Now that baseball season is over, the best part of the year for every fan whose team didn't win the World Series has begun. The offseason is officially upon us. How is this the best part of the year? Well for every team besides the St. Louis Cardinals, it means hope. Even if your team has been in dire straights in past years, there is still that glimmer of hope that shines like the sun rising over the ocean in the back of every fan's mind.
"This could be our year."
What does that depend on? The moves your team makes now. Call me a nerd, but the baseball season never truly ends. Think of it this way: spring training is four months away. Although there will obviously be hundreds of transactions over the next few months while teams try to fix the holes in the dam, or at least plug them for the time being, a few teams are in need of a little more than others, and it's not in the bullpen or the lineup.
The Red Sox, Cubs and Cardinals are all looking for new managers, after Terry Francona was chased out of Boston, the Cubs had a complete managerial makeover and Tony La Russa decided it was time to step down after winning his third World Series with the Cardinals this October, his second in the past decade.
Obviously, finding the right manager is important for every club. They make all in-game decisions and set the tone for the team on a day-to-day basis. However, for these three clubs it may be a little more critical than for others. Let me explain.
Prior to this season, baseball writers all over the country were saying how this year's Red Sox team had the potential to be the greatest baseball team to ever play the game. Apparently in the past eight years, the Sox have gone from the most cursed team in the world (which is up for debate...but I'll talk about that in a second), to the greatest collection of baseball-playing souls the world has ever seen. Sadly for Red Sox nation, despite all of the hype, Boston failed to even make it to the post-season this year, leading to the departure of wunderkind general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona. Team ownership already replaced Epstein, but who gets to replace him will be far more difficult.
First, it needs to find someone who is a proven winner, because with the talent that the Red Sox have right now, a rebuilding year is out of the question. It needs someone who knows what to do in high-pressure situations, because if some young gun looking to catch lightning in a bottle is hired and makes a bad call that costs them a game against the Yankees, there will be blood in Boston.
Second, the Sox need to find a guy who can also handle being the manager of the team. Boston has one of the most rabid fanbases in all of baseball, and while I won't say he will be working under the same scrutiny as someone in the New York media market, he won't be far behind. A common factor that comes into play when teams like the Red Sox or the Yankees sign someone or hire a new manager is whether he can handle being in such an intense spotlight. In order to avoid a Vancouver-esque meltdown after next season, the Red Sox ownership needs to make sure whomever it hires won't fall apart under the microscope.
The Cubs need to find someone who can be micro-managed by Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations. Why do I think he will micro-manage the club? Because the Cubs signed him away from the Red Sox for one reason: his resume as a curse-busting kind of general manager. Epstein signed on as GM of the Red Sox in 2002, making him the youngest in the history of Major League Baseball. Two years later, the Red Sox celebrated its first World Series championship in 86 years.
Now Epstein works for the Chicago Cubs, a team that hasn't won a World Series since 1908 (yes, you read that correctly...1908). Wrap your head around that. The last time the Cubs won the World Series was a few years BEFORE World War I, when the Ottoman Empire was still around. A little more than a month after they defeated the Detroit Tigers, William Howard Taft was elected president of the United States. I'll stop there.
The point I'm trying to make is that Cubs fans expect that Epstein will end their suffering. Epstein is being treated as a baseball messiah, and he isn't going to tarnish that reputation by letting a new manager take the reigns entirely. Epstein will remain firmly involved in the day-to-day operations of the club, probably more than any other executive since George Steinbrenner. To do so, he will need to find himself a manager that can work with that kind of neuroticism.
The Cardinals have a very different situation, and it is almost solely based on one player. The Cardinals want to keep its all-galaxy first baseman, Albert Pujols, in town, but his contract is up. The team already helped its cause significantly by winning the World Series this past year. But after Tony La Russa retired following the Cardinals victory, a gaping hole has been left behind. Now ownership needs to not only hire someone who will continue its winning tradition of the past decade, but also someone who Pujols feels comfortable playing under. Unless he feels 100 percent satisfied, it's hard to believe another club won't make him a better offer. I think this means hiring from within the organization. Not only to keep Pujols happy, but to keep from constantly changing managers. This team just won the World Series with one of its best pitchers, Adam Wainwright, who had been on injured reserve all season. The Cards don't need to make serious roster moves other than making sure Pujols starts at first base on opening day next season.
To me, these three decisions will go a long way in determining not only how the rest of the offseason plays out, but next season as well. How each club responds to the holes it has to fill will certainly have a lasting effect on how competitive it will become or remain over the next few years.