Talkin Sox with Dan

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Archive for the tag “Larry Lucchino”

News on Baseball, the Red Sox

Photo via boston.com

Ahhh. That’s better.

After an absolutely brutal Sunday evening, it is important to remember that life goes on. You’ve got to be able to go out there and get ‘em the next day. So today, that’s what we’re going to do.

Mike Napoli and the Red Sox made their deal official last week. It consists of $5MM guaranteed for one year. The powerful right handed hitter will have the ability to make up to $13MM as long as he does not spend any time on the disabled list due to a hip injury. Expect the Red Sox to add some insurance at first base in case Napoli breaks down. A bit more on Napoli later.

Craig Breslow successfully avoided arbitration (and then some) as he and the Sox came to terms on a two-year pact worth $6.25MM on Saturday. The Red Sox possess a team option worth nearing $4MM for the 2015 season. Breslow was acquired by the Sox at the trade deadline last season from the Diamondbacks. The lefty specialist is a Yale graduate and a Connecticut native.

— Courtesy of the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham, here is the list of players that the Red Sox reached agreements with, avoiding arbitration:

OF Jacoby Ellsbury: $9 million
RHP Joel Hanrahan $7.04 million
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia: $4.5 million
RHP Andrew Bailey: $4.1 million
RHP Alfredo Aceves: $2.65 million
RHP Daniel Bard: $1.8625 million
LHP Franklin Morales: $1.487 million
LHP Andrew Miller: $1.475 million

— A couple quick notes on the arbitration process: Headlines are often misleading, especially for those who are not familiar with the the process. (As an aside, if you’re not well-versed in the stimulating world of salary arbitration, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Seriously.) For example, “Ellsbury signs one-year deal with the Red Sox worth $9MM.” That is true. He did. But it makes it seems as though he could have signed elsewhere. I saw a few people on Twitter who are fans of other teams saying things like “we easily could have gotten Ellsbury if the Red Sox only gave him a one-year contract!” Players who are eligible for arbitration are also under team control–they’re not free agents–it’s just a matter of negotiating salary for a one-year deal, like Ellsbury, or a multi-year agreement, like Breslow.

— Despite the fact that it took well over a month for the Red Sox and Napoli to finalize the deal that they first agreed to, in principle, on December 3, I never thought the two parties would go in different directions. The Red Sox needed Napoli to fill a gaping hole at both first base and in the middle of their lineup. As it turned out, Napoli needed the Red Sox to serve as a landing spot to rebuild value as a free agent. The Rangers approached Napoli about returning to Arlington but were ultimately turned away–not because he didn’t want to return to Texas but because he will have more of an opportunity to play day in and day out in Boston. Nolan Ryan and Co. do not have an obvious need at first base or catcher. It is easy to see Napoli spending 2013 here, experiencing success, and subsequently leaving in free agency, but I wouldn’t make that assumption. Napoli isn’t represented by Scott Boras, and 2013 could easily be the first year of a nice little marriage between the former Ranger and the Red Sox.

Francona: The Red Sox Years hits shelves on Tuesday. From everything I have heard/read, I think this book is going to be real good stuff. I wouldn’t expect Tito to expose John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Josh Beckett for drinking beer and acting completely unprofessional in the clubhouse during the 2011 season, but I would anticipate some great stories from the eight years he managed in Boston — some of which will be funny and entertaining while others make John Henry and Larry Lucchino look quite bad. No matter what, it will reaffirm what we already know–managing in Boston is not easy. The two book covers below illustrate that point. Long live Tito.

Time to Let Go

Moving on is tough. Change is difficult. The past can often seem better than the present. For the Boston Red Sox and its fans, this couldn’t be more true when it comes to their ball club. Nevertheless, it is time to look forward.

It is about 2013, not 2004.

Terry Francona is not walking through that door.

Francona will always be beloved in these parts. He brought Red Sox fans salvation in 2004 and again three years later. Tito is arguably the greatest manager in Sox history. And that’s part of the problem–he is history. He’s not the manager in Boston any longer. In fact, he’s now the enemy (a relatively benign enemy in the form of the Cleveland Indians, but an enemy nonetheless). On April 16 — when the Indians visit Fenway — Francona will officially begin attempting to beat his old club.

