Thanks to John Lennon for the post title.
So the drama over Red Sox GM Theo Epstein’s departure to take over the Chicago Cubs is now over, with negotiations over which second-rate minor-leaguer(s) the Sox will get as compensation between Epstein and new Sox GM Ben Cherrington all that’s left to finalize the deal. I do think it’s a good thing that both manager Terry Francona and Epstein are gone, as the whole sad and depressing saga of what became the 2011 Red Sox was, to a certain extent, the by-product of Francona’s and Epstein’s doing. After all, it was Francona’s players who came out of Spring Training playing the kind of listless and uninspired baseball that would be their September trademark, and it was Epstein whose signings of pitchers John Lackey and Bobby Jenks, and outfielder Carl Crawford made for an unbalanced, kind of strange roster of supposed riches, proving that you indeed can have too much of a good thing.
With both now departed, the Sox can now embark on wiping the slate clean and bringing in people who want to play good ball and expect, hopefully demand, their players do the same. As the Globe’s Peter Abraham notes, Cherrington will hardly be starting from scratch; he is, after all, inheriting a team that won 90 games this year. But as the 2011 edition of the team proved, it’s the intangibles that count, and finding the right mix of managers, coaches, and players to achieve the potential of the talent they’ve gathered will be key. Some have put forth their ideas, here are a few thing I would do immediately:
1. Hire the right manager. Tampa Bay’s bench coach Dave Martinez might be a good fit – Crawford might welcome Martinez as a familiar face – but former Sox catcher and Royals manager Tony Pena might be a good fit as well.
2. Settle on the top of the lineup right away. 1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury, 2. LF Crawford 3. 2B Dustin Pedroia 4. 1B Adrian Gonzalez need to be at the very top and know that’s where they’ll be hitting all season.
3. Do whatever it takes to send John Lackey somewhere, anywhere. Still can’t figure out what Epstein was thinking there. Lackey is bad news.
4. Offer David “Big Papi” Ortiz a one-year, $12M deal, take it or leave it. Would love to have him back and can’t see anyone else taking that kind of risk on an aging slugger for that much dinero, but we need to know where his allegiances stand. If he’s back, slot him in the five-spot behind Gonzalez.
5. Expect the manager and GM to compile a lot of travel miles this winter. Visit all the players, make sure they know they’re expected to report in February at Fort Myers in shape and ready to kick some ass. If they’re not, get them outta here.
6. Get younger, leaner, and meaner. This is an aging team that has broken down to some degree three years in a row. Right field, third base, and shortstop are good places to start. Some people like SS Marco Scutaro, I never have. Lots of people like Kevin Youkilis, I think it’s time to shop him around.
7. Go into Spring Training with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway as your platoon. Thank Jason Varitek for his years of service, but it’s time to move on.
8. Do whatever it takes to re-sign closer Jonathan Papelbon and keep Daniel Bard as your reliable set-up man.
Start there, and maybe, just maybe you’ll build a team that will not only continue to win, but do so playing the kind of fundamental baseball that the fans will appreciate. The 2011 team was not a likeable team by any stretch of the imagination. If the Sox are once again going to capture the hearts of New Englanders everywhere, a certain amount of mea culpas followed by a team playing solid baseball with a commitment to excel will go a long way towards erasing the stench of the 2011 fiasco.