I liked Tito Francona as a person, and I think he did a fairly good job during his eight seasons of presiding over a happy clubhouse. He made only a few questionable decisions in terms of offensive game strategy. But, as I stated in my earlier post, I repeatedly had to scratch my head over his management of pitchers. His best he overworked, and his lesser pitchers he too often gave up on. And, from what I'm hearing, the team had conditioning issues. Hey, you're a professional athlete, this shouldn't happen. But, as it turns out, if it does it's something that Francona has to correct. And he didn't.
Ah, water under the bridge. He's out, so now the team is shopping for a manager. And they've got a boatload of decisions to make in player personnel Hopefully the problems don't stem from some of the high priced talent to whom they have committed millions.
Here's one man's take on what the Sox need to do in the off-season, and what they need to do going forward.
Manager: Ryne Sandberg, a Hall of Famer, managed the Phillies AAA team this past season. He'd walk into the clubhouse with the immediate respect of the players, and the ability to look them in the eye and get them to listen. He'd likely be able to handle the Boston Fishbowl as well as Francona did. Is he the best guy for the job? I think a bench coach or pitching coach from a team with strong pitching and fundamentals could be a very good choice, possibly Dave Martinez from Tampa, and there are others. But Sandberg's resume might just get to some of the individuals that Francona couldn't reach. I don't see DeMarlo Hale being the guy as he was in the management this year.
Outfield: You won't have JD Drew to kick around anymore - his $14M contract expires this year. He's 35, and no one in their right mind will offer him another big deal. Jacoby Ellsbury is in his arbitration years, and obviously you keep him. And you are stuck with Carl Crawford, who you can only hope will be much more comfortable, and much better, next year. There's no downside to giving Josh Reddick first shot at right field. He's a good fielder who had stretches where he was very dangerous at the plate. Like a lot of young players he was inconsistent, but experience often fixes that problem. Another young guy, Ryan Kalish, showed a lot in 2010 then spent the year disabled after injuring a shoulder. He might be a contributor, but you can't count on him as a pencil-him-in starter. You need one or two more solid outfielders.
Infield: With Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez the right side is set. Kevin Youkilis was supposed to be your third baseman, but played injured much of the year before he couldn't even play injured anymore. He should be back healthy, but he's 32 and does have an injury tendency, particularly since he gets hit by so many pitches. Marco Scutaro played very well the last 2 months, one of the few who did, but is 35. Jose Iglesias in the minors might make the jump up. But if you're going to make something big happen, third and short are the probable locations. Youkilis in particular might bring you some frontline pitching.
DH: Re-sign David Ortiz, two or three years. Yes, he's 35 and fell off in September. So did a lot of Sox.
Catcher: Not sure what to make of Ryan Lavarnway and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. On the one hand, both have pop, and seemed to be able to handle pitching fairly well. On the other hand, this staff struggled, and some of the guys who struggled this year didn't when Jason Varitek was the everyday catcher. And neither hits consistently, particularly Saltalamacchia, who was awful at the plate in the last month. Of the two I like Lavarnway just a hair better. This is another place to look for help, like the Yankees did last year with Russell Martin.
Starting Pitching: You've got Josh Beckett signed at $17M per through 2014. You've got Jon Lester signed for two more years at $7.6M/$11.6M. Clay Bucholz should be very healthy next year and is signed through 2015 fairly cheap. You've got John Lackey, unfortunately, signed through 2014 at just under $16M per. You have the option on Andrew Miller - pick it up. Tim Wakefield will be 46 next year, but he's Phil Niekro and comes cheap. Go ahead and keep him, he's a character guy in the clubhouse. Daisuke Matsuzaka is coming off elbow reconstruction, and was struggling even before getting hurt. Doubtful he can help. If you can get another starter who can help you for reasonable money, pick one up. If you're looking to trade other clubs will start by asking for Bucholz and Lester. Don't do it. Exit question: do you try to re-sign Erik Bedard? He's been pretty good in the past, hasn't he? Not recently, though.
Bullpen: This one is tough. Given how solid Jonathan Papelbon was this year you really have to try to re-sign him. Daniel Bard ranged from shaky to horrid the last month, but I blame that on overuse. However, both of these gentlemen need to learn how to get opposing players out with another pitch in addition to their fastball. They both throw relatively flat fastballs at 96 (JP) and 98(DB). One of the reasons Mariano Rivera, like Bruce Sutter before him, is so successful is because his primary pitch, the cutter, moves and is often not in the strike zone by the time the batter swings. If these two fireballers are going to go with the heat they'd better get command of it. Alfredo Aceves proved he belongs and his enormous flexibility makes the entire bullpen better. He's in arbitration. Franklin Morales has got a pretty good arm, and showed flashes. Felix Doubront could be another lefty starter, but he's also shown he can help in the pen. Scott Atchison is useful and cheap. He takes the ball when you give it to him. And you'll need to make decisions on Dan Wheeler and Matt Albers. Albers is five years younger. I think both were hurt by Francona's use, and might be better with more direction and purpose. On the other hand, maybe not. The whole group, however, could benefit from Ray Miller's advice: Work Fast, Change Speeds, Throw Strikes.
Bench: I liked what I saw from Mike Aviles, who plays with attitude and intensity. Jed Lowrie is a switch hitter who can play third, short and second. That helps, but stop flirting with him as a starter. Conor Jackson can play first or the outfield and is a right handed bat. But you might be able to upgrade on several fronts here. This group could use some veteran help.
Trade Bait: Gosh I wish Lars Anderson had just torn it up at every level - you could have saved the money on Adrian Gonzalez. But he didn't, and there's no room for him at the inn. Michael Bowden hasn't shown much more than a good arm. Too many of his pitches are in the middle of the plate. He needs to learn command of the strike zone. Perhaps somewhere else. And there isn't much else at the major league level.
Drafting & Minors: There's something rotten in Denmark, or rather in Pawtucket, Portland, Salem, Greenville and Lowell. For all of the "great" drafts that Peter Gammons think the Red Sox have, they have managed to come up nearly empty with what's left of them in the minors. Jose Iglesias, with his three tools. Possibly Will Middlebrooks, a third baseman in AA Portland last year (.302, 18 HR). Bryce Brentz is probably a little further away. The first pick this year was a very good college pitcher, Matt Barnes. And why do the pitchers seem to come up unprepared for the majors, and repeatedly have to be sent back down? Tampa keeps running out pitchers they developed, and they show up ready to throw aspirin tablets and "ungodly breaking stuff." Does the pitcher development need an overhaul? How about scouting?
Well, that's about it. Hope I haven't forgotten anyone. I might have one more of these posts looking at the free-agent pool when it's a bit more certain. There's plenty above to like, if you're the incoming manager. Fitness and attitude need some work, and the pitching deck needs to be re-ordered.