Remember folks, mothers always know best.
“I don’t know why, but I just don’t like him. It’s something about the way he carries himself that makes me wonder if he can play here.”
Those were the words from my mother after hearing the Red Sox had inked Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million contract last offseason. Her concerns weren’t about Crawford’s bat or his fielding or his ability to steal bases. It was all about the character he could bring to the Red Sox clubhouse.
Now, the September-long collapse that has left the Red Sox on their couches nursing their bruised egos as they watch the playoffs on television can’t be blamed solely on Crawford. But after listening to Terry Francona speak to the media on Thursday afternoon, it was clear that something in that clubhouse was very wrong.
Tito spoke of concerns, closed door meetings and moments when players should have gotten behind each other and just plain didn’t. The “Idiots” are long forgotten these days at the Back Bay Fens. These are the big-ticket, no heart Red Sox.
While blame falls on the players for failing to execute on the field, a large portion of the responsibility rests solely on the shoulders of Theo Epstein and more of it has to do with the fact that unlike 2004 and 2007 when he put together World Series champions, he stopped believing that character was all that important.
The evidence: J.D. Drew, who surprised fans at the end of the season by showing up at all. John Lackey, who seems to be more worried about yelling at a teammate for not making a catch on a deep drive than analyzing why the ball was pounded in the first place. Julio Lugo, whom some said just cared too much really cared more about people liking him than putting in the extra work on the field. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was more concerned with blaming Red Sox coaches for his pitching than himself.
The character guys on the Boston Red Sox are dwindling. The days of “25 players, 25 cabs” seems to be returning. One could say the last one who exhibited true character and was the ultimate teammate was Mike Lowell, a player whom Epstein didn’t even acquire and, quite frankly, didn’t want.
The team has some deep-rooted issues that even the players’ manager like Terry Francona wasn’t able to overcome in the end. Thursday’s presser was maybe the most downtrodden and emotionally spent Francona has ever been and it wasn’t simply because they lost a game Wednesday night. While he’s constantly said he didn’t want to talk about his contract during the season and he wanted to focus on winning, he also never said he wanted to stay in Boston. If he is let go, it’s probable he will take his walking papers with a smile and a spring in his step.
Epstein, on top of failing to measure the importance of character, has also been unable to accurately measure major league talent. He remains a very gifted baseball executive in terms of producing quality prospects. Some of those prospects he’s kept, some he’s leveraged for talent in trades. Beyond that, he’s made some tremendous in-season deals, including the one that sent Nomar Garciaparra out of town for Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera. While most of the world was throwing up their hands in disgust and disbelief, Theo saw a need and saw value where others did not. That all seems so long ago now, doesn’t it.
And in the meantime, Theo Epstein, especially on the free agent market, has not done well in evaluating talent and value and I would imagine Red Sox ownership is getting a little tired of paying high-priced players to play for other teams when Theo Epstein gets them out of town by promising the club that trades for them that the Sox will eat a large portion of the salary.
Injuries like the ones suffered by Clay Buchholz and Kevin Youkilis were perhaps unavoidable. But what was also glaring and obviously short-sighted on Epstein’s part was the lack of depth on the 25-man roster and organizationally. The team gave up some major-league ready talent in bringing in Adrian Gonzalez. That’s true. But even early on in the season, Yamaico Navaro and Drew Sutton were acting as the team’s backup infielders. The backup plan for injuries to the rotation was Andrew Miller, Tim Wakefield and Kyle Weiland. He had to trade for Mike Aviles, Bedard and Connor Jackson for “help.” Matt Albers somehow became a key cog in this mess.
As the ship approached the iceberg, Epstein kept turning the rudder the wrong way. While some say this wasn’t as bad as 2003 or other Red Sox collapses, it really was worse. While the shock value of Aaron Boone or Bucky Dent was greater, the inherent problems with this Red Sox team could be wounds that are much deeper and harder to fix and could have a profound effect on its future.
There have been some hits and some good times with Epstein, but there have also been a ton of misses and perhaps at this point the good outweighs the bad and it’s time to say goodbye.