Red Sox

The next Red Sox general manager could come from the Theo Epstein tree

The next Red Sox general manager could come from the Theo Epstein tree

BOSTON -- If the Red Sox want to entice an established executive to replace Dave Dombrowski atop their baseball operations department, the sell might be tougher than they think. The rest of baseball has noticed that Boston's last two World Series-winning architects found themselves unemployed within two years.

Ben Cherington won it all in 2013 and was replaced by Dombrowski in August of 2015. Dombrowski didn't even last a year after building the 2018 juggernaut that romped to 108 wins and the team's fourth championship in 15 seasons.

He was fired on Sunday night, which puts the Red Sox in the market for a general manager at one of the most pivotal moments in recent franchise history. The team faces a number of challenging decisions this winter, not least of which is whether to extend or trade defending MVP Mookie Betts. They must also rebuild their farm system, determine whether they can trust their top three starters, and prepare for the possibility that J.D. Martinez opts out of his contract.

That's not an easy job, and the Red Sox know it. They're prepared to take their time filling the position, which decreases the likelihood that they'll simply hand the reins to an internal option like assistant GM Eddie Romero or analytics chief Zack Scott.

If they go outside the organization, whom might they target? It's possible they don't even know at this point, but here's a hunch -- it's worth focusing on the Theo Epstein executive tree.

The former GM took over in November of 2002 and had the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS a year later before securing the Curse-busting title of 2004. Principal owner John Henry is comfortable with the systems and processes Epstein built way back when, which is what made the more instinctual Dombrowski such a departure.

The Red Sox under Epstein and then Cherington married scouting and analytics in a way that blazed a trail, though most organizations have caught up in the last decade. Both believe in winning from within -- Epstein boasted of building a "player development machine," while Cherington focused on turning homegrown talent into "the next great Red Sox team."

When Cherington's style proved a little too deliberate during last-place finishes in 2014 and 2015, ownership altered course with Dombrowski, who aggressively swapped youngsters for veterans en route to a magical 2018.

With Theo holdovers peppering the front office -- including the interim brain trust of Romero, Scott, Brian O'Halloran, and Raquel Ferreira -- it makes sense from a continuity standpoint to return to the Epstein model.

The good news is there should be no shortage of options. The name that's sure to leap to mind is Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen, a Massachusetts native and Princeton grad who has overseen exactly the kind of rebuild-on-the-fly the Red Sox hope to undertake themselves.

The D-Backs were a game under .500 when they traded ace Zack Greinke at the July 31 deadline. Instead of imploding like the Red Sox, though, they've caught fire. They're 21-14 since and have leapfrogged three teams to draw within two games of the Cubs in the wild card standings.

It's unclear if Arizona would allow Hazen to interview for a lateral move, however, or if he'd even want to, given what he's building in the desert with former Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo.

He's not the only Arizona exec with Boston ties, though. Former Red Sox amateur scouting director Amiel Sawdaye and pro scouting director Jared Porter are also members of Arizona's front office, and both remain well-respected in Boston.

Another possibility, albeit a remote one, is Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, a Wesleyan grad who served as one of Epstein's most trusted assistants in the 2000s before leaving to run the Padres. He has since reunited in Chicago with Epstein, where they ended a second title drought in 2016.

Another name that hasn't come up in a while is Josh Byrnes. One of the first Epstein assistants to ascend to GM, he has spent time running the Padres and Diamondbacks. He's currently one of the many former GMs working as a VP with the Dodgers.

If the Red Sox want to go younger, Mets farm director Jared Banner spent more than a decade in Boston after graduating from Amherst and is considered a rising star in the game.

These names are mostly speculation, because the job has barely been open a day. But as the Red Sox begin their search, they'll certainly give some consideration to the Epstein tree, which means we should, too.

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Notable sights, sounds from Day 1 of Red Sox training camp at Fenway Park

Notable sights, sounds from Day 1 of Red Sox training camp at Fenway Park

The first day of Boston Red Sox training camp at Fenway Park takes place Friday.

It's an exciting development as fans await the return of Major League Baseball. The shortened 60-game regular season is set to return July 23, although the schedules for each of the 30 teams have not yet been released.

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The Red Sox arrived at Fenway this week to a bunch of different changes -- all of which have been made to ensure the venue provides the safest environment possible amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker announced Thursday the state's pro sports teams could begin hosting games without fans later this month.

Here are some pictures and videos from the team's return to Fenway Park.

--It looks like the Red Sox have assigned two players per suite, which is a better way to provide a safe environment than putting every player in one clubhouse like normal. 

Here's more information from the Red Sox:

"To best adhere to the MLB guidelines promoting proper physical distancing, suites in Right Field have been converted to accommodate locker room space for two Red Sox players per suite. Spaces within the existing Red Sox clubhouse will be re-assigned and adjusted to provide players and staff with facilities that are in line with MLB’s health and safety guidelines."

