Saturday, October 15, 2011

If I were the new Red Sox GM ...

If I got a phone call from Messrs. Henry, Werner and Lucchino asking me become the next general manager of the Red Sox, I'd take the job ... but only if I had absolute carte blanche on making personnel moves (including hiring the manager).

With that guarantee, here is what I'd do ... in order.

I'd make a strong bid to hire Tony Pena as the next manager. He seems to be the candidate best suited for the job. First, he knows what it's like to play here, so he can be a good sounding board for people like Carl Crawford (who isn't going anywhere for the next few years) who seemed intimidated this season by the heightened expectations of a rabid fan base (something Crawford didn't have in Tampa Bay). Second, there is no way Pena would allow idiots like Josh Beckett and John Lackey to get away with the crap they pulled this summer. Third, he has enough cachet around the game to stand up to guys like David Ortiz when they go off on one of their petulant rants. Fourth, he'll hire a pitching coach (I'll give him that privilege) with whom he is on the same page; and fifth, he can probably spot a catcher with major league prospects far better than anyone in that organization can at present.

Next would be a period of reckoning, since my fan base is going to be looking some after this mess of a season. First to go, via trade, is Kevin Youkilis. It's just time for him to move on, and for the Red Sox to do so as well. Youkilis had a few gooid seasons (mostly when he was positioned around some fantastic hitters), and nobody questions his hustle and desire. They do question his personality, though, and I have strong opinions when it comes to surrounding my work environment with jerks.

And to me, Youkilis is a jerk. And if you have to put up with jerks when they're helping you on the field, you don't have to put up with them when they start hitting the downsides of their careers. And this is where Youkilis is now. On the way down. See you later. I'd pull a Dan Duquette and say he's in the twilight of his career, except his career never had enough light associated with it to merit a twilight.

If, in two years, Jacoby Ellsbury makes a bee-line out the door you can blame Youkilis. He's the one who went public last season questioning Ellsbury's manhood, and his loyalty, after he broke five ribs colliding with Adrian Beltre. This insult came after genius Theo -- whom I'm happy to replace, frankly -- had a brainstorm and turned him into a left fielder. If he'd kept him where he was, he probably never would have been injured and maybe the Red Sox are good enough in 2010 to make the playoffs.

Youkilis comes across as petulant, moody, impatient, and temperamental. If this team appears unlikeable, he's one of the reasons why. We don't have to be singing Kumbaya all the time, but, come on, I don't want you to be throwing people to the wolves either.

In my world, the Red Sox need to build, position player-wise, around three people in the coming years: Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and Ellsbury (I'd say Crawford, too, but getting his head straightened out will be the No. 1 in-house project for this offseason, and for 2012, and until we do that, he can't be one of the building blocks).

I question whether Ellsbury will even be here in two years, considering all the indignities he's suffered, but I'd be willing to work on him. He's worth the effort, believe me.

As Part Two of the reckoning, I'd first try to trade John Lackey, and I'd accept anything all the way down to a bag of used baseballs in return, and, if I got no takers, just flat-ass release him. Realistically, we're going to have to eat this contract, and it'll taste as bad as turnips on Thanksgiving (the only time I ever had to eat them growing up, and even then, I resisted). But it has to be done. There is no way on God's green earth I'd ever allow him to set foot in my clubhouse again. I'd have to allow him on my field if whatever team unfortunate enough to have him plays a game here, but I'd put bouncers at the door to keep him out of the clubhouse.

It's one thing to pitch as badly as he did this season. But to as miserable a person as he appeared to be? I'd rather have my teeth drilled than watch him pitch another year.

Reckoning Part Three: Trade Josh Beckett. This will be difficult. Not that I don't think he's marketable. Of course he is. But getting rid of him will mean getting rid of whatever potential for greatness he has left in him.

I'm sure it's out there. He could very well do what Roger Clemens did and rejuvenate his career by leaving here. Fine. That's a risk I'll take. You know how I don't like jerks? I dislike people who disrespect their professions even more. He was supposed to be a leader on this pitching staff. Some leader he turned out to be. I guess in one way, he was. He was the leader of a pitching staff that averaged less than five innings per start from Sept. 1 on. He was the leader of a pitching staff that, when the going got tough, they got soft.

You know what, Josh? Go drink beer on someone else's dime (not to mention time). Not mine. I'm sure there are a few KFC's in Kansas City, or Seattle, or Pittsburgh, or wherever else I might ship your ass off to. You're not going to do that here.

This, I know, leaves us even more pitching-thin than we are now (and judging from September, that's pretty damn thin). I'm not counting on Daisuke Matsuzaka, although I kind of feel obligated to invite him back just to see if there's any way he can help us.

