Monday, October 3, 2011

Terry Francona: Why Bother?

When Terry Francona resigned as manager of the Boston Red Sox, some folks started talking about whether he'd be a good fit for the Nationals. I say why bother? Unless Davey Johnson if flat-out refusing to take the job long-term, he's clearly the guy for the job.

First, I don't really understand people saying that it's ridiculous for Francona to lose his job in Boston. He missed the playoffs two years in a row with massive payrolls. Last season, you could blame injuries. Although personally I think that was a bit overdone--I hear the world's smallest violin playing for a guy who gets to roll out a line-up with Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Betre for most of the season.

But this year Boston was loaded. MVP candidates all over the line-up. They had a massive lead going into September. Yes, the injuries in the rotation hurt, but the guy had a month to figure out how to muddle through a few competent starts, and he couldn't do it. He didn't need to find 5 outstanding starters. He just needed to make sure they didn't have a total meltdown in all five spots in the rotation, and he couldn't do it. And as long as Afredo Aceves was sitting in the bullpen, you can't say he tried everything.

And all that wouldn't have mattered if it wasn't for the horrible start to the season. That happened on his watch. Add to that the public criticism by players like Lackey and David Ortiz--I think it's fair to say Francona wasn't commanding respect in the clubhouse.

Hey, Francona won two World Series. He buried the Curse of the Bambino. He's probably one of the better managers in the game. But is he a guy the Nationals should want so badly that they'd be willing to toss aside Davey Johnson? No way.

When Jim Riggleman left, the Nationals either lucked out or had done a brilliant job of contingency planning by having one of the best managers in baseball waiting in the wings. The Lerners should put a boatload of money on the table, lock up Davey, and move on to more difficult decisions, like filling the gaping holes in the lineup and starting rotation.


Positively Half St. said...

Agreed, 100%. Johnson's pedigree at least matches Francona's, and he spent the second half of the season preparing for next year. Johnson has built teams in his career, while Francona failed after being handed Adrian Gonzalez.


Will said...

I'm surprised that Francona's departure hasn't sparked more criticism of Theo Epstein. The guy once hailed as the best GM in baseball has some serious questions surrounding him.

For a team that was supposedly the best in baseball, they had an alarming lack of depth. Even the Nats have better SP alternatives than Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland. And how on earth does Tim Wakefield consistently get 150+ innings? He's never been good in his 20 year career. The same can be said of Jason Varitek. The Sox should have forced him into retirement after 2007, and finally moved on. His defense is embarrassing. I was able to witness the Sox’s epic collapse first hand, and I and the other 40,000 in attendance at Fenway cringed in unison every time the Rays ran the bases at will without even a throw against Varitek.

The blame doesn't fall on Francona for keeping around veterans solely for nostalgia, but on Epstein. Francona only used Wakefield until Buchholz's injury forced his hand. Saltalamacchia, an equally dubious choice as starting catcher, when there were numerous better options available last offseason, got the majority of starts over Tek.

On top of that, Epstein's success rate with free agents is terrible, especially given his carte blanche to sign just about any player he wants.
$82.5mil for John Lackey
$142mil for Carl Crawford
$103mil for Daisuke Matsuzaka
$15.5mil for Mike Cameron
$12mil for Bobby Jenks
$3.2mil for Conor Jackson

That amounts to $357.2mil with almost no return on the Red Sox investment. This season, those 6 players were worth 1.9 WAR. They were paid $54.5mil, essentially $28.7mil per WAR. That's a horrifyingly, terrible, awful, unspeakably bad rate. And please don't argue that it's Francona's job to motivate his players to play better. That's nonsense.

And to add to that, the Red Sox's famous farm system has apparently dried up. Clay Buchholz was the last starter to be introduced from the farm system, and that was 4 years ago in 2008. (Aceves and Bard have since been introduced, but at their best, they'll only contribute 1-2 WAR each).

These are all tasks of the GM. The manager simply works with what he's given, and in Francona's case, he'd been dealt a pretty awful hand, relative to what a $170mil payroll should provide.

With that said, I don't think there is much of a difference between Francona or Johnson. They're both good managers. Johnson clearly has a better rapport with Rizzo and others in the organization, so I think it would be better to stick with Davey.

pmk3 said...

I believe Victor Martinez is playing for the Detroit Tigers now.

pmk3 said...

Also, I think Bob Brenly would be an excellent hire for the Nationals. Daevey Johnson hasn't been any better than Rim Jiggleman.

Steven said...

@Henry--re: Victor Martinez, when I wrote "last season" I meant last season, not this season.

Anonymous said...

Really, given the boatload of cheap, young talent positionally the Nats really only need 2 3+ WAR starters and there are at least 3 on the free agent market who look like attractive additions.

Because of the young positional talent cash can be spent on starters until the days of Peacock, Solis, Purke, Meyer, Ray, and Cole arrive.

Then do as they have been doing DRAFT more pitching.

Its interesting to note that the guy they got from AZ for Marquis is playing in the AFL alongside of Rendon. Forget the IL, free agent CF's, the AFL is where the future lies for the baby Nats.

Anonymous said...

Johnson makes the most sense. He defined his role pretty clearly. Build winning rosters from Nats farm system talent. Figure out where they fit into the grand scheme. Build consistent, year-in and year-out winning and competitive teams.

I think he Johnson has indeed shown that he has very astute / good grasp on that ...

Brenley? Francona? How about resurrecting Casey Stengel? Or maybe Frank Howard.

Stability is needed right about now and Johnson provides the right comfort level for young prospect and veteran alike.

Soul Possession, PFB Sofa said...

What he said, and... it's usually a bad idea to start what you hope will be a long-term relationship with someone who just got dumped from one themselves. Nothing personal, Terry.