The Red Sox are a disaster. And we have so many questions. Why not talk to Larry Lucchino?
Let’s start with this: Aren’t the Red Sox kidding themselves and their fans with their insistence that they are still playing for something in 2015?
“I don’t think so,’’ said Lucchino, the team’s president and CEO. “There’s no reason, and no requirement, that we throw a white flag up prematurely. We’re not doing that. I think the team is going to finish strong and is going to provide some entertaining, competitive baseball for fans this summer.’’
Wow. In face of all the evidence, this has been the public posture of Red Sox/Globe owner John Henry and Sox GM Ben Cherington. The Sox continue to tell us that the sun will soon be shining, while we are standing in torrential rain. Now Lucchino joins the chorus.
We haven’t seen much of Larry (the man who “runs the Red Sox,” according to Henry) lately. While no change in Fenway’s chain of command has been announced, Lucchino has been virtually invisible and it appears his powers are diminished. Larry has been busy trying to build a stadium for the Sox’ Triple A affiliate in Rhode Island and he’s also involved in the fantasy project we’ve come to know as Boston 2024 (Boston’s doomed Olympic bid). That doesn’t seem to leave much time for Lucchino to run the Red Sox like he did in the old days.
Ah . . . those were some sweet times. Who can forget Larry infuriating George Steinbrenner by calling the Yankees “the evil empire”? I remember trigger-tempered Larry bombarding Sox manager Terry Francona with phone calls, insisting that the team’s play was “unacceptable.’’ (The 2004 Sox went 40-15 after a particularly animated discussion between Larry and Tito in early August.) I remember Theo Epstein resigning because he thought Larry was undermining him, and I remember Larry overruling Cherington when Ben wanted to name Dale Sveum manager in 2012. Larry was the point guy when the Sox insulted Jon Lester with a low-ball offer in the spring of 2014. Larry was also the man who rebuilt Fenway Park in spectacular fashion and called the shots as the Sox won three World Series in 10 years.
OK, Larry. You’ve got the track record, you say you’re still involved, and you’re not giving up. How long can the 2015 Red Sox maintain this position that the season is not yet over?
“I think the end of July is a time when there’s a fork in the road,’’ said Lucchino. “If you want to know what we’re going to do around the end of July, I would suggest you give us a call then. But I don’t think there’s any reason why we must make that decision at this point. I’m still holding on to the belief that this team can perform and will perform better as we go forward.’’
How do you feel about the pitching staff you started the season with?
“I had greater expectations for some of them. The success of baseball teams is determined by pitching and overall balance. I still remain hopeful that the pitching staff will perform to expectations.”
How do you feel about the commitments made to Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval?
“I think it’s far too early to question definitively. Those are long-term deals. I think those guys have made real contributions to this team, but it’s a snapshot in the earliest part of a long-term deal.”
Some of us are comparing the Hanley-Pablo signings to the Gonzalez-Crawford acquisitions before 2011. You got away from that philosophy, now it feels like you’ve flipped back.
“I can understand why some people might make that comparison. It was never one that we attempted to duplicate.”
Everybody loves the 2013 championship. What do you say to the notion that that season somehow created a false sense of who you are and what your philosophy is? Has that championship in any way hurt you since it happened?
“I don’t think so. I think it was an extraordinary year. We recognized that at the time. I don’t think any bad habits or erroneous perceptions that grew out of it hamstring us these days. Baseball is a very difficult game to predict as many of you know. I am determined to believe in this team. I believe in the young players. I have faith in the manager and the general manager of this team and I have faith that we are going to finish stronger than we have performed to date.”
Is it fair to question your baseball evaluators in light of the John Lackey trade, the Rusney Castillo signing, the contract extension to Rick Porcello, etc.?
“There’s always healthy debate going on within the organization before we as a group make a long-term commitment. And certainly after. We’re not immune to second-guessing ourselves, but I do think a little more water needs to run underneath the bridge before you can effectively evaluate some of these most recent transactions.”