But as for Beckett, I don't care. You have to have standards, and I should think hoisting a few cold ones while chomping on KFC grease would violate even the most basic standards. Beckett, at his age, should know better. The fact that he doesn't is quite alarming, and makes one wonder whether he'll ever get it, and become anything more than a loose cannon.

We go on. The next two moves are hard because of their sentimental value to the team. I release Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.

Varitek is done. Finite. I never understood how you could have your captain's main function on the team be a personal catcher for Josh "Double Down" Beckett. That's got to end. Every August, just when you need it the most, the local undertaker holds a wake for Varitek's bat (both his and Youkilis' bat are usually deader than Elvis during the stretch run).

And, really, what kind of a captain is he? He certainly couldn't do what a captain is supposed to do: be part of the self-policing force that should have jolted the Red Sox out of their September freefall. So, again, what is the value of keeping him?

It'll hurt to let Wakefield go. He's been the absolute prototype loyal soldier on this team. He's earned whatever accolades he's received over the years, and where I might expel more than a few of these guys from my foxhole, I'd want him in mine if I ever found myself in one.

But he's going to be 46. Last year, we depended on a 45-year-old man to be part of the starting rotation and watched as he painfully fumbled his way to his 200th career victory. It was right up there with waterboarding in the torture department.

I just feel as if I have to remove him from the equation for no other reason than to keep myself from depending him as "the insurance policy" ever again. If Progressive Insurance was that undependable, that hideous looking woman on TV wouldn't have a job!

Those would be my five "messages" to the rest of these guys that whatever bullshit went on in 2011 would not be looked upon kindly in 2012.

Moving forward, I'd next summon the following players to meet with myself and Mr. Pena: Crawford, Gonzalez, Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, David Ortiz and Jon Lester.

I'd let Pena work on Crawford. I'll tell Tony "he's all yours." Whatever has to say, or do, he has to let Crawford know that we don't want him to be Babe Ruth, or Reggie Jackson, Mark Teixeira, or whoever he thought he was supposed to be. We just want him to be Carl Crawford. That's enough.

All I want to say to Gonzalez is this: The next time you bitch about having to play ballgames on Sunday nights, I'll make sure I ship you to some team where nobody cares when you play. There are plenty of them. I'd remind him that the only reason the Boston Red Sox can afford to pay him whatever salary he's getting is because they command a large national following, which translates in to TV ratings and a rabid fan base, which translates into money, a lot of which is going in his pocket.

So it wouldn't kill him to be a little grateful and to shut up about when the games are. Thank you. That's all. Have a nice flight home. See you in February.

I'd tell Ellsbury that we we want to tear up his contract and renegotiate a new one now. I am going to do everything short of selling him shares of the team to keep him here. He is the most exciting player we've had here in years, and there's no way I'm going watch him leave here and put on another team's uniform without one hell of a fight.

The message to Papelbon and Bard is pretty simple: I am going to hire the best trainers and conditioning coaches I can find, consult the best nutritionists in the business (and I know one of the best in the business, too), and I expect them both to study and learn, so that come August and September of next season, they'll have enough gas in the tank not to fade and blow important ballgames down the stretch.

(In all seriousness, with the wealth of knowledge we have about conditioning and nutrition in the 21st century it is beyond appalling how many of these guys were flat-ass out of shape come September, and I'm not talking about the "Pound That Budweiser" club only).

Speaking of Papelbon, Bard didn't do much to convince me that he's ready to be the closer. Ergo, I have to think about getting Papelbon signed to a deal. Closers with his makeup, not to mention his willingness to be accountable, aren't that common.

Ortiz' would be a brief conversation too. Big Papi is part of the local lore. More than any other member the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox (except for maybe Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar, who were only around for one of the championships), Ortiz encapsulated the joie de vivre of that bunch. He became a civic institution, and is still enough of one today that when he went into his horrendous slump two years ago, he got a ridiculously free pass from the fans. Also, he's one of the few "steroid poster boys" who managed to outlive the scandal and emerge relatively unscathed.

Papi needs to remember this the next time he pops off and interrupts the manager's pre-game press briefing over a disputed RBI (as if one is going to make that much of a difference). And he needs to remember that when, and if, the Red Sox ever name him pitching coach, he can make recommendations to the manager about whether Alfredo Acevas should be a starter or a reliever. Otherwise, STFU.

Cutting ties with Ortiz, even now, would be too painful a reminder of all that went wrong this year. He still has enough cachet for me to consider re-signing bringing him back. I'd convey all this to him, with the caveat that if he feels that compelled to go elsewhere to lower his blood pressure from all the drama, it would be advisable to ponder how many teams would pay what we'll pay him just for staying.

