BY KEVIN KERNAN
Keep it simple stupid, Red Sox.
It is all right in front of Boston ownership, and I’m not talking about all the other AL East teams ahead of the Red Sox. The Red Sox need to have the strength of conviction to hire Brian Sabean as their next president of baseball operations.
This is a no brainer. Sabean grew up in Concord, New Hampshire, managed the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox once upon a time in the Cape Cod League, and has deep New England baseball roots.
Brian Sabean knows good fences make good neighbors. He also knows analytics, and in all his years in tech savvy San Francisco he married analytics with baseball knowledge. He was not afraid of information. He welcomed varying opinions.
Seems like everyone wants the Red Sox to hire yet another Nerd; but how about hiring an accomplished baseball man who was the architect of the Giants winning three World Series in five years (2010, ’12, and ’14) – something no National League team had done since the St. Louis Cardinals in 1942, ’44, and ’46?
That didn’t just happen. The Giants were the gold standard.
And don’t forget, Sabean was heading the Yankees’ scouting when they wound up with the Core Four; so there are all those World Series wins and appearances to consider, too, back when the Yankees were the Yankees. Sabean became a senior advisor to Brian Cashman this year – so who better to hire than someone who knows the Yankee system inside and out?
To top it off, Alex Cora is the kind of veteran manager (think Bruce Bochy) who would work well with Sabean to create a baseball plan. Cora, I believe, would be a terrific Red Sox GM as well – but the other day he said the timing isn’t right, at the moment.
Hire Sabean, let Cora learn from him and by the time Sabean, 67, is ready to move on, Cora can step right into the front office. It would be seamless. It makes so much sense that it would be a joke if the Red Sox went in another direction with the same old Nerd Names that have been pushed in this era of mediocre baseball in which fundamentals have been blown to the wind, team chemistry is not considered vital, and coaching staffs have become test tubes for newbies in the game who don’t know much about being a major leaguer.
Sabean and Bochy always put together a top-notch coaching staff with the Giants; and, unlike today’s Giants, they weren’t just dozens of coaches just standing around holding iPads.
Again, I can’t emphasize enough how easy this would be for owners John Henry and Tom Werner and their front man Sam Kennedy.
The Easy Button is right in front of you; now press it.
Chaim Bloom got four years, and he failed. Don’t rewrite history. That’s why I say now, keep it simple stupid, Red Sox.
“I’m reading all the list of names,” one current baseball man told BallNine on Saturday, “and I’m going, ‘How in the world is Brian Sabean not at the top of the charts with this Red Sox thing?’ And he’s from New England. This guy has done it in a massive market three times, he’s going to Cooperstown, this is the Perfect Guy.”
I could not say it better myself.
To top it off, Henry and Werner tried to be tricky last time when this opening developed and hired Chaim Bloom, who was a failure – though many are now trying to spin a different narrative.
Let me tell you a story. In about two minutes I did all the research needed on Chaim Bloom, something clearly Henry, Werner, and Kennedy did not do when they hired Bloom.
I happened to be covering the Rays in the 2019 playoffs when this was all going down. Mildly interested in who the Red Sox were going to hire, I was on the field one day before a game, killing time, and Bloom was standing about 30 feet to my right. The word was that he was about to be hired by Boston. I was talking with someone of power in the Rays organization and, again, just making small talk, I asked this person, “Are you guys going to miss Chaim Bloom?”
The person smiled and said, “No, we’ll just hire two more Google (analysts) to replace him.”
That was all I needed to hear.
Boston Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom reacts with Boston Red Sox 2023 first round draft pick Kyle Teel as he signs with the club on July 21, 2023 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Clearly, the Red Sox people in power did not talk to the Rays’ person of power with whom I was speaking that day. Nothing against Bloom, but by the tone of this person’s voice I could tell the Rays were happy for Bloom – but they weren’t shaking in their boots that the Red Sox were going to become a monster threat with Chaim Bloom at the helm. Maybe they also knew that John Henry was going to cut back on spending; but let’s face it, nobody cuts back on spending like the Rays do – so I never buy the excuse “the owners set up Bloom to fail.”
No, you get the job to lead a team, you find a way no matter the circumstances. Then when I heard the Red Sox were losing some valuable instructional people soon after Bloom was hired I could see what was coming; and now you have it, a last place team in the AL East, fighting it out for last place with the once athletic and proud Yankees.
Chaim Bloom got four years, and he failed. Don’t rewrite history. That’s why I say now, keep it simple stupid, Red Sox.
Hire Brian Sabean, who deserves one last run. If he fails, he will man up and say he failed. But he has too much baseball knowledge and too many contacts in the sport; knows tons of good development people, scouts, and coaches; welcomes analytics; is a natural leader; and would be a New England son coming home – and all that would fire up any front office leader, and believe me, when Sabean gets going, he’s fired up.
When I spoke at length with Sabean for BallNine before the season, I could tell he wanted back in baseball and the leadership fire still burned. He also said something most of the genius Nerds never say: “If I was the smartest guy in the room,” Sabean said, “I was in the wrong room.”
He’s not afraid to be challenged. He doesn’t surround himself with yes-men.