But some look like disasters, do they not?
“I don’t know what you’re referring to.”
Let’s start with $72 million for Castillo, who’s going to be 28 next month and is back in the minors. Bill James projected 22 homers and 32 steals for Castillo. He had one homer and one steal when he got sent back down.
“As a Zen master, I would say, ‘We’ll see.’ ’’
What about the Lackey deal? Did the Cardinals know something about Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, who are both now in the minors?
“It certainly looks like that deal didn’t result in the kind of gains we thought we’d have in the major leagues. But both of those guys still play for the [Pawtucket] Red Sox and no one has given up on the pitching contributions that Joe Kelly can make in the future.”
John Henry told us that Ben Cherington is going to be here for a long time.
“This may surprise you, but I tend to agree enthusiastically with John Henry.”
Ben’s not on a hot streak now. Why is there so much faith in Ben?
“Because we work with him every day. We see the kind of person and baseball man that he is.”
What would you say to the notion that some of Ben’s support is rooted in him not pushing back against what the analytics people want, or what the owners want? He doesn’t fight back.
“No, Ben Cherington is a very independent agent and strong personality, and we admire and respect him for it.”
To what degree is the team being assembled by the analytics guys?
“Some would say there’s tension between analytics and traditional scouting. I believe you’ve got to have both.”
It feels like you don’t any longer have the old-fashioned baseball guys like Bill Lajoie and Craig Shipley, who were here when Theo was here. It feels now like it’s more stat guys and young geniuses.
“I don’t think that’s so. We have a lot of experienced scouts in our organization. I can see that the people you might see around the office are more the young, analytical guys, but we have people all over the country who are traditional observational scouts.”
Is John Farrell going to be the manager of this team all year?
“I believe so. Absolutely.”
Why does he have that support? Again, it looks like he’s a company man, who won’t push back and therefore stays on the job.
“I think that’s a misread of his personality and his effectiveness. We all share some responsibility for the frustration, stop-and-start nature of this season. It would be unfair and inaccurate to try to put this on any one person, given the fact that so many different heads are going into the formulations of a payroll and roster. I think those who know John Farrell know what a strong and independent leader he is.”
You’ve just characterized this as a “stop-and-start” season. What would you say to those who would characterize it as a “disaster”?
“Well, this is baseball. People are free to have whatever opinions they may have. Some of them may be a direct result of the high level of expectation that was created before the season started, so I can understand how some people might say the contrast is pretty disappointing, pretty disastrous. I, for one, still have faith in this team and you’re not going to see any white flag going up from me or from us.”
Do you take authorship for some of that high level of expectation — yourself and John — did you not create some of that?
“I think we were optimistic about this year and so were the media members and many of our players. I think it was a commonly held expectation. You can look at the clippings from early on and certainly see open optimism for this team. I refuse to give up on them.”
This is the third time in four years that it’s not going great. Is there concern about holding the fan base, keeping them watching and going to your games?
“There’s always concern about our fans and our fan base. The first fundamental commitment of ownership is to field a team that’s worthy of fan support, that provides interesting, entertaining, competitive, winning baseball. When that’s not happening to the level that we’re satisfied with, we’re concerned about how it impacts our fans, their passion, and their support.”
How would you characterize the Red Sox chain of command at this hour?
“It’s functioning pretty much as it has for a long period of time.”
It appears you are less involved because of your involvement with Providence and the Olympics. Is that fair to say?
“No, that’s not quite fair. I’ve had to throw myself into Pawtucket quite a bit because of [PawSox owner] Jim Skeffington’s death. But it is the Triple A affiliate of the Red Sox, so it’s not like I’m off doing something else. It’s part of my Red Sox responsibility. The Olympics take a very small amount of my time. They asked me to take a larger role, but I demurred.”
Are you as involved with the Red Sox as you have ever been?
“I would say the answer to that is yes, with the short-term exception of the last couple of weeks with the Pawtucket time after Skeff’s passing.”