The Tito Love Fest needs to end. It went on all of last year, mostly due to circumstances that surrounded the Red Sox and their former manager. Francona was dismissed at the end of the 2011 season in a manner that most people who follow the team would describe as unfair. Despite the allegations concerning Tito’s prescription drug abuse, he walked away from the rubble that befell Yawkey Way pretty clean. He went on to hook up with ESPN in an innocuous gig on Sunday Night Baseball.  Bobby Valentine, who is the black to Francona’s white when it comes to managerial style, never really got settled in Boston–much to his own device. It was easy to long for the way things were under Francona when Valentine was busy looking like a total idiot.

Tito quickly became the figurehead for anti-Establishment. Cheering the old manager meant opposing John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and to a lesser extent, Valentine. It was a theme that permeated throughout the season — Francona received the biggest ovation during the 100-year celebration of Fenway Park on April 20. In July, the ESPN analyst held court with a small group of Red Sox players in the visitor’s clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. Despite the denials from both sides, it must have been incredibly awkward for Valentine.

Franonca, however, is no longer serving in a role that has no real bearing on the welfare of the Red Sox. He is actively competing against them. Valentine has been disposed as manager, and the Sox have a new man at the helm in John Farrell who possesses many of the same coveted managerial skills as Francona but has a starkly different style. It is no longer about Francona. It’s about Farrell, and his team’s performance this summer.

Stop selling the past. Make a case for the future.

Let’s first deal with the facts. Last season was the 100-year anniversary of Fenway Park, and that is important. The aforementioned celebration this past April was necessary and well-done. The All-Fenway Team was acknowledged before the final home game of the season in September, and that too was appropriate given the circumstances surrounding the park’s birthday in 2012.

But recognizing the eight-year anniversary of the 2004 championship team? Please stop.

It’s time for ownership to stop leaning so heavily on the equity of good will that they have built up since purchasing the team. Instead, they must reinvest themselves in the 2013, 2014, and 2015 Red Sox. In turn, fans will reinvest accordingly.

Get excited about Will Middlebrooks, not Kevin Millar.

—–

None of this is easy. Francona was a superb manager during his tenure in Boston. Farrell owns a sub .500 record since taking over his first managerial gig in Toronto. Middlebrooks is heading into his sophomore season as a pro, and in the grand scheme of things, hasn’t done much of anything yet. Conversely, a player like MIllar helped deliver a World Series trophy to this city. It’s understandable why fans and even members of ownership gravitate towards these guys. They’re fun, likable winners.

And it’s perfectly fine to give Francona a nice ovation when he visits Fenway in an Indians uniform. Let him tip his cap and acknowledge the fans. He deserves that.

But after that, let go.

My Thoughts on John Farrell

John Farrell was officially hired as the 46th manager in Red Sox history on Sunday. Ben Cherington and Co. got their man. And Sox fans should be happy about that. Here’s why.

This time last year Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos wanted Clay Buchholz in exchange for John Farrell. It was just one year ago that the Jays’ front office thought that Farrell was worth a pitcher who is good and has the potential to be a legitimate front of the rotation starter. The Red Sox obviously rebuffed the Blue Jays’ request and hired Bobby Valentine. One year later, the asking price dropped considerably as the Jays accepted infielder Mike Aviles in exchange for their manager who still had one-year remaining on his three-year deal. Detractors have pointed to Farrell’s questionable in-game management (overly aggressive on the base paths) and the disruptions within Toronto’s clubhouse. It is accurate to say that there are fragments of truth buried in each of those two criticisms. However, the fact remains that just 12 months ago the Jays thought very highly of their former skipper–enough to demand Buchholz in return.

Farrell knows the demands that come with managing a baseball team that plays in Boston. There are no surprises here. Farrell served as the pitching coach from 2007-2010. He oversaw a staff that won a World Series, and one that went all the way to Game Seven of the ALCS. He knows the landscape, the demands, and many of the players. Familarity, coupled with two years of separation from the tumult in Boston, makes Farrell a nice fit.

The hiring process was completed relatively quickly. This could have carried on for awhile. Figuring out compensation for a manager or front office executive is never easy as we saw with the Theo Epstein to the Cubs saga last year. The Red Sox, however, were able to acquire Farrell in a reasonable amount of time. This will allow them to begin the process of assembling their 2013 squad immediately. And that, of course, is the most important part of the offseason.

