Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Red Sox Dysfunctional Family: Who's in Charge?

"Victory has a thousand fathers; defeat is an orphan."

John Henry remains the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox. Henry enjoyed remarkable success both in money management and professional baseball, as two of his teams have captured World Series Championships. Most Sox fans view Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino as the business operations side, and General Manager Theo Epstein as the head of Baseball Operations. We all have heard of the infighting between Lucchino and his proxies with GM Epstein over control of the baseball side of the house.

Where does the post-mortem begin on the 2006 edition of the Boston Red Sox? First, we can examine the Red Sox as a business, with Forbes reporting Red Sox total revenue as $171 million in 2002. We know that Larry Lucchino runs the business side of the house, and the Sox have continually poured money into upgrading both Fenway Park's amenities and its capacity. According to Nintendorks (via Forbes) the Sox increased their revenue to 201 million in 2005, and surely with additional seating capacity and ticket price increases probably increased it toward 220 million dollars in 2006.

Increasing your estimated business revenue almost 30 percent (and fifty million dollars) in four years deserves recognition. Kudos for the achievement and notoriety for gouging fans. But those same fans received playoff appearances from 2003 to 2005 and a World Series title in 2004. Of course, it's baseball, and we ask, "what have you done for me lately."

The 2006 Hot Stove season started poorly, with Epstein's departure in a gorilla suit, contentious negotiations with "the Man Who Would Be King" Larry Lucchino, and the return of the Prodigal Son amidst other defections in the organization. Josh Byrnes left to become Arizona GM, followed not long after by Peter Woodfork, another high ranking Baseball Operations professional.

The Red Sox sent four cooks to the Winter Meetings, and after most of the smoke had cleared, had dealt uber-prospect Hanley Ramirez and a promising AA pitcher Anibal Sanchez to the Marlins for Josh Beckett, ostensibly a top of the rotation pitcher and Mike Lowell, looking for resurrection after a forgettable 2005 season. The Marlins got young talent and eliminated salary. The Red Sox believed they enhanced their pitching and defense. Epstein was still incognito when the Beckett deal went down, and with Beckett ultimately signed to an extension, final judgement of that transaction will require years. Superficially, the Marlins have taken the early lead based on both Ramirez' and Sanchez' production and potential for Florida.

Later the Sox added Coco Crisp, trading Andy Marte, the prostpect they had received for moving Edgar Renteria, the unflappable shortstop, who flopped in Boston.

Epstein and management must have believed that with better defense, another starter, and a player ready to break out (Crisp), that they had overcome both the production and public relations losses of the Johnny Damon signing by archrival New York.

The Red Sox started fast, and despite extended absence by Crisp (injured hand), led the AL East for most of the first half. Following the All-Star break however, the team totally collapsed. On July 11th, the Red Sox were 53-33, leading the division by 3 games. By the trading deadline (July 31), the Sox had slipped to 63-41, still leading the Yankees by a game, but Jason Varitek was now injured.

Theo Epstein was vilified for 'not making the deal' to acquire fresh (and expensive) production, while the Yankees acted and got Bobby Abreu, with a high price tag attached. Since that time, the Sox are 20-33.

They enter tonight, 83-74, having gone 30-41 since Michael Young's All-Star base hit, playing .423 baseball. Kansas City, last at 31-56 at that time, is now 58-98, having played 27-42, two games worse than the Sox since the break. I take little comfort in knowing that Baltimore has won 27 games and Tampa has won only 21 games since the break.

I think inaction at the trading deadline was probably the smartest move the Sox front office made all season, as they obviously saw the handwriting on the wall. In addition to Varitek's injury, Tim Wakefield's absence, Jon Lester's cancer, Jonathan Papelbon's shoulder problems and the collapse of the surrounding bullpen cast doomed the season. "Pulling the trigger" at the trading deadline, unless Sandy Koufax and Frank Robinson circa 1966 were available, wouldn't have revived the Sox' season.

The current Sox, using the Parcellian metric of 'you are what you do', belong in the bottom third of Major League power rankings. The Sox are 1oth in runs scored (lower in runs/game) and 13th in OPS (.738) after the break. They are tied for 11th with Tampa in ERA (5.21) after the break.

But who stands accountable for this disaster? Terry Francona can't shoulder the blame with injuries and poor play leaving the Sox underwater concerning runs scored (798) to runs allowed (805). Pinning the blame on the manager, while traditional, would be misfounded. Scapegoating Manny Ramirez borders on the ridiculous, as Manny and David Ortiz are responsible for about 40 percent of the team's offense. Player accountability tends to be elusive, in an era of high salary and lower responsibility.

As we enter the final week of the season, with the ship still taking on water, we still don't know who's in charge. We can't know what the plan is to restructure and revitalize the 2007 edition of the Sox. We can plainly see that the 2006 Sox have silenced Lucchino's braggadocio and Epstein's hubris, while John Henry's trading woes have him licking his wounds.

The Sox have leaks everywhere except from the boardroom. Fans sense the Chinese wall between Lucchino and Epstein, although who really knows? Can both survive if Henry decides that a purge is needed? One senses that loyalty to the money man will keep Lucchino around. But can a new GM flourish in Lucchino's shadow? Until management gets its act together concerning Baseball Ops, fans wonder whether winning baseball will return to baseball's Athens.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Stop whining. You sound like some of those cranks on 850AM radio, always second guessing Tito and Theo. Well guess what? They made it into the World Series.
Case closed.