Kevin Youkilis Was Theo Epstein’s First Super-Prospect

More than anything he did in the Majors, Kevin Youkilis heralded the arrival of the Red Sox farm system as one that could create superstar after superstar. (ianonsports.wordpress.com/Sports Illustated)

Former Red Sox Kevin Youkilis wrote a letter to Red Sox Nation Sunday. Youkilis thanked his coaches, his teammates, his family and his fans for what he called the “honor and a privilege to play every home game of my career in Boston before a sold out Fenway Park.”

Classy move by a classy guy, no matter what anyone else may say about his character. But Youkilis brought so much more to the Red Sox than just class.

Youkilis Soared From Game 1

Youkilis’ arrival signaled the beginning of a new age in Red Sox history. From his first game on May 15, 2004 – a 4-0 win over the Blue Jays in which Youkilis batted 2-for-4 with a home run – Red Sox Nation knew they had someone special.

The Red Sox knew it too, putting him on both ALDS and World Series rosters that season. He only appeared in one postseason game, going hit-less in Game 2 of the ALDS, but Terry Francona had him stick around, just in case.

Youkilis played with the fire and grit Red Sox fans have always loved and identified with, making him an instant favorite. “Yoooouk” chants at Fenway Park filled became as commonplace as Fenway Franks or Wally the Green Monster.

Youkilis may never have been the most popular player on team – David Ortiz pretty much has that role locked down – but he was always a fan favorite.

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Bobby Valentine Hiring Process Yet Another Misstep By Management

Because management lied to the Red Sox about hiring a disciplinarian like Bobby Valentine, the new manager will arrive with two strikes against him. (AP)

WEEI Red Sox reporter Alex Speier reported Wednesday that Bobby Valentine’s hiring as the new manager flies in the face of an administrative promise made earlier in the off-season that the team would not go after a disciplinarian. While the report did not state who made the promise or to which player, a similar report by ESPNBoston.com’s Joe McDonald suggests Speier is (as usual) right on the money.

If that’s the case, management’s decision to go with Valentine is yet another botched play from Ben Cherington and this suddenly bumbling ownership group.

Which Front-Office Staffer’s Nose is Growing?

GMs and owners shouldn’t have to consult with players on the majority of baseball operations. In many cases, what front-office guys do is either too complicated or too unrelated to be worth bothering players with.

But on the other hand, management should never straight-up lie to players, either. And that’s exactly what appears to have happened: Management told at least one player Valentine specifically would not be the next Red Sox manager, then they went ahead and hired him anyway.

They knew the Red Sox feared the arrival of a disciplinarian like Valentine after seven years of “player’s manager” Terry Francona. But instead of listening to the players and working with them to assuage their concerns, Cherington’s staff decided the best course of action was to ignore the players and sell them a line, then let Cherington unilaterally do whatever he wanted.

It was a cowardly, dishonest decision that does nothing to fix the widely held belief by fans that this new era is nothing but a pale shadow of the Francona-Theo Epstein era.

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Red Sox Erred in Firing Francona, Should Cut Epstein Loose

Theo Epstein's bad personnel decisions caused the Red Sox's historic collapse this season. If anyone should be fired, it's Epstein, not Terry Francona. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

It’s too late to undo firing Terry Francona, a rash decision born from the kind of rabid bloodlust that few fanbases besides Boston’s are capable of. But if John Henry wants to cut out the true cause of the Red Sox’s historic collapse, he needs to go one level higher and axe Theo Epstein.

Player misuse caused by bad lineups, rotation or bullpen order can certainly kill a team, and that’s the manager’s fault. But this Red Sox team had a faulty foundation, and that’s the responsibility of the general manager who built it.

The rotten core that killed this Red Sox team began five years ago, when Epstein signed J.D. Drew and Daisuke Matsuzaka for big-time bucks. Drew’s pedestrian .264 average, 16 home runs and 57.2 RBIs per season have not been worth the cost, but that’s nothing compared with Matsuzaka. The Japanese so-called superstar was a dud in Boston, failing to contribute anything meaningful from 2009 until Tommy John surgery essentially ended his Boston tenure early this season. On top of that, he became one of the most frustrating, least entertaining pitchers in recent Red Sox history. Fans hated him, and that likely translated into less revenue from him than other pitchers. This is the exact opposite of what Epstein envisioned when he signed Matsuzaka.

Were these the only two bad contracts of the Epstein Era, he keeps his job. But these were just the beginning of a downward trend of spending big money on big games that could never hack it in Boston. For example: the 2010 John Lackey signing – a desperate, panicked attempt to prove to the fans a year after losing Mark Teixeira that Epstein could still attract major talent to as tough a media market as Boston. Lackey didn’t even have a particularly good 2009 (11 wins, fewest since 2003; 3.83 ERA, highest since 2004), but it didn’t matter: Epstein took him and his histrionics anyway. The result? A winning percentage barely above .500 and an ERA over 5.00.

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