Theo Epstein still speaks like a politician, but over the past two days he's leaked some insight into what we all assumed what was going on under the Big Top on Yawkey Way.
The former Red Sox general manager has been making the media rounds the past few days in advance of Boston's weekend series in Chicago beginning tomorrow. That included a sit-down with the Globe's Dan Shaughnessy for a lengthy interview last Friday (at a Starbucks in Newton!) for a piece that ran in today's edition.
I found this passage particularly intriguing:
"We joked about it all the time in the front office. We'd say, "Wouldn't it be great if we could just say, screw free agency altogether. We're going with a purely home-grown lineup. We're going with old-school, Branch Rickey-style, pre-free agency, pre-draft whatever.
"Middlebrooks at third, Lowrie or Iglesias at short, Pedroia at second, Rizzo at first, Lavarnway catching, Ellsbury in center, Reddick in right, Kalish in left. Wouldn't that have been fun?
"We kind of clung to that in the back of our minds, knowing it was impossible, recognizing that there was an inherent tension between that approach and bigger business. I kind of kick myself for letting my guard down and giving into it, because that might be a better team in some ways and resonate more with the fans than what we ended up with."
Epstein made mistakes in his time here. He clearly made mistakes.
But he gets it.
He gets it more than anyone at the top of the Red Sox food chain will ever understand.
The Red Sox are supposed to be a passion in Boston, a dedicated love affair with a baseball team unique to any other city in sports. To the "Fenway Sports Group" or whatever they call themselves now, they're part of a package that includes, of all things, LeBron James. LeBron. James. I wonder if Sam Kennedy has tried to push a "Go Heat" tie on any players lately like he did with Liverpool at the Carl Crawford press conference.
When the Sox were winning, most fans would shrug their shoulders about their team being part of a portfolio and point scoreboard. Now though, the scoreboard reads 31-32, and there's a summer angst among fans for the first time in a decade. When is the last time you heard of the majority of fans wanting to sell at the deadline? Just blow it up? John Henry should see that as critical mass.
But Henry has disappeared, as has Tom Werner. Larry Lucchino only did an interview on the Schilling Defense Team Morning Show when the Red Sox recently reached -and subsequently lost - the .500 mark. Surely he'll resurface Monday morning once the Sox sweep the hapless Cubs.
Henry was at Tuesday night's game in Miami, but has been extremely tight-lipped about anything having to do with his baseball team since going Jack Bauer AWOL and storming into The Sports Hub's studios. There was the awkward picnic table conversation in spring training, just short enough that he could make his scheduled flight to Anfield. Beyond that, we haven't really heard from Henry or Werner. Meanwhile, the franchise spirals out of control, a tone-deaf circus that can't deliver what the fans want because they're too caught up in their own nonsense.
There were no splash free agent signings in the offseason. One is because Fenway Park is slated to be the star attraction this year, being 100 and all. (You hear?) The second part of the equation though is that the Red Sox can't go that route any longer, strapped by ridiculous contracts handed out to John Lackey and Carl Crawford, who have combined to play a total of zero innings this season. Nobody knows why they're here in the first place. Crawford was already here in Jacoby Ellsbury (and it turns out they are exactly the same - brothers in disabled list arms) and Lackey was ludicrously supposed to help appease a fan base that watched Jason Bay walk away. Neat.
When Roger Clemens moved closer to home by way of Canada in 1996, the Red Sox went out and got Steve Avery and Shane Mack to help soften the blow. Mack wasn't bad in his one season in Boston (.315 average, .807 OPS). That wasn't the case with Avery, who will go down as one of the worst decisions of the Dan Duquette era.
But he was here for two years, the second season only triggered by a controversial innings pitched clause late in 1997. By 1998, the Sox were back in the playoffs with some skinny Dominican guy leading the way.
The point is there wasn't panic for "the business" as Epstein put it. There was concern, anger, and frustration, but welcome to being a Red Sox fan. Patience in that instance paid off in the long run.
Today, the Red Sox are terribly frightened about TV ratings and that stupid, idiotic, farcical, two-bit lie of a sellout streak, so they panicked and tossed money around. I hope WB Mason loves a combined eight more seasons of Crawford and Lackey, a player fans want to love, and a player fans would love to see anywhere else, respectively.
Is it any coincidence that the team signed Crawford and traded for Adrian Gonzalez the same offseason there happened to be a rising fear in Liverpool about the team's finances? Absolutely not. Are they going to pay for it long term here in Boston? I don't know about them, but we are. This is just the beginning. The only question is which lasts longer: Crawford's deal or Henry's ownership.
"I kind of kick myself for letting my guard down and giving into it, because that might be a better team in some ways and resonate more with the fans than what we ended up with," Epstein said.
But the fans aren't the problem for these guys. The half-scripted TV show with the ballpark tours, inane banter, Bobby V meltdowns, and split-screen baseball action is the thing. They delivered a product that an increasingly concerning amount of fans don't care about. Fans just want their baseball team back.
The Red Sox want LeBron to win the NBA title. I'm no expert on resonating, but...