‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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Terry Francona has been one of the most consistent managers of the modern era from the time he was appointed manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2004.  With Francona installed in the dugout and teamed with the vision of General Manager Theo Epstein and principal owner John W. Henry, Boston had their ‘dream team’ in place that delivered what some saw as the impossible.

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Not only did the Red Sox achieve a miracle when they came back from a 3-0 hole against the Yankees in 2004 ALCS, they overtook their rivals as baseball’s preeminent franchise between 2004-2008.  The Red Sox out-maneuvered the aging Yankees by allowing their veterans to walk if they didn’t accept their offers and replaced them with capable farmhands.  Much of that credit goes to Epstein as Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester all became stars after being promoted through the Red Sox system.

Epstein’s eye for talent was matched equally by Francona’s ability to incorporate these young players into his lineup and made their transition to the big leagues easy with his calm and patient demeanor.  The Yankees studied their rivals closely after their own failures and adopted a similar approach.  Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Brett Gardner, David Robertson and Eduardo Nunez began getting opportunities that formerly were reserved for either high-priced free agent talent or washed-up veterans acquired via trade.

Although Cashman’s youth movement hasn’t been as successful as Epstein, the Yankees showed the sincerest form of flattery to the Red Sox by imitating their policies.  The Red Sox ‘dream team’ had not only beaten the Yankees on the field during that period but forced them to modify their philosophies.

The Yankees regained their standing in 2009 when they took home their first World Series crown since 2000 and haven’t looked back since, leaving the Red Sox in the dust.  Their dollars invested into the ballclub and intelligence in not dealing away top prospects allowed them to become a better run franchise all-around.

In signing Carl Crawford, the Red Sox panicked as they went the extra mile to out-do the Angels’ offer for the free agent outfielder.  Crawford turned out to be a tremendous disaster and showed little evidence of being worthy of his cumbersome $142M contract.  It is especially strange that Boston went that distance to sign Crawford when they had a perfectly capable in-house talent in Josh Reddick waiting in the wings.  They had done the same a year earlier when they paid over the odds to ink John Lackey for 5 years and $82.5M.

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The Red Sox had begun behaving like the Yankees while the Bronx Bombers made wise decisions in acquiring undervalued players like Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Russell Martin.  The roles had become reversed… it was now Cashman who demonstrated patience as the Yankees’ brass allowed him more input on their philosophy.

It is actually Epstein and not Francona who should be put under the microscope.  I’m not endorsing the removal of Epstein but instead a closer look is needed at his involvement in the Red Sox’s underachievement over the past three years.  Francona can only do the best with what he’s given and I expect him to land a job very quickly.  Any franchise would be desperate to have him installed as their manager and be part of the process of building a team toward World Series glory.

In his eight year reign as Red Sox manager between 2004-2011, his record was 734-531 with a winning percentage of .580.  In the playoffs, he raised his managerial acumen as he won .622 of postseason games.  He’s out-thought top managers like Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Mike Scioscia on the way to many of his successes.

By parting ways with Francona, the Red Sox will break up that ‘dream team.’  Henry’s investment has always been considerable, giving both Francona and Epstein all the financial backing they could have ever hoped for.  Yes, both Epstein and Francona have made their share of mistakes but that doesn’t have any impact on how they are viewed inside baseball circles.

In sacrificing Francona by giving in to the unrest of fans and media calls for his head, the Red Sox would make a decision they will most likely regret.  I can’t imagine a worthy candidate being able to fill Francona’s shoes that is available.  All the top managers around baseball are firmly secure with jobs they’re currently holding.  Maddon, Scioscia, Girardi, Leyland, LaRussa, Manuel, Bochy, etc.  Unless Henry and the Red Sox brain-trust have an ace up their sleeve that no one is aware of, they’ve dropped the ball here.

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Are Boston losing a great manager in Francona and who could possibly replace him in the Red Sox dugout?  Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.