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Duquette in charge -- for now

Special to

Oct. 13

    There's a meanness inside of me
    Lord, it shivers my bones
    That's the thing about mercy I guess
    There's no man so wicked that he cannot come home
    Nor so good that he passes each test
    Yeah, I'd do anything just to come home to you
    --John Hiatt, "Come Home to You"

It is as if Dan Duquette is exiled, off from the New England folks with whom he grew up and claims he always wanted to represent running the Olde Towne Team. Not a day goes by when some newspaperman demands his dismissal, nor a talk radio update passes without a lead-in about the Duke.

Other general managers talk about the Red Sox job as if Duquette's office was cleared and he was living on Cuttyhunk Island. "I think John Hart will end up in Texas and Dave Dombrowski will be in Boston," said one GM this weekend. Another suggested, "I think Billy Beane will be in Boston."

But Duquette is not exiled, nor is he about to abdicate, no matter how dishonorably his team fled in the final month, how ridiculed his manager has been by the media, how criticized he has been by his general manager peers, how often the fingers in the clubhouse pointed upstairs, how often he hears that his allegiance to Carl Everett has embarrassed Red Sox Nation. He is proceeding as if he expects the new owners of the team to keep him, Joe Kerrigan and the entire baseball administration intact.

"We are trying to do what we have to do to make this a winning ballclub next season," says Duquette. Does he know he will be the general manager at this time next year? "No one knows," he says. But it appears that the new owner of the team may not be identified until sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. While it is assumed that the chosen buyer will have been selected with the advice and consent of Bud Selig and John Harrington and thus the new group can ask Duquette and Harrington to begin some restructuring (like naming a CEO or team president that can overhaul the business and marketing side of the operation), that may be too late to pry a proven winner like Beane, Hart, Dombrowski, Brian Sabean, Doug Melvin -- whom Larry Lucchino recommended to John Harrington in 1993, only to have the recommendation sabotaged by Lou Gorman -- or Brian Cashman away from a present or new job. And while there are rumblings that at least one of the serious bidders would like a change, there is a feeling that at least one group would retain Duquette and try to help him deal with his shortcomings.

Duquette is trying to regain some public sympathy by doing various interviews, and he has solicited advice from friends and associates. He stands firmly behind Kerrigan, and presently he has not revealed if he will consider changes in his inner circle and development and scouting departments. He moved earlier than usual to retain some of his best scouts that were sought by other organizations, such as Ray Fagnant and Jeff Zona. However, he has not tipped his hand on whether or not there will be a re-focusing on the draft or a lightening of the heavy-handed control of the minor leagues which has dispirited so many on so many levels.

As for Kerrigan, who has taken a media bath and was embarrassed by the walkouts and early vacations of some highly paid veterans in the last month, Duquette says, "I think Joe can be a very good major-league manager. He needs the opportunity to have his own spring training. I realize that he was thrown into a very difficult position, but I felt we had to do something to create a spark. It didn't work, but I don't blame Joe. He is very bright, his work ethic is unrivaled, he plays sound percentage baseball and he communicates well, and I believe he will be successful. We have to help him put a sound staff together, and the first thing he needs is a veteran baseball man with major-league managing experience to help him in the dugout."

You mean, like Felipe Alou? "That's a good name," says Duquette.

Alou would bring experience, and he would bring a wise, respected hand to what amounted to a serious situation at the end of the season when several of the Latin players seemed to bail on Kerrigan. Pedro Martinez had his uniform toss, then went home. Jose Offerman was unhappy. Ugueth Urbina's agent made it clear his client wasn't happy, which Duquette addressed by meeting with Urbina. Manny Ramirez was dazed by all the fractions in the clubhouse and didn't play the last nine days.

But would Felipe Alou ever consider a bench coach role, even at $1 million a year? Hard to believe, but Duquette believes it's worth trying.

Duquette's answer to suggestions that this team is in tatters is simply, "If we have our best players healthy, we have the core of a very good team. We have to have Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek healthy, because they're three superstars and an All-Star."

Duquette understands he has to get Pedro back into the fold, not to mention somehow monitor his conditioning program and build back his legs. But even one of Duquette's strongest critics among his general manager peers -- and there probably are more detractors than supporters in that fraternity -- suggests that, along with the fact that New England is such a terrific baseball market, one of the reasons the Red Sox job is so attractive is "that they have a core of three superstars and two near-stars (Varitek and Trot Nixon) under 30. The difficult part is finding the stars to build around. If you work hard enough and look hard enough, you can find the other 20 players to complement them, on whatever budget your owner presents."

Given that, Duquette says, "Our pitching is pretty good. We need to acquire some bullpen depth and another veteran starter or two (especially if Hideo Nomo and David Cone leave), but if Pedro is healthy, it can be a good staff." Alongside Pedro, Duquette looks at Derek Lowe, Casey Fossum and Frank Castillo, but he needs someone of quality to fit in behind Pedro. Easier said that done. Duquette plans to tender Urbina ("I thought he threw the ball better and better at the end") and keep him at closer, but admits he needs depth in the bullpen.