Farrell was the unanimous choice by everyone involved in the selection process. That means John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and, most importantly, Ben Cherington agreed that Farrell was the best choice. Remember that that was simply not the case last time around. Cherington did not want Valentine. Lucchino did. Lucchino won. There was dysfunction from the beginning. Things go smoother when everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Is Farrell perfect? No. Does he have his warts? Yes. Most importantly, is he the right man, at the right time for the job? Time will tell. In the meantime, there is no doubt that his hiring has restored a sense of order, a feeling of confidence about the future of this team–something that players, brass, and fans alike can appreciate.

Clearing the Air

Lately, I’ve read a couple of blogs and heard more than one sports radio caller advocate for bringing Bobby Valentine back next season. Their commentary almost always has to do with the idea that the mess that is the 2012 Boston Red Sox is not Valentine’s fault. He inherited a dysfunctional clubhouse. He can’t be held responsible for the rash of injuries that befell this team. He cannot control the fact that the starting pitching staff has been collectively and consistently awful since jump street. You could go on and on.

The fact is that these individuals are largely correct. If you were to slice up a blame pie for this team, Valentine would not come close to getting the biggest serving. But that certainly does not mean he should be at the helm when the Red Sox take the field in 2013.

It feels like years ago, but the Red Sox took a quality first step in refocusing their organization when they shed a quarter of a billion dollars in a post-trade deadline line deal with the Dodgers just a few weeks ago. It is absolutely vital that they continue to operate in that same fashion. Every move GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox make must done with an eye towards the future. And Valentine is not part of it.

Cherington, not Larry Lucchino, must find Terry Francona Part Two — a highly respected manager of people. I’m not sure if that is John Farrell, Terry Lovullo, Ryne Sandberg, or someone else.

But it is certainly not Valentine.

Advice for the Red Sox: Farrell, Morales, Ortiz

It’s not that these September games don’t matter at all. There is plenty of room for evaluating guys like Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway, and Ryan Kalish. However, every move that this organization makes going forward must be done with an eye towards the future. The 2012 Boston Red Sox are officially about the 2013 Boston Red Sox

Here are nine pieces of advice for a ball club in desperate need of putting its best foot forward.

—Do what you have to do to pry John Farrell from the Blue Jays. If Toronto’s GM Alex Anthopoulos demands a player like Clay Buchholz or even Daniel Bard (yes, that Daniel Bard), you move on–because that’s ridiculous. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Farrell should be the top candidate to replace Bobby Valentine.

—Bring David Ortiz back on a one-year deal. I love these tough-talkers who call into radio shows and proclaim how they’re sick of Ortiz, how he’s a baby, and the Sox need to move on. Get real. I wouldn’t necessarily offer him arbitration, but Ortiz has to be the anchor of that lineup next season. And remember: A pissed off Ortiz is a productive Ortiz.

—Sign Cody Ross this offseason and never let him play right field again. Ever.

—John Henry must empower GM Ben Cherington. He is an intelligent, qualified executive who deserves more autonomy. If that means somehow lessening the importance of Larry Lucchino, so be it. Wins are more important than selling commemorative bricks.

—Give Franklin Morales a fair shot to start in 2013. I’d go to battle with that guy as my fifth starter any day of the week.

—Integrate some patience this offseason. The Red Sox have gotten away from their bread and butter–taking pitches, working the count, and wearing down the opposition. You can get away with a couple of free swingers like Will Middlebrooks, but for every young, anxious hitter, you need two players who are willing to take what is given to them. ESPN’s Jeremy Lundblad explores this in more detail here.

—Trade Jacoby Ellsbury in the offseason. Fans will undoubtedly gripe, but it is the best decision. Here is why.

—Find a way to harness Alfredo Aceves. He is undoubtedly volatile, quirky, and, at times, troublesome. But he is a weapon, a guy who can pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen, spot start, or even close an occasional game. If he proves to be detrimental to the team, cut bait.

