Now What?

Well shit.
At least from 9-930 last night, I occasionally smiled during Modern Family.
When I was 10 years old Aaron Boone crushed a Tim Wakefield pitch into the right field bleachers to win the ALCS. Heartbroken, I was then “accepted into the club”; experiencing my first Red Sox collapse. 9 years later, I’d like to welcome a whole new group of Sox fans to the club; your password to get in is “Longoria.”
Not quite sure where to even begin. Talking to fellow Sox fans, I’ve heard about 100 different opinions, all of them vastly different. This Sox collapse is unknown territory, murky waters. 9.5 game lead squandered in a month, I now have 4 times that long to sit and think about it. There was so much potential. All-Stars like Gonzalez and Crawford were coming in, our pitching staff was, on paper, one of the best, with 3 legitimate aces. Everyone and their mothers picked the Sox to win the A.L with relative ease, setting up and Uber-Clash of the Titans World Series Extraordinaire with the revamped Phillies. 162 games later, the city of Tampa is partying (but not too loud, the retirement homes like their peace and quiet) Baltimore is celebrating their 15 minutes of fame (Buck Showalter knew that not only would the season come down to this, but that the O’s would win) and Boston is crying over spilt chowdah. And this chowdah is wicked hawt. Even when Sox fans are FORCED to cheer for the Yankees, those pinstriped pals of ours still find ways to stick it to us. Life will go on, Boston, as much as I think, right now, at 2:23 a.m., that it wont. You’ll eventually smile again, whether it’s tomorrow, this weekend, or in a month. That is unless your Carl Crawford, when in that case, there is large chance you’ve smiled your last smile.
This offseason will be full of change, whether it is appropriate or not. The Nation will freak out, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the only thing they know how to do. Yes, this September swoon had a lot to do with performance, but there were some untimely injuries as well. Buchholz, Jenks, and Youkilis all went down with unfortunate injuries, leaving some major gaps in the roster. A look at some probable (deserved or not) changes for the Sox this offseason.
Theo Epstein. There have been whispers of an Epstein departure for a few months now, and the thought of him leaving has kept Sox fans in denial. He has come out on record saying he has no interest in leaving, but this is coming from a guy who quit, snuck out of Fenway in a gorilla suit, got bored, and came back, so take that as you will. When Epstein took the job, he was taking control of a franchise that were the loveable losers. They were perennially good but never a threat, a difficult challenge that had a very real payoff. He revived a devoted fan base and brought the Sox back to national prominence. In doing that, Theo essentially ruined his job. Back when he took the job, comparing the Red Sox and the Yankees was like comparing The Beatles to Ke$ha. You just didn’t even go there. It wasn’t even a logical or sane argument. Now, after years of winning, increased marketing, and global advertisment, it seems like Paul and Ringo may be hopping in on the next Ke$ha track. You look at the Sox and the Yanks and you only see different uniforms. Their payrolls are astronomically large, with egos even larger. They’re the same team, whether Sox fans want to admit it or not. With the new face of the Red Sox having some pinstripe inspiration, I think Theo takes his talents elsewhere. This isn’t his scene anymore. The Sox have gotten too big, and I think he’s a combination of bored, upset and uncomfortable. The Boston media sure hasn’t been kind to him in past, and its not looking like it’s going to get any easier anytime soon. I expect him to bolt to the friendly confines, and revive the woeful Cubs. The Cubs remind me a lot of the Sox when Theo took over; a historic team with a tradition of winning except when it really counted, a big payroll, and looking for an identity. Theo would fit right in at Wrigley, and I expect him to do big things there.
I pray to God that Terry Francona doesn’t get fired. That would be a huge mistake. Francona has been arguably one of the best skippers in the game for years now, handling the likes of Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and countless others. He knows how to get the best out of his players, and fits right in perfectly. This collapse will have Bostonians calling for blood, and unfortunately it might be Tito’s. The blame can only be placed on the shoulders of the players. The lack of timely hitting and good pitching can’t be placed on the manager. I hope he doesn’t get fired.
Terry Francona is going to get fired. It’s inevitable. I’d be surprised if it didn’t happen. It’s a damn shame, but its how this stuff works. I look for him to find a new, young club, and be the face of a new era in that franchise. A big wildcard team for Francona would be the Washington Nationals. The Natties have a young, talented team, and Tito’s veteran leadership would fit in perfectly.
Ortiz and Paplebon will be gone. Both want more money and years then they deserve. Both know that Boston isn’t going to give them that. Ortiz had a helluva year, but he’s not getting any younger, and the idea of him going .309/.398/.554 again next year is a na├»ve one. Boston will want to give him 1 year, with a team option, at 5-7 mil a year. Ortiz will want 3 years at 7+ per year. Look for a team that needs another veteran, proven bat to come in and overpay for him. Some good fits would be Toronto, LA, and –gulp- the Yankees. Same song and dance for Paplebon. Closers are generally overpaid in this league anyway. (See any relief pitch contract, ever) With Bard in the wings (doesn’t look so good anymore, does it?) I think the Sox let Pap test the market, and see what comes up. If the Cubs miss out on Pujols and Fielder, I could see them making a run at Pap, especially if Theo is running the show. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pap is back, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he leaves, either.
The 2010-2011 Sox you won’t see next year: Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, (bummer) John Lackey, (NOT a bummer) JD Drew, (Yeah, he still plays for us) Bobby Jenks (Him too!) Mike Aviles, and hopefully Darnell McDonald.
148 days till pitchers and catchers report, but whose counting?