A Belated Tribute to Kevin Youkilis

I miss Kevin Youkilis. As the pennant race comes alive, we’re all reminded of former glories, and Youk was integral to the Red Sox during my childhood. This modern team is fun to watch, with young stars like Mookie Betts, but that gritty soul of yore has largely been lost. Dustin Pedroia still embodies it, but there are few grinders like Kevin Youkilis across baseball anymore, and that’s incredibly sad.

Kevin Youkilis, The Greek God of Walks

Once upon a time, few teams wanted Youk. Before Moneyball was released, teams still coveted players for the wrong reasons. Appearance often outweighing performance in the decision-making process. Therefore, many scouts disregarded Kevin Youkilis. He was too fat, they said. Couldn’t run. Couldn’t field. Very little upside. Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s general manager, saw through that. He yearned to draft The Greek God of Walks, only for the Red Sox to snatch him with the 243rd pick in 2001. The rest is history.

Kevin Youkilis

Youkilis was a rookie on the historic 2004 Red Sox. He proceeded to play nine seasons in a Red Sox uniform. His rise was steady and inspiring. First he lost a little weight and took better care of himself. Then he transitioned to first base and pushed himself to progress every single day. He became a fierce competitor, guided by a fire within the stomach. His was an insatiable desire for constant improvement. In time, he became a force of nature.

Looking back, Kevin Youkilis doesn’t have the greatest lifetime stats. He hit 150 home runs, drove in 618 runs and collected just 1,053 hits in 1,061 Major League games. Nevertheless, his peak was astonishingly good, and Boston was the main beneficiary. In 2008, Youk had 29 home runs, 115 RBI and 43 doubles. He finished third in MVP voting and was the heart of a stacked Red Sox lineup. The following year, he reached base at a .413 clip, which contributed nicely to his career .382 OBP. Only 175 men have recorded a higher lifetime mark, out of more than 18,000 to play Major League Baseball.

Why Kevin Youkilis Was So Beloved

However, the true impact of Kevin Youkilis cannot be measured in numbers. He was incredibly popular with Red Sox fans, who saw him as an everyday guy living the dream. More importantly, they saw how hard he worked and admired his determination to succeed against massive odds. Youk looked like he should have been selling beer in the stands. Instead, he was a three-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox. He also won a gold glove, proving his meticulous will to get better.

There was so much to like about Kevin Youkilis, and he was a fitting hero in the post-Manny Ramirez age. I’ll never forget that quirky batting stance. Youk looked like he was sitting on an invisible toilet at the plate. The swing was a thing of beauty, however, and he was a line drive machine. The Green Monster was assaulted constantly by Youkilis, who was the perfect player for the perfect team at the perfect time. I doubt we’ll ever see his like again.

Kevin last played for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan in 2014. He is currently a special assistant to Cubs baseball mastermind Theo Epstein, the executive who gave him an opportunity to shine in Boston. There’s no telling what the future may hold for Kevin Youkilis, be it scouting or front office work. But the past will always sparkle bright, and his place in the hearts of Red Sox fans all over the world will never be diminished.

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.

Red Sox Fans Now Chicago Cubs Fans

For one month, and one month only,  much of Red Sox Nation has jumped on the Chicago Cubs bandwagon. Why? Because the Cubs have suffered longer than Red Sox fans, going 107 years without a championship. After the Red Sox waited 86 years in between championships, most of Red Sox Nation can empathize with the Cubs, and were quick to jump on their bandwagon.

And when you look at the Chicago Cubs, it’s not hard to find reasons to root for them. For Chicago Cubsstarters, ex-Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, part of 2 championships, and ex-GM Theo Epstein, who built the team who broke the “Curse of the Bambino,” are both with the Cubs now. Not to mention Manny Ramirez, who won the World Series MVP in 2004, and David Ross, who was one of the leaders of the beard movement in 2013. Second, the Cubs are loaded with young talent, notably Jake Arrieta and Kris Bryant. Those are just a couple of the things the Cubs have going for them.

But the main thing? Empathy. For 86 years, the Red Sox were in the same boat as the Cubs. While our curse involved a questionable trade, being unlucky in the World Series, a missed ground ball, and a few ill-timed home runs by the New York Yankees, we eventually broke it after 86 years. The Cubs are cursed in a different way; theirs involving a goat, a tavern, and an unfortunate case of fan interference back in 2003 in the NLCS against the Florida Marlins. So, the Red Sox and Cubs are similar in that they were both cursed for long periods of time.

Personally, I really hope the Cubs finish the job. They need to break their curse, since they’re the only team left with a “curse”, and they need to win it all. They’ll face the New York Mets in the NLCS. Go Cubs.

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.

The Red Sox Need a Totally New Hierarchy

With Larry Lucchino stepping down as President and CEO of the Red Sox, attention has swiftly turned to the future, with many observers keen to outline their vision for resuscitating baseball in Boston. There has been no official indication of further changes to the faltering hierarchy, but Red Sox Nation is tired of losing, to the point where ownership has little choice but to act.

Ever since Theo Epstein left town, this franchise has lurched from fleeting success to Red Soxdemoralizing failure, with last place finishes becoming the trademark of a strained and uninspiring regime. As General Manager, Ben Cherington enjoyed one miraculous season, but otherwise has been amongst the most inefficient executives in baseball history; his payroll-to-win ratio ranking with the very worst of all-time. Meanwhile, Lucchino, his boss, seemingly got lost amid the enormity of his role, leading to general chaos on Yawkey Way.

Now, with the Red Sox once again commanding the American League basement, the time for genuine change, not a showcase moving of furniture, has arrived. And, in the modern baseball environment of increased specialization, that means separating the business department from the baseball operation, and replacing Lucchino with two, not one, executives.

That’s right: it’s time for the Red Sox to adopt the model used by Theo’s Chicago Cubs and Andrew Friedman’s Los Angeles Dodgers, where one guy oversees the business aspect of the franchise, and another looms as the President of Baseball Operations, responsible for setting the roster-construction philosophy and hiring the men needed to make it reality.

For too long, Lucchino was in charge of both strands of the juggernaut Red Sox, which led to him doing neither role sufficiently well. Thus, with Sam Kennedy already earmarked as his replacement on the commercial side, the opportunity is ripe for Boston to spawn a new front office role for a chief baseball executive.

However, for it to be successful, that incoming President of Baseball Operations must have full autonomy to set the organizational ethos and draft in his own General Manager, much like Epstein did in Chicago and Friedman did in Hollywood. Merely shoving a guy above Cherington wouldn’t work, because philosophical differences may once again arise within the chain of command.

Ideally, this omnipotent baseball executive would be a young visionary, in line with the industry’s prevalent theme. A few candidates immediately spring to mind, namely Jed Hoyer, Chris Antonetti, Neal Huntington and Jon Daniels. However, if Red Sox ownership would prefer a more experienced guy, people like Dave Dombrowski, Billy Beane, John Mozeliak and even Brian Sabean would be worth serious consideration.

In my rebuilding plan, once in place, this head of baseball ops would then hire his own General Manager, replacing Cherington, who is now in an untenable position in Boston.

Ultimately, whether John Henry and Tom Werner are this aggressive in repairing a wounded franchise remains to be seen. The names may not change so suddenly and severely, but, without doubt, the team’s core philosophy, and the hierarchy that enforces it, must be altered now, or risk further turmoil in the years ahead.