The Continued Greatness of Theo Epstein

While some hipsters may argue for Andrew Friedman and his Dodgers think tank, Theo Epstein is still by far the most talented executive working in baseball today. The former Red Sox general manager didn’t necessarily build this current Boston team, but he certainly laid the foundations with astute draft picks and legendary signings. Meanwhile, in Chicago, he’s constructed a juggernaut that looks set to dominate for many years to come, affirming his reputation.

Theo Epstein

Epstein’s achievements in Boston are meticulously documented, to the point where people tend to forget the magnificence of his everyday maneuvering. The overarching narrative is intoxicating. Theo’s expertise in statistics and scouting delivered the first Red Sox championship in eighty-six years. As if that wasn’t enough, the wonder kid then plotted a further title run in 2007. The Red Sox were transformed from streaky contenders to serial winners.

Of course, things didn’t end particularly well between the Red Sox and Theo Epstein. Epstein felt pressure from ownership to make extravagant free agent signings that helped television ratings but hindered his vision for a sustainable baseball machine. Nevertheless, despite receiving some unfair criticism in recent years, Epstein left a strong legacy that we still see on the field every single day at Fenway Park.

The Legacy of Theo Epstein

Dustin Pedroia, the heart of this team, was drafted by Theo. So was Clay Buchholz, but hey, you can’t have them all. Theo also signed David Ortiz and Junichi Tazawa, two key pieces on the 2016 Red Sox. However, what many people don’t acknowledge is that Theo also drafted Betts, Bradley Jr., Swihart, Vazquez, Owens and Shaw. As for Xander Bogaerts, that guy playing shortstop and leading the league in hitting? Well, Epstein signed him, too.

Obviously, a lot has happened since Theo left Boston for Chicago, and Ben Cherington and Dave Dombrowski have made worthy tweaks to this team. But facts must be respected, and one such fact is that the fingerprints of Theo Epstein are all over this Red Sox team. Though it may pain some bitter fans, he deserves greater recognition for that.

How the Cubs Were Built

While Boston is a fine offensive ball club, the Cubs are in a different universe right now. Chicago is 44-19, and has a legitimate shot at beating the all-time record of 116 regular season wins. As a team, the Cubs get on base at a .347 clip, second only to the Red Sox, but every starter has an ERA below 3.00 and the bullpen has been solid. Oh, and the Cubs also lead the league in several defensive stats, as if they weren’t dynamic enough.

Perhaps most impressively, this team was built from scratch by Theo and Jed Hoyer, his trusty lieutenant. They inherited a mess at Wrigley Field, and decided that the best way to get better was first to get worse. Short term pain for long term game was the mantra. Epstein was given the space, time and revenue to execute his Utopian plan for the ultimate baseball team.

First, a young core was established, mostly in the minor leagues, courtesy of trades and brilliant draft choices. Then, once it had matured, external free agents that made sense were signed to compliment the homegrown nucleus. That’s how the Cubs wound up with such a formidable team, with elite players such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber primed to lead the North Side resurgence for perhaps a decade to come.

Theo’s Visions for Boston Carried Out in Chicago: What will the Future Hold?

Right now, we’re seeing at Wrigley Field what Theo Epstein once envisaged for Fenway Park and the Red Sox. Many people are quick to say that this fan base wouldn’t tolerate such an aggressive rebuild. Surely it was more purposeful than the general cellar-dwelling of recent times. Yes, the Red Sox won a World Series in 2013 while the Cubs tanked, but Chicago now has a window to win multiple rings while Boston’s future is very bright but far more uncertain.

Ultimately, Theo Epstein was the architect responsible for the two most potent offenses currently dominating Major League Baseball. While he certainly made mistakes in Boston, and developing pitching has always been an issue for his front offices, Red Sox fans must appreciate his continued influence on the team’s fortunes.

Perhaps the Sox and Cubs will meet in the World Series this year. After all, both teams are in strong positions. However, when the last generation of Theo players leaves the Red Sox, the true test will present itself. Can Dave Dombrowski match his forebear in creating a sustainable, organic winner? Only time will tell.

John Lackey Should Still Be With Boston

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey was a strong contributor to the 2013 World Series team and trading him was a big mistake. Lackey had a roller coaster ride in a Sox uniform as he struggled in his first two seasons before becoming a reliable arm every fifth day for the organization. When the 2014 team was scuffling and the trade deadline came around, former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington decided to part ways with John Lackey, trading him for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig.

Craig was struggling and his career looked to be dwindling and Kelly had his struggles inJohn Lackey the National League which typically doesn’t lead to success in the more hitter friendly American League. Meanwhile, Lackey seemed to be gaining form and becoming who the Sox thought they were getting him when they signed him to a five year $82.5 million deal. That improvement has continued and John Lackey is pitching like an ace, often going unnoticed behind Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in the best starting pitching rotation in baseball.

