he was agreeable to Curt Schilling, whom he’d managed with the Phillies and the Red Sox were desperate to acquire; and he wasn’t Grady Little.

The Red Sox were notoriously adamant about having a manager who wouldn’t ignore orders as Little did.

My question regarding the Red Sox and Little goes back well before the fateful decision to leave Pedro Martinez in the game when he was clearly exhausted in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

Why did it get to that point?

If the Red Sox didn’t trust Little to manage correctly (or the way they wanted) in the biggest game of the year without going off the reservation, they should’ve fired him long before the ALCS.

After dumping Little, the Red Sox spoke to Bobby Valentine while they were searching for a new manager. Valentine refused to criticize Little’s decision saying that he wasn’t in the dugout and didn’t know what he would’ve done in that situation.

That’s not what the Red Sox wanted to hear.

So Francona got the job; the Red Sox got a calm, guiding hand that players want to play for and someone who can navigate the all-but-impossible terrain of managing that team in that town.

Now if they miss the playoffs because of circumstances out of his control, he might be in trouble?

Fine.

He’ll be out of work for five seconds and will get another job in a good situation or he’ll sit out and wait until a high-profile, big money job opens up.

I can only hope that the Red Sox won’t use the corporate crud they used when they fired Little by saying they simply weren’t renewing Francona’s contract.

And I can’t wait to start writing if they go the road of Beane and provide some incomprehensible and unbelievable bit of spin to the media hordes who think every word is gospel. If they fire him, say what it is: We’re blaming Terry for our own mishaps.

It would be nothing more and nothing less than the search for an undeserving scapegoat; if they do that, they’ll deserve their collective fates.

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