Fundamental changes needed
Theo Epstein and Terry Francona put on a good show at yesterday's postmortem press conference, with promises and answers on how to fix the Red Sox, but they gave the impression that one or both might not be around to see it through.
Francona's body language didn't seem to indicate that he even wanted to be back. He used the skillful answer that it was less than 24 hours after the debacle and said that he and Epstein had already had discussions about his future and whether his $4.5 million option would be picked up.
Francona knows there is a job opening with the White Sox in Chicago, where he was highly regarded and where he and owner Jerry Reinsdorf became friends.
But in trying to look ahead, let's assume the status quo will remain in management. If that's the case, as Epstein pointed out, a lot of things need to be addressed. There are too many soft players. It's time for the Jed Lowries to go. You have to have players you can depend on when times are difficult, not ones who are trying to get out of the lineup because they have pain or discomfort.
Make these guys run out ground balls. Isn't hustle the most fundamental thing in sports? There are too many times when Adrian Gonzalez or David Ortiz just jogs down to first base. It doesn't matter how slow you are; if you run hard down the line, once in a while you might make the infielder make a mistake.
Ortiz, to his credit, picked his spots, but he did it more toward the end of the season.
Maybe these are corny things in 21st century sports, but if this team had shown more heart and desire, perhaps that would have been enough to make the playoffs.
Accountability is huge. Francona pointed out that he didn't like some things he saw following a 14-0 win in Toronto Sept. 6 and he addressed the team.
There were plenty of times when players didn't hit cutoffs and ran the bases poorly in losses -- things that should have been addressed and weren't. But after a win?
There was too much of a country club atmosphere. The urgency was not there.
Part of the culture was conditioning, which Epstein has fessed up to, indicating that not all players met the high standards they had set. This is ridiculous. It's on the players, yes, but their superiors can't allow them to eat too many cheeseburgers or drink too much beer. There have to be consequences for being above the approved weight. You're professional athletes, for goodness sakes.
It's time the Red Sox -- including Epstein -- stop kowtowing to agents. Of course agents want to be extra careful with an injured player; theyre trying to pump up their players' value. But the team shouldn't get into that. Its focus should be on getting the player back on the field as soon and as safely as possible.
The kid-gloves treatment with which Clay Buchholz was handled was nauseating. How long did Buchholz throw from 120 feet? And when they shipped him down to Fort Myers, he threw -- drum roll, please -- 18 pitches. How do you get a pitcher ready like that?
The atmosphere has to change. The hunger has to return, but how do you do that with the current band of slugs on the team?
The change has to start with the manager. If Francona stays, there have to be more consequences for players who make mental mistakes, don't hustle, and take things for granted.
If Francona goes, a guy like Bobby Valentine wouldn't tolerate some of the things players did on the field. The players won't like it, but after a year like this, they dont get to choose anymore.
Epstein vows to leave no stone unturned in trying to fix John Lackey and Carl Crawford. But why couldn't they have been fixed during the season?
Why has it taken two years on Lackey?
Why? Because he's not that good.
It was a terrible signing. And theyre stuck with him for three more years, so they'd better hope he can be a serviceable fifth starter while making No. 1 money.
The Crawford signing was also suspect, especially when his spray chart is heavy on right field and less so on left and left-center. He hits 350-foot line drives that get caught at Fenway Park, and he never peppered the Wall, as many predicted. So if theres an overhaul, it has to be with his swing, to get him to take advantage of the Wall.
Considering the recent lack of success with free agents, Sox fans will probably cringe at the thought of pursuing more this winter. And Epstein acknowledged that he needs to change the way he evaluates them. But the Sox need to plunge in again, because their farm system is barren, especially regarding pitching.
Some suggestions on personnel:
The Sox missed the playoffs by one game. They don't need to improve much to make it in, especially when a second wild card is added.
But they do need to remember that baseball is important in Boston. That the fans and the media care deeply. And the way they perform and the effort they put forth are measured on a daily basis. This year, they weren't up to par.