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

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.