It all seems like such a civilized approach. Yes we were bad; yes we’re sorry; but gee, we really started turning the corner at the trade deadline and we’re not that far away from being competitive again. And we’re awfully sorry that we needed to fire the poor batting coach. But we’re excited by what Gordon can do with an injury free season!
At least that’s the soft, gentle "it’s not as bad as it seems" message I have been hearing from senior Sox management the last several days, explaining what went wrong.
Thank goodness for Coop, who called it the way it is when he described himself as "…embarrassed about what we got done. And I’m saying everybody. Our group, coaches, players, everybody.’’ And they should be embarrassed. And concerned, with attendance going down for the seventh straight year. Not too hard to read what the market is telling the Sox—and as Sox fans we want to stop the decline.
But we know enough to expect another losing season next year barring some unforeseen turn of developments. And that might be ok. But there are some things that Sox management might do, short of asking Dick Allen to suit up again, that might give Sox fans a reason to be patient. Such as:
1. Fix the baserunning and defense. No major league team can give away so many outs in the field and on the basepaths. Recognize that Sox fans can put up with losing to a point, but they have no tolerance for players with no baseball intelligence. That’s why they have the minor leagues.
2. Try, try to send Adam Dunn to someplace worthy of his talents. The guy is a gamer, is something of a threat in the lineup, hit a ton of home runs but just does not fit in any retooled version of the team built on speed and youth.
3. The third pick in the 2014 draft will set the club’s tone for years. Please give a seat at the head of the draftroom table to whomever first spotted Jose Quintana and Avi Garcia. And Daniel Webb. Congratulations for having two players (Simien and E. Johnson) on Baseball America’s minor league all star team—-that is progress but much more is needed.
4. Take a good, hard look at the player development program in the minors. What’s working and what’s not? Are the kids actually getting better? Reaching their potential? Is the Courtney Hawkins setback an anomaly, or a suggestion of something more systemic?
5. Don’t fall in love with Simien, Micah Johnson and Erik Johnson as sure fire 2014 major leaguers just yet, and don’t burden Avi Garcia with being the face of 2014 ticket promotion. Look what the PR attention did to Gordon Beckham in the run up to 2010.
6. One thing Theo Epstein has right is his refusal to pay people on the basis of past performance; avoiding the signing of aging free agents. Please, Rick Hahn, keep in mind that Brian McCann will turn 30 when spring training starts, and has quite a few miles on those knees.
7. Acknowledge—at least internally—that there has been an organizational-level disconnect on the catcher position.
8. Most of all--add an "outsider" to the management team. Someone who can challenge assumptions; who can give an honest appraisal of talent; who can stand up to strong personalities and say "I disagree". The Sox are a great organization to work for; are very loyal to their former players and are loath to dismiss someone and actually call it that (Sorry, Jeff Manto). But one of the reasons they are the third worst team in baseball might well be because they have been too nice, too loyal and too insular for too long.
You don’t get to 99 losses because of some injuries or a couple of down years for some players. You have to earn it. With successful businesses, when something really catastrophic happens in your operations, you start confronting the hard questions---like how did we get to this point and when did this all really start to go wrong? And I have no doubt the Sox will do that. Yet to really get to the bottom of those questions, there has to be freedom to exchange ideas, to point fingers and to call for accountability, and that’s really hard to do when everyone likes one another and no one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings. That’s not to say you have to launch someone, but "brass-tacks" dialogue is essential.
There should be some interesting talent evaluators coming on the market, soon. How about bringing an ex-GM in as a consultant and asking him what he thinks of the Sox operation? What’s the perception in MLB of how the Sox operate and why is it that way? What are our strengths and what are our weaknesses? Dare I say—should someone ask Tony LaRussa to kick the tires of the organization? Good businesses find a way to maintain a culture of loyalty and support amongst employees while still soliciting views that might be contrary to established management perspectives.
The Sox may not have bottomed out yet, but the fan base is loyal and will remain loyal—but they seek some signs that management is upset, too. From the Chairman on down, we’re talking about good people; decent people; experienced people, who want to do what’s right for the team and for the fans. But other than Coop’s honesty, we haven't really heard the hoped for message.