BOSTON (CBS) — Way back when, after the Red Sox rallied to defeat the Cleveland Indians in the 1999 American League Division Series, the Indians fired manager Mike Hargrove. Hargrove had led the Indians to five straight winning seasons and two World Series appearances, and yet the Indians could not help but come to a simple conclusion after blowing a 2-0 series lead against Boston.
“We felt they had an advantage in the dugout,” someone in the Cleveland organization told me, speaking specifically about the ALDS against the Red Sox but more generally about Hargrove.
All of which brings us to the 2018 Red Sox.
In case you missed it, the Red Sox recently announced the hiring of Tony La Russa as a special assistant to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, but make no mistake as to whom La Russa is actually here to assist – and that’s first-year manager Alex Cora. The Red Sox obviously hired Cora to be the next manager and wouldn’t have done so if they believed he couldn’t handle the challenges that come with the Red Sox, but don’t be fooled into thinking he is the perfect hire.
Just look at the facts. The Red Sox clearly wanted Cora to hire a bench coach with managerial experience, which they did in Ron Roenicke, who nonetheless feels underwhelming. Now they’ve even added La Russa, which suggests the Red Sox are at least a little worried (even with Roenicke) about the relative shortage of experience in the manager’s office and at the command post of the home dugout at Fenway Park.
And they should be.
As anyone will tell you – in any walk of life – there is no substitute for experience. None. So the Red Sox are trying to give Cora as much as possible on his periphery.
Let’s digress here for a moment. In addition to La Russa, the Red Sox recently have announced the hiring of coaches Tom Goodwin (first base) and Carlos Febles (third base), giving the club a managerial and coaching core that consists of former players who excelled at – for lack of a better term – small ball. Goodwin was an outfielder and a speedster. Febles was a second baseman who ran well and had good bat control. Cora was a heady utility man, essentially, which puts him in the same general category.
So what are we to glean from all this? It’s hard to know for sure. But while there are already rumors that the Red Sox intend to pursue free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer – a well-rounded player who has won a World Series and purportedly possesses good makeup – one can’t help but wonder if the Red Sox will pursue a legitimate power hitter this offseason, be it Giancarlo Stanton (who is available by trade) or J.D. Martinez (a free agent).
And as for Goodwin, specifically, Dombrowski (finally) noted the ridiculous number of outs the Red Sox ran into onto the bases in 2017, something the Red Sox repeatedly resisted in acknowledging during the regular season and playoffs. At least now we’re all on the same page. The base running was a problem, no matter how many times the Sox told us that the outs were an unavoidable byproduct of their aggressiveness. They’ve admitted that now, but they fed us a crock while the games were being played.
Entering this offseason, the Red Sox had clear needs: a manager that better-suited their current team (Cora), leadership in the clubhouse (Hosmer?) and a power hitter in the middle of the lineup. The last is probably the most important. But if you read between the lines of what Dombrowski has been saying so far, you can’t help but wonder if the Red Sox intend to address the first two and not the last, which would be, as we all know, a mistake.
Think about it. Paraphrasing, here are some of the things Dombrowski has already told us since the games ended.
Well, we think Hanley Ramirez is an important guy for us in terms of getting power from the middle of the lineup … we had a lot of guys underperform … we ran into a lot of outs … power isn’t necessarily all about home runs. If you’re asking me, the Red Sox intend to treat this offseason a little like the one following the 2011 debacle. That winter, the solution they settled upon was a new manager in Bobby Valentine, who entered a toxic situation and made it worse.
Is this situation as toxic? Depending on what happens with David Price and the clubhouse, maybe. But it certainly doesn’t feel as bad as 2011, when the Sox had to dump Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford before the end of the next season. Dombrowski wasn’t here at the time, but maybe Sox ownership learned that clubhouse leadership is every bit as important (or more so) than the leadership in the corner clubhouse office.
Ultimately, here’s what we know so far: the Red Sox brought Cora in to be their manager, largely because he is more personable and likable than John Farrell was. (But they have concerns about Cora’s lack of experience.) Their reported interest in Hosmer suggests they understand there is a leadership void in their clubhouse. (Otherwise, if they just wanted a left-handed-hitting first baseman, they could just retain Mitch Moreland.) And they seem to be minimizing – or disguising? – their need for a true power hitter, the pursuit of which begin, well, now.
An interesting offseason?
You bet it is.
And an important one, too.