General manager Brian Sabean of the San Francisco Giants waves to the crowd along the parade route during the San Francisco Giants World Series victory parade on October 31, 2014 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Giants beat the Kansas City Royals to win the 2014 World Series. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
I have spoken to many people close to Sabean and they too believe this Red Sox union makes too much sense not to be done. Don’t forget that during Sabean’s reign the Giants drafted the likes of Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey, and Madison Bumgarner. So his teams draft well and trade well. In 2010 Sabean and his San Francisco crew added small but important pieces down the stretch who made a difference, like Cody Ross, who had been waived; and in 2012 they acquired Marco Scutaro, who became so valuable that he was given the nickname “Blockbuster.”
Sabean, you see, also has a sense of humor and that’s invaluable in today’s humorless MLB.
Humorless, that is, unless you’re watching “highlights.”
On Friday night, the Pirates couldn’t turn the easiest of double plays that would have ended the game and beaten the Yankees.
The Giants, Sabean’s old team, now trying to platoon their way out of the final playoff spot even though the competition is light, could not have their left fielder throw the ball 200 feet to home plate. The throw skipped past the catcher and the pitcher wasn’t deep enough on his back up, so two runs scored to give the Rockies a walk-off against Gabe Kapler’s club because of terrible fundamentals.
Watching the Red Sox play defense this season was comical because Bloom came from the New School of thought, something a scout I know calls “the Travel Ball mindset, that anyone can play anywhere and any time.”
No they can’t.
Real baseball doesn’t work that way.
One area in which the Rays are not cheap is in player development. They develop players and trade for players and let those players do what they do best. One example is Harold Ramirez – and Friday night was a perfect example. Don’t just watch the games, watch the approach.
Ramirez comes from the school of barreling up the baseball, see it, and hit it. The Rays are an intellectual group, but they don’t get in the way of players like Harold Ramirez; they let him be him. He came off the bench to pinch hit against the Orioles and blew the game wide open with a three-run home run on a first pitch fastball in his wheelhouse that he sent over that deep left field wall in Baltimore.
Harold Ramirez #43 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates hitting a second inning single in front of Ryan O'Hearn #32 of the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 14, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Here is something else to consider. The Rays and Orioles are going to continue to be successful in the AL East. This is no longer the division dominated by the Red Sox and Yankees; and if Toronto can ever get out of its own way, that’s three good teams above the Yankees and Red Sox – so the next boss of the Red Sox better be right in his decisions and not try to re-invent the wheel.
As for the list of candidates floating around, one baseball man asked: “What have these people done?’’
Great question. What have they done?
Now they are smart people, but what is their baseball IQ? And just because you were a good Nerd for another team doesn’t mean you can be The Guy Who Runs a Team. Every year we see that mistake made over and over again, and shockingly these people resurface every time an opening develops.
They are not leaders of men, they are actuaries.
They compile and analyze statistics and use them to calculate the risks. Their game plan is usually the same, too: stink for a number of years so you get some high draft picks, hit on those picks, and now you have controllable assets. Work the margins.
Give me someone who finds baseball players and makes them better through good coaching, instruction, and information without overloading the player with info. Look at all the strikeouts this year with taking a strike three fastball right down the middle – so many times with runners in scoring position – but the hitter was in educated iPad guess mode because of the overuse of analytics.
Look at all the errors made because teams don’t practice fundamentals or players are played out of position or some players really don’t give a darn about defense or base-running and yet there are no consequences for their actions.
“Sabes is such a great guy,” one baseball person told me. “I love talking to him. I think he’s brilliant.”
That says it all. All in a baseball way, too, which is kind of what you are looking for because he has real championship experience in the game.
Another top talent evaluator who believes Sabean would be a great choice for the Red Sox gave me something else to think about with the current leadership gap in baseball. Brian Sabean is not alone out there as some experienced baseball man who should be running a team, especially a team in a major market.
San Francisco Giants general manger Brian Sabean attends practice at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., on Monday, Oct. 20, 2014. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) (Photo by MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images)
“Brian Sabean, who grew up there, would be a great choice,” the evaluator said. “There’s also Ruben Amaro, Jr. out there and he was a coach up there in Boston too. Dan O’Dowd is the smartest guy on MLB Network and he hasn’t had an interview since he left the game.”
Both are former GM’s, smart people who know the game inside and out and understand people and what is happening to the game and want to make the game better.
Don’t underestimate the value of baseball passion, too. That’s being replaced by an over reliance on numbers. Too many baseball people have been pushed out the door and replaced with people who don’t have the kind of experience to understand how difficult this game is to play, and really don’t have the loyalty you need to succeed.
That’s one of the great failings of baseball today. Those in charge of the game, those in charge of teams don’t understand what it takes to succeed and how difficult a game baseball is; and if you don’t understand that, you don’t have true leadership.
Witness the success of the Braves and depth of baseball knowledge they have in their dugout.
Our evaluator put an exclamation on that point, telling me, “Look at the Atlanta Braves staff and then look at the years they have spent in the game in the uniform, playing, coaching, helping people, winning games as players, coaches, managers, whatever.
“There are so many GMs who sit upstairs and think the game is easy. It’s people who’ve been in the trenches who know how hard the game is, know the ups and downs, know how to help people get better. I’m not a huge Alex Anthopoulos fan,” the evaluator added of the Braves’ GM and president of baseball operations, “But Alex Anthopoulos paid his dues in the game and understands the game and understands how important it is to have the right people in the right places. That’s why the Braves are as good as they are. As analytic as the Orioles are, look at their major league staff – those guys are guys who have been in the game.”
Don’t overthink this, Red Sox; get a proven, championship, “brilliant’’ baseball man to head your operation and a New Englander to boot. Keep it simple. Hire Brian Sabean.