We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming of Patriots, Bruins, Celtics, and well-deserved LeBron bashing to remind you that the stove glows dimly on Jersey Street.
As the baseball playoffs keep reminding us, the Red Sox — despite having the top payroll in baseball — are not part of October ball for the first time since 2015.
In the absence of postseason games, bad news seems to visit Fenway Park regularly. Ticket prices are up. NESN ratings are way down. And nobody seems to want the once-coveted job of Red Sox general manager.
Hotshot Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman is not interested in the Sox position and just re-upped with Los Angeles. Friedman joins Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Mike Hazen, and Chris Antonetti in the swelling group of guys who have either used the Sox as leverage to make more money or decided they would rather not get into contract discussions with an organization that abruptly broomed championship-winning GMs Ben Cherington and Dave Dombrowski.
Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy insists that the Sox have yet to formally reach out to any candidate, but I am of the opinion that several veteran baseball men have been approached through back channels. And no one has bitten.
Try to imagine a conversation in Cleveland when Tribe GM Antonetti stopped by Tito Francona’s office and asked, “Hey, got a minute? Do you think it’s a good idea for me to talk to the Red Sox about their GM job?’’
A classified ad for the current Red Sox opening would look something like this: Wanted: Established evaluator of baseball talent willing to work for iconic major league franchise with deep pockets. Need to slash payroll by $35 million, replenish depleted farm system, and still compete with the New York Yankees, who finished 19 games ahead of our team in 2019. May need to trade our best player. Must be willing to take blame for anything that goes wrong.
As if this isn’t a large enough bowl of bad, we also are being told that ownership would like to be more involved in baseball ops, and that the analytics department will be calling all the shots. From this point forward, the Sox’ strategy will be all about precise spin rates, swing paths, and velocities supplied by Statcast. Game-planning will be directed by the analytics department (pardon me while my skull explodes).
I am told that Dan Duquette might still be available.
The longer this goes, the more I am convinced that the Sox are going to go with some combination of the Gang of Four (Eddie Romero, Brian O’Halloran, Raquel Ferreira, Zack Scott) that currently runs the team. I’m making O’Halloran and Romero co-favorites.
“We’re in the early stages and continuing to do a lot of due diligence and our own homework,’’ said Kennedy. “But in the meantime, the existing group is doing an outstanding job leading the department forward. We are pleased with everything they are doing.’’
Why not just stay in-house at this point? The clock is ticking as we lurch toward the time J.D. Martinez is allowed to opt out of his contract five days after the World Series. There is no GM in place and yet the Sox have decided to retain Tony La Russa as an adviser, name a new amateur scouting director, and dump assistant hitting coach Andy Barkett. They are also looking for a new pitching coach to replace the deposed Dana LeVangie.
Does all this activity mean there is less chance of going outside for the GM job?
“I wouldn’t speculate one way or the other,’’ said Kennedy. “We are doing our homework on external candidates. John [Henry] and Tom [Werner] made that clear. We haven’t ruled anything out.’’
Looking back, it’s impossible to overstate just how bad the Sox were in 2019. They went 26-43 against teams with winning records, which projects to a 162-game record of 61-101. In their own division, they went 12-26 against the Yankees and Rays.
Making matters worse, their average game time was 3:25, a full nine minutes longer than any other big league team. That means that if you are a devout watcher, you wasted 24 more hours of your life than any other fans in baseball in 2019. Any surprise that ratings were down by a whopping 23 percent?
“You’re never pleased when ratings are down, but we did have a disappointing season, so it was not unexpected,’’ says Kennedy.
What about moving forward with (gulp) more ownership involvement with baseball ops?
“There’s a misconception going back a decade and a half that ownership was not involved in baseball operations,’’ said Kennedy. “I’ve been here since 2002 and John Henry and Tom Werner have been heavily involved with baseball operations since the day we arrived in 2002. That will continue as we go forward.’’
And yet we only seem to find the owners when the trophies are being handed out. Which reminds me of President John F. Kennedy’s remark after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961 when the president said, “Victory has a hundred fathers, and defeat is an orphan.’’
Orphans once named Dombrowski, Cherington, Tito, and Grady.
And now an orphan-to-be-named-later.