—Do not be afraid of bad publicity. When discussing the idea of firing Valentine before season’s end, WEEI’s Rob Bradford advocated the idea by saying “rip the band-aid off.” I don’t necessarily agree with firing Valentine now, but Bradford’s point is actually a good one. This organization has gotten away from what is most important: Assembling a quality team that is capable of playing consistently good team baseball. Are there going to be bumps in the road along the way? Sure. Rather than compromising what is best for the franchise in order to avoid a few potholes, hit them head on. Face the music and learn from the mistakes.

No Voice, Just Noise

“You’re right that some of his [Josh Hamilton] at-bats aren’t very impressive from the standpoint that he doesn’t work deep into the count. He’s swinging at a lot of bad pitches. He just doesn’t seem to be locked in at all. So what you’re hoping is that his approach will change, and he’ll start giving quality at-bats because there’s a lot of those at-bats that he just gives away.” – Nolan Ryan, President of the Texas Rangers

The Boston Red Sox do not have a voice. John Henry, despite the mass-email that he sent to various media outlets and beat reporters on Monday, is not the backbone of the organization. Larry Lucchino may, according to Henry, run the Red Sox, but when he speaks (or writes), it’s hard to not feel like you’re being sold something. Ben Cherington can be refreshingly honest, but he does not possess the autonomy necessary for a GM to be completely successful. Lucchino lurks. Castration occurred early for Bobby Valentine. He is a hard-nosed manager being forced to toe the company line. Because of that, fans are much more apt to roll their eyes when he speaks, not listen.

From ownership, to baseball operations, to the on-field leaders, the Red Sox have proven to be exceptionally good at organizationally undercutting one another.

Let’s examine.

Dale Sveum, Cherington’s first choice as the next Red Sox manager, is pushed aside by Lucchino in favor of Valentine, a sexier name who brings a reputation that runs perpendicular with Terry Francona’s style. Before Valentine is done unpacking, a combination of Dustin Pedroia and Cherington scold him for being himself, something he was seemingly brought to Boston to do. Would I publicly criticize a veteran player like Kevin Youkilis? No. But I’m also not Valentine, and when you make a hire like the former glasses and mustache-wearing Mets manager, that type of incident should be expected.

Roughly two months ago, Valentine makes a comment to rookie third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, as he comes off of the field follow an inning where he apparently made a couple defensive miscues: “Nice inning, kid” — or something of the like. It was a completely innocuous comment, designed loosen up what was likely a white-hot Middlebrooks. A player in the dugout witnesses the exchange and deems it necessary to mention it to a member of the Red Sox front office. Valentine is later approached by ownership, discouraging him from making comments similar to the one he made towards Middlebrooks.

It has been dysfunction at its finest.

Worst of all, there is not a figure like Nolan Ryan or Cam Neely to set an organizational tone for the Red Sox. Both Ryan and Neely, although experiencing success in two different sports as players, serve as presidents of their respective franchises and command the respect that is often needed to bridge the gap between ownership and on-field employees. Do you think Henry, Lucchino, or Cherington could get away with criticizing David Ortiz‘ approach at the plate the way Ryan (see above) dissected Josh Hamilton’s two weeks ago? Me neither.

The Red Sox advocate the idea of everyone contributing before a decision is made. Everyone gets a seat at the table, sort of thing. But that is likely the root of the problem.

No one in that organization just goes to work and does the job assigned to him. The players know that ownership will listen when they complain. Sometimes they’re even rewarded for their gripes. Cherington is promoted to be the GM and oversee baseball operations, but Lucchino pauses his perpetual Red Sox sales pitch to choose the manager, subverting his new GM’s authority. Henry has deep pockets but seems disinterested with the product he owns.

Ideally, players would stick to hitting, fielding, and pitching. They would respect their manager enough not to go to ownership about an exchange in the dugout they witnessed–and if they did, they would not be heard. Ownership would back their manager, simultaneously fostering a sense of respect for him within the walls of the clubhouse.

Ideally, Cherington would be allowed to do the job he was assigned to do by his bosses. He is the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox because somebody believes strongly in his skills as a decision-maker when it comes to baseball operations. In turn, if Cherington believes Sveum puts his team in the best situation to succeed on the field, he should be the manager, not Valentine, not Joe Torre, not Casey Stengel.

