Red Sox

Farewells reveal rift between Francona, ownership

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Farewells reveal rift between Francona, ownership

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BOSTON -- For the better part of the last two days, as the Red Sox attempted to explain a season that went horribly, inexplicably wrong, the focus was squarely on Terry Francona's relationship with his players.

On Thursday, approximately 24 hours before he and the Red Sox parted company, Francona spoke of the "challenges'' he sometimes faced communicating with the players and provided some details about a team meeting he was forced to call last month in Toronto.

In the press release -- carefully crafted, revised and issued some seven hours after the fateful meeting between Francona and his superiors -- the ownership troika of John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner spoke of the need for an improved "clubhouse culture'' and the need for a new "voice.''

Then, separated by 75 minutes, Francona met with reporters, followed by Werner, Lucchino and general manager Theo Epstein, the four mostly echoed the same thoughts.

Mostly.

But every once in a while, someone would steer, if only ever-so-slightly, off script. The talking points got tossed aside and instead of buzzwords like "reach'' and "voice'' some honesty seeped through.

Sure, you had to be paying very close attention. But if you listened carefully, it was there. And what emerged was the undeniable fact that, beyond whatever problems existed between Francona and his players in the sanctum of the clubhouse, Francona had also lost the support of his bosses, and he, his patience with them.

Time and again, Francona blamed himself for his inability to get his players to be more committed, more loyal to one another, more invested in the game. He chastised himself for his "inability'' to reverse the team's September slide.

He cited the need for responsibility and accountability, the same things he asks of his players. He spoke of the demands of the job, and noted that managing the Red Sox is, in essence, both the best and worst job in baseball.

But occasionally, Francona couldn't help himself. He answered with a simple "No'' when he was asked if the owners had ever offered him the chance to return next season. And, when asked why he didn't ask for another chance to make up for September, Francona went unfiltered.

"To be honest, I'm not sure how much support there was from ownership,'' he said with no hint of rancor. "You've got to be all-in with this job. And I voiced that today. There were some things, going through things here, to make it work, you've got to have everybody together and I was questioning some of that a little bit.''

And there it was. A peek behind the curtain at the real dynamics.

Who knows how ownership and management could have aided Francona in September when both their record and the attitude were on the skids. Perhaps picking up the option years earlier in the year, or last winter, would have sent the not-so-subtle message to players that Francona had their backing, that he would be in charge for several seasons to come.

Instead, Lucchino reacted with great surprise when asked about Francona's remark.

"I was actually puzzled by that comment,'' said Lucchino. "We have done nothing differently this year than we've done in previous years. I think it's a question you should probably ask him.''

Clearly, Francona's candid assessment was not part of the pre-approved script. Lucchino made the point that Francona had done an otherwise solid job of fixing the blame right on himself.

This other stuff? Where other people might have had a hand in the team's undoing, or the manager's inability to halt it? Not part of the scrubbed-clean talking points.

Sure, Francona had, in no particular order, the owners' "thanks, gratitude, respect and appreciation.'' Check, check and check.

But support, backing and advocacy? Those were apparently in short supply.

Werner and Lucchino shifted uncomfortably when they were asked if it had been their intention to retain Francona before hearing his concerns Friday morning.

They never got around to answering that directly. Werner noted that they had gallantly "respected his wishes,'' to move on. But their refusal to answer was moot. The answer, quite simply, was no.

They didn't want him, and in the end, Francona didn't want them.

Neither side said as much, at least when they were all staying on script.

But occasionally, in the middle of the carefully rehearsed lines and glowing praise being slung around, the real reasons for Francona's departure were revealed.

The problems with clubhouse culture were real, but so too was the, ahem, disconnect that existed between Francona and his bosses.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

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MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

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Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles - and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Kluber's win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled "yes!" when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding - also with expletives - that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call "Klubot." Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn't react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn't thrilled.

"Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one," Kluber said.

Scherzer's win moves him into rare company. He's the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren't in the Hall of Fame.

"That's why I'm drinking a lot of champagne tonight," Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

"This one is special," he said. "When you start talking about winning three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point."

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington's training staff was high on his thank-you list.

"Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field," he said. "I'm very thankful for all their hard work."

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota's Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games - nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn't even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

"That will eat at me this whole offseason," he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

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