Wasn’t it interesting the Red Sox didn’t make any sort of relevant deal at the trade deadline? Cole Hamels wound up going to the Texas Rangers. Wasn’t he supposed to be in Boston by now? There were rumors about Sonny Gray, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Carrosco, and Craig Kimbrel coming to Boston. Red Sox players rumored to be on the go included Mike Napoli, Jackie Bradley Jr., Blake Swihart and — in an ideal world — Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. Where you at, Magic Johnson?
Alas, the Red Sox did nothing. Sure they traded Shane Victorino and they acquired Ryan Cook and Josh Rutledge. Few Boston fans know who Cook and Rutledge are. Not knowing who a player is is not always a bad thing. Sometimes not knowing who someone is means they are a minor leaguer who has some star potential. This is not the case with Cook and Rutledge.
So what does all this mean? Why didn’t the Red Sox do any wheeling and dealing? It all seemed a little suspicious.
Now an answer may be emerging. Saturday it was announced that Larry Lucchino was stepping down as team president and CEO, effective at the end of the year.
Team owner John Henry famously stated a few years ago that Lucchino “runs the Red Sox.” For the better part of a decade, Lucchino did it exceptionally well. The Red Sox won World Series in 2004, 2007, and 2013. Nobody can take that away from him. He has also been the brains behind many of the great renovations done to keep Fenway Park viable. Lucchino had similar successes in Baltimore and San Diego prior to coming to Boston.
But Lucchino has been a lightning rod whenever things haven’t gone well in Boston. And things have not gone well in three of the last four years. To Lucchino’s credit, he is always accessible and does not hide when times get tough. He is a regular on local sports talk shows and he doesn’t shy away from the tough questions.
It was widely believed that Lucchino was a mentor to Theo Epstein. Epstein embraced the role of protege until he was ready to assume more power. Once Lucchino saw his puppet trying to spread his own wings, he set him free to pursue other opportunities. Epstein left Boston to go and try to win with a championship-starved Chicago Cubs franchise. Slowly, but surely, Epstein’s Cubs are getting closer to their goal.
The Red Sox, in the meantime, have gone in the opposite direction. Again, they did win a World Series in 2013. Again, nobody can take that away from Lucchino. At the same time, you cannot take it away from him that the Red Sox are staring at a last place finish for the third time in the last four years.
Lucchino replaced Epstein with another young general manager he feels he could manipulate– Ben Cherington. It has been impossible to tell — over the last ten years — which trades/signings were spearheaded by Lucchino or his puppet GMs. Was it Lucchino or Epstein that signed Carl Crawford? Was it Lucchino or Epstein that traded Anthony Rizzo for Adrian Gonzalez? Was it Lucchino or Cherington that signed Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval? Was it Lucchino or Cherington that didn’t want Jon Lester back in Boston?
Lucchino has been successful for far too long. He has earned respect. He wasn’t going anywhere unless he thought it was time. Lucchino can also be very stubborn. Many Red Sox fans have started calling for Cherington’s ouster as general manager. They blame Cherington for the horrible cohesiveness of this year’s edition of the Red Sox. Cherington is Lucchino’s man (puppet?), though. For Lucchino to fire Cherington would be for Lucchino to admit he made a mistake. Lucchino doesn’t like to admit he makes mistakes.
Now that Lucchino has decided to step away (there are some, like the Boston Herald’s Steve Buckley, who believe he is being forced out), Ben Cherington should not be sleeping well at night.
Maybe that is why no major deals were made. Maybe ownership has taken the keys away from Cherington. Maybe ownership has already decided Cherington has to go, but they don’t want to make the move during the season. They want to save face, somehow.
Maybe Buckley is right and ownership gave Lucchino a little nudge out the door. Maybe the other owners thought Lucchino would fight the idea of firing Cherington. Maybe that’s why it hasn’t been done by now.
Be afraid, Ben. Be very afraid.