--Other changes to Fenway Park have been made. NBC Boston's Perry Russom reports there are showers on the concourse level. The players also will walk through the stands to reach the field level.

The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham also shared details on new training areas inside the park.

The Red Sox provided additional info on the concourse conversion:

"The Right Field Concourse, typically a concession area and walkway for fans, has been transformed into an expanded training and conditioning area that includes the installation of a new open-air batting cage. Located in close proximity to the existing Red Sox Clubhouse, the auxiliary space includes artificial turf with equipment like bikes and weights lining the walls. A covered pitcher’s mound has also been installed in a portion of the Big Concourse located under the Bleachers. In addition to the significant expanded space afforded in the concourses, enhanced air circulation is also a benefit of the covered but not fully enclosed areas."

--Here's one of the first player shifts of the day.

--It wouldn't be an MLB camp without batting practice. Here's some footage of Christian Vazquez getting some work in.

--The important pitching drills are underway as well. 

--Social distancing will be required in the Fenway press box, too.

As MLB teams report, let's count the ways the Red Sox will be worse in 2020

As MLB teams report, let's count the ways the Red Sox will be worse in 2020

It is time for a Red Sox reality check. They were never, ever meant to contend in 2020.

This 60-game sprint will probably keep them from plummeting completely out of the playoff race, but let's not kid ourselves. They'll be in the wild card hunt in much the same way a 6-8 NFL squad technically maintains postseason aspirations come late December — by relying on mathematical gymnastics rooted more in hope ("If the Bengals and Bills play to a scoreless tie …") than substance.

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They're worse than they were last year, and they weren't very good last year. With Spring Training 2.0 set to open on Friday, let us recount how much has changed since 2019 ended with a disappointing 84 wins and the Sox 12 games out of the playoff race.

Before the season even concluded, the Red Sox fired Dave Dombrowski, architect of 2018's World Series juggernaut, whom they had hired in 2015 to put them over the top. They didn't view him as a builder, however, tabbing Chaim Bloom from the Rays to oversee what could be a lengthy rebuild.

Needless to say, a team that wants to win now does not fire Dombrowski and replace him with Bloom. That only happens when prioritizing the long view.

Bloom's first order of business, even if it took the entire winter to accomplish, was trading MVP Mookie Betts and former Cy Young Award winner David Price to the Dodgers. This provided much-needed salary relief. It did not make the Red Sox better, a fact Bloom acknowledged the night he announced the deal.

"I certainly think it's reasonable to expect that we're going to be worse without them," he said, "but we have real good talent coming back."

Right fielder Alex Verdugo, the centerpiece of the trade, may not be Betts, but he's a lot better than people think. He's also coming off a cracked bone in his back that sidelined him for the last two months of 2019 and would've delayed the start to this season if COVID-19 hadn't shut it down first. The Red Sox need him to be a star, and that's asking a lot.

Offense is supposed to be a strength, but it could be a problem.

In Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez, the Red Sox possess an impressive heart of the order. Perhaps Verdugo and the perpetually underachieving Andrew Benintendi can expand the attack. If they can't, the Red Sox could end up being no better than average offensively at catcher (Christian Vazquez), first base (Mitch Moreland), second base (Jose Peraza), and the entire outfield (Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Verdugo).

In an age when even teams like the Twins can suddenly mash 300 home runs, that doesn't sound like nearly enough offense to compensate for a pitching staff that has been absolutely decimated.

It's worth repeating exactly what the Red Sox lost this winter. In dealing Price, dismissing Rick Porcello, and disabling Chris Sale, they watched over 400 innings vanish. Because John Henry locked his checkbook below deck on the Iroquois, they replaced that trio with Martin Perez and, if he's healthy, Collin McHugh.

They're banking on left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to repeat his breakout 19-win campaign, even though inconsistency has been a hallmark of his career, and they need forever-injured right-hander Nathan Eovaldi to give them a lot more than the 5.99 ERA he provided in just 67.2 innings last year.

After that? Hold your nose.

Perez posted an ERA over 5.00 and soft-tossing Ryan Weber, a favorite of manager Ron Roenicke, is expected to claim the fourth spot despite barely cracking 89 mph. The Red Sox hope McHugh recovers from a non-surgical offseason procedure on his elbow, but he's still ramping back up as he throws off a mound, and his spot in the rotation is more likely to be manned, at least initially, by an opener.

Overseeing all of this considerable change is Roenicke, who emerged from Alex Cora's scandal-fueled departure to oversee what amounts to an interim two-month season. Cora's leadership was indispensable to the 2018 title run, and there's no guarantee the 63-year-old Roenicke will be able to push the right buttons in a truncated campaign. Though the Red Sox have technically struck the interim from his title, it wouldn't shock anyone if they're in the market for a longer-term solution come fall.

So to recap: the new baseball chief is here to rebuild but can't spend any money, the offense looks top-heavy, the starting rotation is made of paper clips and gum, and the new manager might only be on the job for nine weeks.

Does that sound like a contender to you? Me, neither.