|Epstein has his work cut out for him in Chicago.
Apparently people aren't allowed to make changes in their life. That is how Bostonians currently look at Theo Epstein and Terry Francona. God forbid they grow tired of those around them, especially when the evidence is growing that dysfunction within the Boston Red Sox organization is more widespread than they would have the public know.
It's not surprising when you saw a pitching staff turning into blimps and sulking body language in the dugout down the stretch that something was out of whack. Surely more will be revealed in the coming months as to what exactly was the reason for the Red Sox historical collapse and those responsible for a fractured clubhouse (I'm looking at you John Lackey).
While the normal and predictable reaction in Boston is to vilify Epstein and Francona for the current state of flux, how quickly Boston fans forget the unprecedented success this tandem helped achieve in the modern era of baseball. Presumably two world championships mean nothing in the light of their logical and sound departures from an organization in which they felt ran its course with them.
Fans and executives within this organization embarrassingly resort now to mud slinging. As if their contempt for the change that is coming isn't a result of issues that exist in their own mirror. By all accounts, both Francona and Epstein are respected and liked within Major League Baseball. Their track record in Boston speaks for itself, and just because they decided to move on is not an indictment on who they are as people.
Red Sox fans can have all the all-of-a-sudden negative opinions they want about these two guys that gave them what they never had, TWICE. The reality is this organization cannot question why the country rejoiced when the collapse this year was complete. The world does not revolve around Boston, and it's such incorrect and over-the-top reactions to two pillars of the Boston community making adult decisions that keep those outside Red Sox Nation pining for Sox failure.
Now that Epstien has landed in Chicago, a very tough job awaits. He will not have the open checkbook he had in Boston, yet he won't have to directly compete with the Evil Empire in the New York Yankees either.
|Good man, and wrongly chastised.
He inherits a so-so farm system that was depleted over the last few years by uncharacteriscally bad deals swung by former GM Jim Hendry. While they might be a good draft or two from rejuvenating the farm, several areas on the team can be quickly improved via free agency. $32 million are off the books after this disastrous season.
The entire pitching staff is a major problem, especially when "ace" Ryan Dempster struggled this year and closer Carlos Marmol is maddeningly inconsistent. Until this group is revamped, the Cubs will wallow in mediocrity.
The albatross that is Alfonso Soriano's contract is another problem that will be almost impossible to rectify unless they can somehow package him while keeping some of his salary on the books. While his .274, 26 home run, 88 RBI, campaign last year was relatively respectable, he has been a consistent underachiever in respect to his whopping 8-year, $136 million contract signed in 2007. Making matters worse, he has a full no-trade clause throughout this contract, which could make it even harder to move him. This contract alone is one of the biggest shackles for Chicago.
Regarding the rest of the positions, the Cubs are deep but not necessarily star-studded. Shortstop Starlin Castro can likely become the face of the franchise but he won't be at shortstop for long if his defensive woes continue. Once popular but 34-year-old third baseman Aramis Ramirez leaves town it may pave the way for Castro to move to the right.
While there are some grumblings power hitter Carlos Pena might return to the Cubs, the shadow that is Prince Fielder could be on the way via free agency might put that decision on hold until the season is over.
Last year's manager Mike Quade is still under contract for one more year, and it will be interesting to see how strong or fragile Epstein's relationship was with Francona as things were falling apart in Boston. Obviously Red Sox brass were on Theo to get the team back on track through talking with Francona. Maybe they both were on the same page all along with wanting to get out, and if Francona is open to the idea of coming to Chicago, Quade must be shown the door.
The Chicago Cubs and their fans are still reeling from 2003, and they have slowly seen the downward spiral they are all too accustomed to do get deeper and deeper. Despite Lou Piniella's regular season success and two divisional titles, the postseason is where all pain lies.
Contenders the Cubs are not for a few more years. But the market and the fans can now get behind a proven winner in Epstein. He knows what he is getting into and surely is under no illusions of quick success. it will be a different challenge for him. For now, the fans have to put blind faith in a man that has shown he has the savvy to put together winners. Winners are what the North Side crave, and soon may have their day in the sun. Epstein's arrival brings with it an attitude adjustment that is desperately needed. But shedding the mistakes from the past are first priority.