By Kevin Pereau — @kpereauMLB
Watching March tick down is torture for your team here at AvidBoston.com. First pitch is so close but so far away. April can’t come soon enough. This year, as I pontificate on springs past, an odd thought strikes me and that is that this may be one of the last times we go into the season thinking like we are a franchise built to last. We better win now because we have become a bit thin on prospects. The Chicago Cubs have become the team that is built to last.
It is go big or go home time for the Sox. Gone are many of the farm system kids who gave us the feeling that not only is this our year but so is next season and the one after that. What a difference a change in GM can make, eh.
To Theo Epstein in Chicago, I say congratulations and thank you for exercising our demons here in Boston. You transitioned us a winner capable of weathering time and giving us reason to be optimistic for many years to come. The Cubs have been reshaped with your winning formula and values…Build from the ground up, use free agency to fill the gaps and pick and choose wisely with how you spend your money. You have built the envy of all baseball.
Meanwhile, here in Boston, we have gone from expecting to be in the hunt every year to needing blockbusters deals to compete as one of the league’s elite. To Dave Dombrowski’s credit, he seems to have brought in the best left-hander that was available. Chris Sale is as good as gets. Assuming he can get along with the Boston media, which can be overwhelming, it will all be good. But, what if he doesn’t work out or gets injured? Who do we have left to bring up? The ranks are quickly thinning and not just at pitcher.
It is hard not to marvel at the magic of Theo. He was thrust onto the GM scene way before we had any reason to believe he was ready. Many suspect Larry Lucchino hired Epstein because he was so young and under thumb. Few remember it was Lucchino botching the A-Rod trade with Texas while simultaneously rescinding on a trade commitment with the Rockies that propelled Theo to a more front and center role shaping the team. Other clubs were avoiding trade discussions with the Sox back then until Theo took over as the face of the franchise. Ownership wisely focused Lucchino on renovating Fenway Park and he did a beautiful job of updating Fenway Park, no question about it.
Epstein proved early on that he was clearly not afraid to make bold moves. He traded away Nomar delivering Boston their first World Series in 86 years. He didn’t feel like he was finished yet. He realized it takes a well-oiled team working together to build something that will last and he built the best front office in the game. His departure from the Red Sox created an exodus of talent. We lost Jed Hoyer, an Assistant GM to Epstein in Boston, now with the Cubs. We lost Peter Woodfork who went from being Epstein’s Director of baseball operations to Senior Vice President of MLB operations. Jason McLeod, our Director of Amateur Scouting quit and rejoined Theo in a similar role in Chicago. Josh Byrnes, another Assistant General Manager under Theo left to become the Padres General Manager in San Diego. Finally, Ben Cherington, another in a long line of Epstein protégés, lasted about as long as it takes to drink a cup of coffee. Lucchino undermined him at every turn. Lucchino routinely contradicted him in public, from the manager he hired or who was about to be traded. He didn’t make it easy. Bobby Valentine was the last straw. When BV publicly questioned the commitment of Kevin Youkalis to the Boston press, Dustin Pedrioa stepped in saying, “That just isn’t how we do things here in Boston”. Happily, ownership agreed, reassigning Lucchino to Pawtucket but Ben Cherington was a casualty and is now out of baseball. In all my years following baseball, I can’t remember a time when it was the owner who got sent down.
Dombrowski’s sample size is just too small to know what his legacy will ultimately be in Boston. This much we know, he isn’t as committed to developing talent from within as Epstein and its not yet clear if he will draft talent or sign Internationals as well. I worry that this puts us on a trajectory where the only way we can compete with the Yankees is through free agency. They can outspend us every time. Just a reminder folks, they can outspend us every time. Half the time they telegraph roster moves, I wonder if that’s for my benefit or Brian Cashman? For now, Sox fans have every right to be bullish on the season. Beyond that? Dombrowski’s next few moves could soon tell.