By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

In defense of Theo (II)

Earlier today Media Nation received a private e-mail from J.M. about my first Theo item that ended with this: “What does that say about the stewardship of Theo and the owners? Seems to me they took a World Series winner and dismantled it.”

It’s a serious notion, worth analyzing. So, sorry for the baseball obsession today, but here we go.

At the end of the 2004 World Series, the Red Sox had a problem: its championship core was either aging or declining for other reasons, and couldn’t be expected to perform at the same high level in 2005 or beyond. Keeping the team together was not an option. Don’t believe me? Consider who they’ve gotten rid of over the past two years and why:

Not-so-dumb moves

Pedro Martínez: This was the big one — Petey was #1A to Curt Schilling’s #1 in ’04. But he didn’t want to re-sign with the Red Sox, so he was leaving in any case. And he’s been hurt a lot over the past two seasons, something that was eminently predictable.

Derek Lowe: His well-documented personal problems made it a given that the Sox would let him go. You’d like to think he could have turned it around after his astounding post-season performance, but he had a lousy ’05 for the Dodgers. He’s pitching better lately, though.

Orlando Cabrera: Yes, in retrospect the Sox should have signed Cabrera rather than obtaining Edgar Renteria. At the time, though, virtually every knowledgeable baseball person believed Renteria would be an upgrade. And now the Sox have Alex Gonzalez, the greatest defensive shortstop ever to wear a Red Sox uniform.

Bill Mueller: The oft-injured third baseman is probably finished following yet another knee operation. A fine player and a class act, but it’s a good thing the Sox picked up Mike Lowell.

Mark Bellhorn: An overachiever in 2004. Mark Loretta is a huge upgrade. For that matter, Tony Graffanino was a huge upgrade.

Kevin Millar: No explanation needed.

Dumb moves

Johnny Damon: Yes, I was among those who thought Coco Crisp could grow into a more-than-adequate replacement for Damon, and maybe he still can. But what Damon brought to the Red Sox, both on and off the field, is harder to replace than we realized at the time. Caveat: It’s possible that, like Pedro, he wasn’t going to re-sign no matter what. Damon might just see himself as someone who was born to play in New York.

Bronson Arroyo: This move is actually looking less dumb, not because of Arroyo’s recent slump, but because the Sox are worse than we thought. Wily Mo Peña might be a star in a couple of years, and we’re now officially in wait-till-next-year mode.

Bottom line

If Damon was willing to sign, then letting him go was the dumbest move that Theo and company have made since October 2004. And if that’s the worst you can say, then that’s not so bad.

As for whom the Sox have brought in to replace the guys they lost, well, that’s another story. Josh Beckett has obviously been a huge disappointment, but he’s got a world of talent. If he can listen and learn, he may yet be a star. Crisp was hurt, and I suspect he then started pressing. Seanez and Tavares were obviously busts. Timlin got old. Wakefield, Wells and Clement got hurt. And the absence of Varitek colors everything.

Epstein wasn’t that good when his decision to trade away Nomar turned to instant gold, and he’s not that bad now. Let’s see what he does this off-season, which should be the least tumultuous (i.e., no gorilla suits) of his short career.


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10 Comments

  1. mike_b1

    Dan, you make me laugh.Lowe (2005) 35 starts / W 12 L 15 / 222.0 IP / 55 BB / 146 K / 3.61 ERA.Arroyo (2005) 35 starts/ W 14 L 10/ 205.1 IP / 54 BB / 100 K / 4.51 ERA. Lowe had “a lousy ’05?” The only thing Arroyo did “better” was play for the top offensive team in the majors (hence the better W-L).What is your obsession with Arroyo? Your daughter must be one of his girlfriends.

  2. mike_b1

    Also, Theo was not working for the Red Sox when Damon chose to sign elsewhere.

  3. Anonymous

    Hey, Dan, No offense. You’re an extremely bright guy, and offer a lot to the Boston media scene by performing a balanced check on daily news coverage, but you are at best an idiot when it comes to baseball. And I don’t mean the idots who won the World Series. You don’t follow the games, the coverage and the commentary closely enough to offer any thing resembling inteligent conversation. Please, as a person who respects your work, enough with the baseball. Just because you have an unfiltered forum to write anything that comes to mind doesn’t mean you must do so. Thank you in advance. – A loyal reader.

  4. Don

    Let me repeat – as Deep Throat said. . .

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 9:39 — You’re entitled to your opinion, of course, but do you write the same e-mails to Shaughnessy? I think I’m doing somewhat better than he is right now.

  6. mike_b1

    Now that’s funny!

  7. Anonymous

    Serious question: How responsible can we hold Theo for this season? By the time he rejoined the team, a month and a half of free agency had already passed and several of the big names were already signed. One can’t assume Theo would have made the same moves the Lucchino team did.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 3:01 — I guess it depends on whether you think Theo was calling at least some of the shots behind the scenes. I think he was. But that’s just a guess. What does Mnookin say?

  9. mike_b1

    Dan, what’s the rule of thumb on how reporters should treat their own line of questioning in their game stories? I’ve seen several media reports today about Francona’s “expletive laced response” to their questions about Manny being out of the lineup, but nothing about how they questions were framed, their tone, their frequency, etc. Through his almost 3 years here Francona’s been tactful in dealing with the press. I’m sure the pressure of the team’s losing streak and his own physical ailments aren’t helping, but I have to wonder whether the media baited him a bit and then presented his reaction without being honest about their own role.

  10. Dan Kennedy

    Mike — I would say there is no real rule of thumb, except that print reporters generally don’t bother to let folks know what their questions were (unless it’s a Q&A) and TV reporters generally do. And that’s a function of technology, not rules.You’re talking about a gray area, in which the reporters’ own behavior may be affecting Francona’s reaction so much that it ought to be disclosed. But we don’t know. At least among Globe and Herald people, it’s hard to imagine who would be pushing Francona over the edge — except, of course, your friend.

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