"Our biggest offensive needs are a leadoff hitter and, if possible, a five hitter behind Manny," says Duquette. There are the free agent leadoff hitters -- Johnny Damon, Roger Cedeno, Kenny Lofton -- but they will not be easy to sign. Damon wants a minimum of five years and hasn't given vibes that he's comfortable with the East Coast mentality, Cedeno has no position and lacks instincts and Lofton is up there in age. And if the ownership question drags on, Duquette admits that he may be limited in the length of contracts he can give out.

While Kerrigan likes Shea Hillenbrand at third base and compares him to a young Travis Fryman, Duquette wants to see better plate discipline and production, while allowing "he improved as the season went along, like Alfonso Soriano." He figures he can find a second baseman; if the Tigers, as expected, shop Damion Easley, the Red Sox may go after him.

Everyone would love to get Jason Giambi, and while Duquette can bid up $15-20 million of this year's $110 million budget and then add more payroll come spring training, whether or not he can outbid the Yankees or Mets in dollars or term is questionable. So could he platoon with Brian Daubach? "It's possible, Daubach's done a solid job (comparable to Tino Martinez)." Juan Diaz did not hit lefties well for Pawtucket (.294 on-base pct., .390 slugging), 22-year old Luis Garcia had a .419 on-base percentage and .635 slugging against lefties at Trenton, and while Duquette says he wouldn't want to slow his development as a platoon player, he concedes that the organization is monitoring Garcia's winter in Mexico.

Then there's the Carl Everett situation, and if the market is very light, Duquette is going to try to save his relationship with the team. First, Duquette is trying to hire Tom McCraw as a minor-league instructor; McCraw was Everett's hitting coach with the Mets and Astros and remains in constant touch with the embattled player. "Carl has some issues he has to address," says Duquette, but the effort will be made to try to address them. Duquette's thinking is simple: trying to turn around Everett is an alternative to not only dumping him, but in all likelihood getting nothing in return and having to pay most of his remaining $17 million.

Harrington may fire Duquette tomorrow if his lawyers and prospective buyers insist, but that doesn't appear to be a realistic scenario. For now, Duquette believes he is empowered to do what he feels must be done, which gives him the opportunity to try to address his shortcomings and refocus New England on Nomar, Pedro, Manny and Trot, and away from a team that the last month of the season seemed inclined to beat nothing but the retreat.

Rumblings on the GM front
While Twins GM Terry Ryan this weekend moves towards replacing Tom Kelly, there are a lot of rumblings around the GM ranks, with Hart, Dombrowski and Melvin on the market and Beane possibly available.

Reports persist that when the postseason is over Seattle's Pat Gillick will return to the Blue Jays, although it seems hard to believe that Paul Godfrey's public persona would allow the space for the man considered the finest general manager of this generation. But Gillick does still live in Toronto, and his wife Doris maintains her art gallery there, as well. With Cashman apparently close to re-upping with the Yankees, it was thought that Doug Melvin was the front-runner in Toronto, but if Gillick were to return, that clearly would be a huge story in that city.

Both Hart and Dombrowski -- concerned about the future of the Marlins -- have interest in Texas (the Rangers were denied permission to talk to San Diego's Kevin Towers). Now, there have been some questions about the job, because of the head-hunting firm that has talked to Hart and Dombrowski, the Southwest Sports Group people who think they invented baseball after seeing a few games and Tom Hicks' relationship with Scott Boras. And if Gillick indeed did leave Seattle, that would be a very attractive job as well.

Twins move to replace T.K.
Kelly told Ryan two weeks ago that he thought he would retire. "I tried to talk him out of it, a lot of people tried to talk him out of it," says Ryan. "He is a very special man, a real good manager who gave a lot to this franchise. We both knew last year (2000) that while he won only 69 games with a $16 million budget that we were headed in the right direction. Then we had this pretty good (85-77) season. T.K. leaves us in pretty good shape, but we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to him for sticking it out through the lean years and building us back up."

The consensus is that Paul Molitor will get the job and be an extraordinary manager, but Ryan has another coach considered prime managerial timber -- Ron Gardenhire -- and wants to survey the landscape for other potential candidates. "I don't want to overlook anyone," says Ryan. "But I also don't want to drag this out too long."

Kelly developed a young, solid nucleus. Corey Koskie, Doug Mientkiewicz, Cristian Guzman, Torii Hunter and David Ortiz are good players, and Bobby Kielty and Mike Cuddyer showed considerable promise in the minors. The Eric Milton/Joe Mays/Brad Radke/Rick Reed rotation is solid, with Adam Johnson on the way. So if Ryan can find a little more power and finish off the bullpen, the new manager has a team that can compete with the White Sox and Indians.

Typical of Tom Kelly, he took a moment at his press conference to say, "I got to see every one of Kirby Puckett's major-league games. You can't be luckier than that."

No, Minnesota was fortunate that Kelly stuck around to manage as long as he did, and passed on to his successor the best team that city's had since 1992.

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