Lester ... boy ... we're going to make this one an old-fashioned trip to the woodshed. Stepping out of my role as the new Red Sox GM, and speaking strictly as a fan, I really want to know where he gets off being in such open defiance of a manager who nurtured him as if he was his own son. What would ever possess John Lester to violate professional protocol that badly? I mean, what nerve! This is a guy we bled for (in the spiritual sense) in 2006 when he was diagnosed with cancer. This is a guy we cheered for with abandon the following year when he pitched (and won) Game 4 of the World Series. Terry Francona made it a point to put it that way.

We stood on the seats at Fenway Park and felt as if one of our own had pitched that no-hitter in 2008. He was such a great story.

To hear that he's among the KFC Keggers is so disappointing and discouraging there aren't any words to say about it. It's the type of thing that leaves you feeling hollow, and makes you wonder why you pour so much of your energy and emotion into such over-privileged, over-indulged, and over-entitled jerks.

Stepping back into my role as GM, this is exactly the sentiment I'd relay to Jon Lester. John Lackey may be the physical manifestation of all that is wrong with professional athletes, and Josh Beckett may be the physical manifestation of all that was wrong with this team, but Jon Lester is the moral and spiritual manifestation of what it means to let people down who lived and died with you, and who believed in you as strongly as Terry Francona did. He needs to know that, and he needs someone to tell him in no uncertain terms the damage he did to himself, and his fans, in 2011. I'll take this on gladly.

I'm also going to tell him that we think that he's basically a decent guy with a decent work ethic, but that we don't see him as a leader (obviously) just yet. AND I'm going to tell him that we're looking to find a veteran pitcher with just enough left in the tank to contribute, but whose main function is to teach him how to be a leader. If Lester considers that "hiring a babysitter," so be it. Apparently he still needs one.

I read an article years ago about how Don Mattingly worked Derek Jeter when Jeter came up to the club. Mattingly, one of the classiest Yankees ever, taught Jeter how to be a Major League ballplayer, and he obviously taught him well. That's what Lester needs now. He needs someone with Mattingly's respect for the game to teach him how to be the ace of a pitching staff.

As for personnel, all I ever intend to say to Pedroia is that while we don't necessarily believe in putting the "C" on someone's jersey, if there is a captain, it's him ... and that while I believe in the "one chief" system Dick Williams used so many years ago, Petie has both mine and Pena's carte blanche to assert whatever leadership he feels he has to in that clubhouse. Those who chafe at it will be told to deal with it. If everyone played the game the way Pedroia plays it, we'd be on our way to the World Series.

I feel Lester and Clay Buchholz make a pretty good one-two combo on the mound. We obviously need more, and since -- judging from the parade of limp-armed pitchers we saw last year -- that's not coming from the minors, we're going to have to either trade for them or sign some free agents.

Now, I understand the market's not flooded with them. We'll have to do the best we can. The staff is in shambles, and losing Beckett's not going to help that any. But going forward, putting a staff together has to be priority No. 1, and it's not going to happen overnight.

I suppose I'd also give Eric Bedard a chance to get into some decent shape and see what he can do to help us. He wasn't terrible. He just wasn't in peak physical condition.

We need a third baseman, and a right fielder. I Michael Cuddyer. Always did. I also like Jeff Francoeur. I'd be happy with either, but it seems at this point, Cuddyer is the more available option.

I'd also keep Marco Scutaro around for another year. If we're so critical of the players who tanked in September, we should probably think about rewarding one of the few who didn't. Ditto Alfredo Acevas. He's got to be part of the solution, going forward. I'd invite Dan Wheeler and Matt Albers back. Albers, especially, had some moments. But man, he'd have to drop about 100 pounds, wouldn't he?

These are a few of the concerns that I think really need to be address before anyone can talk about the floating of the Titanic that was the 2011 Boston Red Sox. There's so much they have to do. Theo has to answer for some bad signings, not the least of which was Bobby Jenks, who contributed nothing. Where was the crack medical staff on this one. Speaking of which, getting a new medical staff has to be a priority. This one is horrible. Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard would be an improvement.

We're going to have to save matters of depth, the bullpen (which was terrible), and what to do about Jarrod Saltalamacchia (as he's clearly not a starting catcher in the Major Leagues). But those are relatively minor issues compared to fixing what broke down in September.

And I'm not one of those people who thinks we just have to "move on" and act as if 2011 didn't exist. It existed. It happened. And I hope these guys never forget.

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