Last season in St. Louis, Lackey had a 2.77 ERA and this season he has a 2.63 ERA for the Cubs. At this point in his career he will not wow you with his stuff but he hits his spots and gets guys out, something many Sox pitchers struggle to do. Lackey seems to be blossoming late in his career as last season was his best season to date and he’s on track to improve on those numbers this year. With John Lackey pitching so great, the Sox return of Joe Kelly and Allen Craig in the trade has been a catastrophe.

John Lackey Belongs with Red Sox Nation

Kelly has not established himself in the Sox rotation and is not looking likely to do so. Kelly has good stuff to work with but he has yet to put it together and it seems like yesterday the 28 year old was still a promising prospect. Kelly is now in the minor leagues, joining the other piece in the trade, Craig. Craig has been a disaster as he has been a minor leaguer for most of his tenure with the Sox organization. A once promising offensive player for the St. Louis Cardinals, Craig has seen his career vanish quickly and likely has played his last inning in the major leagues.

The Sox let go of a pitcher that was big time in the postseason in 2013 in order to gamble on a pitcher with upside who hadn’t put it together and a bat that was on the downfall. As a result, this trade is one of the worst in recent memory and the Sox 4.22 ERA as a pitching staff would be much better if Ben Cherington had stayed with John Lackey.

Panda is Officially Down and Out

News broke this evening that Pablo Sandoval is scheduled to undergo shoulder surgery in the days to come with Dr. James Andrews. So, I guess you could say the Panda is officially down and out.

For me, this whole thing just doesn’t add up at all. PandaHow can someone hurt their shoulder to such severity after barely seeing anytime during the 2016 season? I mean, did the swing that broke the belt do it? Did he slip getting other teammates Gatorade in the dugout and land on his shoulder? The only logical thing that comes to mind is “pre-existing” injury from his SF Giants days.

Yes, players go through extensive medical check-ups and physicals before signing their name on the dotted line. Teams, to their credit, do extensive background checks of all medical records to ensure that you’re not dishing out $95 million to a broken toy. (Oops, did I just say that?) I mean, everyone surely remembers the Mike Napoli situation before the 2013 season. Tests determined that Napoli suffered AVN, which is a progressive, degenerative disorder that kills bone tissue. Because of it, the Red Sox withdrew their original three-year, $39 million contract and ended up signing Napoli to a one-year, $5 million contract instead.

Hey Panda, Do You Smell That?

So it begs the question: were the Red Sox so desperate to add some star-power to their lineup after coming in dead last in 2014 that something was overlooked? Or was this just a freak-accident that somehow cannot be explained? You’re guess is as good as mine, but quite frankly I smell BS when it comes to the front office and former GM, Ben Cherington.

One thing is for sure—Red Sox Nation has very likely seen the last of Pablo Sandoval in 2016. Sure, he could come back next year after his surgery and be dynamite at the plate and on defense, but news flash…WE DON’T NEED HIM! Why? TRAVIS SHAW.

Dave Dombrowski Has a Plan for the Team

Over the past few weeks, the Red Sox have made some major changes in the front office. Notable among those changes was letting go of now ex-GM/President of Baseball Operations Ben Cherington and bringing on former Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski as the new President of Baseball Operations, and it hasn’t taken very long for Dombrowski to make his mark.

Dave Dombrowski has made it clear that he believes the Red Sox are a win-now team,Dave Dombrowski and all the moves he will make are to ensure the Red Sox can contend in 2016. Notable among his early moves was his input in moving Hanley Ramirez from left field to 1st base, a move that was long overdue. That also opened the door for the Red Sox outfield of the future, which includes Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr, to play together consistently for the first time.

The team also announced a move to have Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo play the corner outfield position, which lets Jackie Bradley Jr. play his best position, center field. Mercifully, that also squeezes Hanley out of the outfield for the rest of the season, as I mentioned above, which was a long overdue move.

So far, this is all very positive for the team despite them not having a shot at the playoffs in 2015. This gives me hope that the Red Sox can get back in contention for 2016. Granted, they still have to get an ace and some bullpen help, but the team is setting itself up well for 2016 and beyond with these moves.

It’s also a relief to have someone running the show who wants to get back into contention as badly as the fans do. Most of Red Sox Nation is fed up with the losing after what will likely end up as 3 losing seasons in 4 year. I know I am, and I’m glad Dave Dombrowski is working to get the team back to what it was just a few years ago. I can’t wait.

Dave Dombrowski Named Head of Baseball Operations, Ben Cherington Out

Even though Red Sox owner John Henry stated in June that Ben Cherington would be the General Manager for years to come, the end is near for Cherington as the team announced they have hired Dave Dombrowski as the President of Baseball Operations.

Dombrowski has a history with Henry, having worked as the GM of the Florida Marlins from 1998-2001when Henry owned that club. Dombrowski’s experience is deep in dombrowskibaseball operations. He was hired by the Montreal Expos as Director of Player Development in 1987, and then took over as GM when he was 31 years old in 1988.

In 1991 he was hired by Henry and co-owner Wayne Huizenga to lead the Marlins, where he stayed for 10 years, including the World Series Championship in 1997. After Florida, his next stop was in Detroit, where Tigers owner Mike Ilitch brought him in as President and Chief Executive Officer in 2002.  He also assumed the role of GM after a poor start that year.  Up until earlier this month, he was with the Tigers until being relieved of his duties.