Ideally, Henry would identify that his ball club is in complete disarray. He would care enough not to let it continue. He would be vocal. Lucchino may “run the Red Sox”, but Henry owns them. He can do what he wants–that includes firing Lucchino.

From the players on the field, to the coaches in the dugout, to the executives watching from above, there is a tangible lack of respect that permeates throughout the organization. Everyone steps on each others toes and thinks that it is perfectly fine because no one says that it’s not. When things go awry, nobody in the Red Sox organization steps up to right the ship because they’re too busy bumping into each other.

Until a sense of respect is injected back into this organization, it would be silly to expect anything but mediocrity out of the Red Sox. With or without Valentine at the helm or whether Josh Beckett is on this team or not, the Red Sox will be .500 on the field because they’re .500 everywhere else.

This is Only the Beginning

Bobby Valentine has taken the Red Sox, Fort Myers, Jet Blue Park, and the month of February by storm. Sparring through the media with former Sox manager and current ESPN analyst Terry Francona, jabs at Derek Jeter over a play that happened over a decade ago, compliments to Jason Varitek for placing his catcher’s mitt into the middle of Alex Rodriguez‘s face almost eights years ago, and receiving blame for Carl Crawford‘s recent setback regarding his rehabilitation from wrist surgery. I’m out of breath.

It’s amazing what can unfold in a matter of weeks.

Despite all of the seemingly unwanted turmoil, it has actually been smooth sailing for the new Red Sox skipper. So far. Larry Lucchino Ben Cherington looks like a genius for hiring Valentine. So far. The media has taken quite a liking to Valentine. So far. Players, including the oft-irritated David Ortiz, have given their stamps of approval for the new manager. Fans of the Old Towne Team who generally possess a well-deserved affinity towards Francona (two World Championships will do that sorta thing) have also reluctantly nodded in the direction of Valentine.

So far.

As Talkin Sox With Dan discussed almost exactly one month ago, I firmly believe that if Francona had to be sent packing (and he did), Valentine was the best choice. It is natural to juxtapose Francona and Valentine, and after the way 2011 ended, it is super-easy to draw the conclusion that Valentine’s methods are better. However, I do not believe that is necessarily the case.

Are Francona and Valentine different? Certainly. Valentine is like a parent who is always around, always trying to make their son or daughter the best possible person he or she can be on that given day. Sure, that parent can be irritating, sometimes even annoying, but in the back of your mind, you know that he or she has only the best intentions. Francona was more like a caring parent who just wasn’t constantly checking with their kid. He trusted his children to be respectful and responsible without having to be constantly reminded of exactly what that meant.

Are Valentine’s methods better than Francona’s? I’m not sure. Francona’s philosophy relied upon being ready and healthy for the end of the season and, presumably, postseason play. If that meant applying less pressure to the throttle early in the season, so be it. It was the ends that mattered most, not the means. For Valentine, the ends still matter, but he is determined to change the means by which their achieved. More hands-on, more fundamentals, more work. However, it is less about Francona and Valentine and more about the buttons they push.

For eight seasons, Francona applied pressure to the same set of buttons. For seven and half seasons, the buttons worked. Late last season, the players stopped responding, and when that happens, change is necessary. Valentine represents that change.

As of today, Valentine seems like the perfect medicine for a Red Sox team that had grown complacent. He is an active teacher. He enjoys the spotlight. He can work a crowd. The guy will be working on Yawkey Way, but he belongs on Broadway.

So what does this all mean?

It means that I hope the fans who have fallen in love at first sight with all that is Bobby V this spring know what the expect this summer. He will shake things up. Baseball fans are a lot like its participants. They like routine. They cling to it. Valentine does not believe in a set lineup. Kevin Youkilis leading off? Probably not something I would do, but Valentine might. Daniel Bard getting the ball on Opening Day in Detroit? It is not out of the realm of possibility. Change is certainly on the horizon.

Just like it did with Francona, there will come a time when Valentine’s message grows stale, when the buttons he is used to pressing cease to work. I know what I’m getting myself into by advocating for Valentine. There will be more than one instance this summer when the guy leaves me at a loss for words, bewildered by whatever decision he has made on or off the field. This season, let’s make a concerted effort to not juxtapose Valentine with his predecessor. Let’s give him the season to show his mettle.

I am a believer in Valentine.

So far.

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