(UPDATED in title and text at 6:10 p.m. EST and again at 10:16 p.m.) Boston Red Sox fans throughout the world had better prepare for a new era. According to ESPNBoston.com, and other well-placed sources, after meetings today between BoSox ownership, GM Theo Epstein and Terry Francona, among other principles, the Red Sox ownership and Francona himself all agreed it would be best not to bring the latter back next year after eight seasons as manager. This means that even though it was Francona’s decision to leave Boston, Francona has been technically fired, as the Sox owners will not pick up his $4 million-plus options for 2012 and 2013 before the October 8 deadline (10 days after the regular season ends).
This is a crying shame, as Tito was the best manager in Sox history, having led the storied franchise to two World Series titles in four seasons (2004 and 2007). I can’t blame him for wanting out of the organization after he helplessly watched one of the best teams in baseball from May-August rapidly fall apart in historic fashion in September. He also probably wanted out because, as he said in his final press conference this evening, he didn’t always get “support” from the ownership. I don’t know exactly what that means, but it is maddening. They should’ve picked up his two options long ago, for starters, and if there was any issue(s) between players and Tito this year, the likes of CEO Larry Lucchino (or even Epstein) should’ve stuck up for him over them. .
Francona leaving the Sox is the players’ fault first and the front office’s fault second, including the ownership’s but especially Epstein’s, who put this year’s team together. Tito should not have been the fall guy for the September fallout, but everyone involved in today’s meeting apparently agreed the Red Sox could use “a fresh voice.” Epstein should be the fall guy, even though he was the best GM the Sox ever had and put together those same two championship teams.
To be fair, no one could’ve foreseen how awful the September Swoon would be and how terrible Carl Crawford was this past season (right until the last play of the year, which was a fairly easy ball to catch). It was easily the worst season of his career, and he’s got six more years inked with the Sox. The former star outfielder was one of the top-class free agents on the market last offseason, so Epstein was rightly praised for that move and for the big trade with San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez (where the only big tradeoff was losing highly touted pitching prospect Casey Kelly).
But lack of pitching depth (both on the active 25-man roster and in the organization as a whole) is what killed this year’s team. And it’s Epstein’s fault, along with the Sox scouting and player development departments. Anytime you have the likes of minor leaguer Kyle Weiland making important starts, like the ones he made in September (in place of injured starters like Eric Bedard), and when the Boston GM has to panic and try and (unsuccessfully) make desperate deals with the Mets and Royals for a veteran starting pitcher (Chris Capuano and Bruce Chen, respectively) at the end of the season, you know you’ve failed in this crucial department that led to two championships, the first two since 1918..
There also appeared to be a lack of clubhouse leadership, some player selfishness and “conditioning” issues with the Sox in 2011, again according to ESPNBoston.com. But it appears in this report that Epstein is blaming Tito for some of this, and that is a bunch of scapegoating bullshit (even if Epstein doesn’t see it that way). Tito, the ultimate player-friendly manager, has always let the players run the clubhouse (David Ortiz, Mike Timlin and Kevin Millar come to mind). Remember, in 2004, the “idiots” (led by Johnny Damon) ran the clubhouse all the way to the World Series, not Tito.