Dombrowski’s record is solid. In Canada, he built up the Expos farm system during his term.  In Florida he was the architect of a championship team, and then in Detroit he built a team that went to the World Series in 2006 and 2012, losing both times. He is known to be very adept at scouting, and how to best utilize scouting departments, which is a different way than the heavy use of baseball statistics and computer programs named Carmine that have been used in recent years.

This move marks just another in a season of change and tumult.  President Larry Lucchino will be stepping down after this season.  Manager John Farrell has taken a leave to deal with his recent diagnosis of lymphoma. The team will finish in last place again for the second straight year and third time in four years.  Change had to come, and unfortunately for Cherington it is at his expense.

Cherington has been with the Sox since 1997. He followed Theo Epstein, who left for the Chicago Cubs after the Red Sox collapsed down the stretch in 2011. Epstein, a protégé of Lucchino’s, had served the Red Sox well with a logical approach to analytics, coupled with a deep respect for scouts, and Cherington followed that model.

Cherington was offered the chance to stay on as GM, but he declined, fully realizing that all decisions will come from Dombrowski. The handwriting may have been on the wall last week when the Sox  hired former Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Jerry Dipoto as a consultant to help in player evaluation and offseason planning.

Dombrowski Hire Ushers New Era for Red Sox

After a third disastrous season in four years, the Red Sox dispensed with faltering General Manager Ben Cherington on Tuesday night. More significantly, with their organization set to miss the postseason for the fifth time in six years, ownership called time on the very philosophy that underscored his position. Now, the Theo Epstein bloodline of Ivy League intellect has been severed, with Dave Dombrowski, a baseball traditionalist, seizing power on Yawkey Way.

The 59-year old will lead the Boston Red Sox into a brave new world and a distinctly different era. As President of Baseball Operations, Dombrowski will have full autonomy at Dombrowski Red SoxFenway Park, which represents a seismic shift in approach for an organization long infatuated with advanced analytics. Dombrowski, the architect of revivals in Montreal, Miami and Detroit, is a staunch believer in scouting and veteran Major League talent rather than statistics and minor league prospects, an approach that has been totally anathema to the Red Sox’ since John Henry and Tom Werner bought the team in 2002.

Indeed, Werner acknowledged a conscious change of ethos in Boston via a statement announcing Dombrowski’s arrival. “Although we had achieved tremendous success over the last 14 years, we had reached a clear internal consensus that we needed to enhance our baseball operation,” said the Red Sox chairman. “In nearly four decades in the game, Dave is a proven winner, and he can restore winning ways to Yawkey Ways and help to fulfill the Red Sox goal, every year, to be playing meaningful games into October.”

Notice the past tense when talking about prior successes. Notice the determination to move on, into a different epoch of New England baseball. The lovable Idiots have gone; Theo’s darlings have passed; Larry’s plaything is no more. Now, a new chapter has been opened, with Dave Dombrowski holding the pen. Ownership may finally take a step back, allowing Sam Kennedy to generate revenue which will then be passed on to Dombrowski, who has unlimited power to craft the next great Red Sox juggernaut.

One thing is certain: his team will be cast in an entirely different style to anything we’ve seen this century in Boston. Whereas Epstein and Cherington were long-sighted idealists content to build for tomorrow, Dombrowski is an aggressive builder who yearns to win today.

In every way, he’s an executive of big market instincts, who believes in prime-age superstars rather than homegrown neophytes. An expert trader, Dombrowski typically uses prospects as currency, as demonstrated by his deals for elite players such as Miguel Cabrera, David Price, Max Scherzer, Gary Sheffield and Mike Piazza.

 Dombrowski Red SoxAccordingly, Boston must resemble a dream scenario for the new President; the Red Sox possessing one of the best farm systems in the game, and hoarding a cornucopia of promising young talent. He will undoubtedly make trades, and plenty of them, which should excite Red Sox fans, who’ve been waiting way too long for certain prospects to figure things out. If nothing else, Dombrowski will restore the Red Sox’ credo of ambitious thinking.

One of his first tasks will likely be hiring a new GM to further solidify the Fenway think tank. Longtime executive Frank Wren is a name already being mentioned in industry circles, while former Diamondbacks and Angels GM Jerry Dipoto, currently advising the Red Sox on baseball decisions, would also be an intriguing candidate.

Dombrowski may also look to hire a new manager, though respect is due to incumbent John Farrell, who is currently battling lymphoma which makes baseball seem somewhat irrelevant. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that Dombrowski recently hired Brad Ausmus in Detroit, so a guy like Jason Varitek may be appealing for the Red Sox, though that’s just excited speculation on my part.

 

Whatever Dave Dombrowski chooses to do in the coming weeks, months and years, the Boston Red Sox are now his team. He has the keys to one of baseball’s preeminent powerhouses, and the responsibility to finally restore pride to Red Sox Nation.