BoSox opt not to bring back pitching, hitting coaches

BOSTON -- Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein has a message
for the fans who dissect every move he makes: This time, you're

"This is one of those years when I tend to agree with our
critics more often than usual," he said after Boston missed the
playoffs for the first time in his tenure. "We have elements of a
very, very good baseball club here but there is no doubt in the
world that we need to do better. ... I need to do a better job."

The Red Sox's overhaul began on Monday when the team decided not to renew
the contracts of pitching coach Dave Wallace and hitting coach Ron Jackson. Manager Terry Francona said the team was not trying to blame the two,
but merely to bring in a new "voice" that would be more

"Please don't write that I think it's their fault," Francona
said. "It's not a very fun decision to make."

Jackson thanked the Red Sox in a statement for the memories he collected while with the club, the greatest being having worked with David Ortiz every day.

He expressed his confidence in the Red Sox's management to build a team that will bring success back to the franchise.

"I am sure that Terry's decision to move in a different direction without me is part
of a logical plan to help the team get back on track to another World Series which
the fans, the guys on the team, and the whole organization deserve," Jackson said in a statement.

Al Nipper, who filled in for Wallace while he had hip surgery,
will be a candidate for the job full-time. The former Red Sox
pitcher was also the pitching coach in Boston and Kansas City in
the 1990s.

"I think we have an obligation to see who is available,"
Epstein said. "Nip is right on that list."

Also Monday, Epstein said Victor Rodriguez had been hired as
minor league hitting coordinator. Bench coach Brad Mills and third
base coach DeMarlo Hale will be back.

Bill Haselman is deciding whether to return as first base coach
or try to manage in the minor leagues.

The Red Sox wrapped up their second season since their 2004
World Series title with an 86-76 record that left them 11 games
behind the rival New York Yankees in the AL East and -- more
disturbingly -- a game behind the Toronto Blue Jays.

Boston had finished second in the previous eight years. But it
went 9-21 in August, including the Yankees' five-game sweep at
Fenway Park that essentially ended any hopes of a fourth
consecutive playoff appearance.

"We had some weaknesses. It was an imperfect team, to be
sure," Epstein said. "Those weaknesses were not revealed in the
first half when we were fresh and playing well. ... But they were
exposed in the second half and that's our fault."

Among the weaknesses were depth in the starting pitching and
bullpen, where Jonathan Papelbon (35 saves, 0.92 ERA) was the
biggest highlight. Curt Schilling (15-7, 3.97) and Josh Beckett
(16-11, 5.01) were solid, but not the co-aces the team needed to
make up for its shortcomings elsewhere in the rotation.

Those problems were exacerbated when Tim Wakefield, David Wells,
Matt Clement and Jon Lester were injured. But it also didn't help
that Epstein traded away Bronson Arroyo (14-11, 3.29 for
Cincinnati) -- who would have provided important pitching depth -- in
the spring.

Although Ortiz continued to drive the offense, leading the
AL with 137 RBI and a franchise-record 54 homers, Manny Ramirez
(.321, 35, 102) could be on the trading block again this offseason.
Catcher Jason Varitek (.238, 12, 55) was ineffective and injured
and backup Doug Mirabelli (.193, 6, 25) -- brought back from San
Diego just to catch Wakefield's knuckleball -- offered little, even
less when Wakefield was injured.

"Jason's had a tough year," Francona said in his
office on Monday, a quiet clubhouse beyond his door. "He said,
'I've got a lot of work ahead of me.' That's good news, because
he's a good worker."

Varitek's injury was devastating because it happened hours after
the trading deadline, and he couldn't be effectively replaced. The
Red Sox tried Javy Lopez, without much success.

But neither Epstein nor Francona was ready to blame injuries for
the team's disappointing finish.

"You can either handle it or you can't. At times, we weren't
able to," the manager said. "I think it's too easy to say it was
just injuries. We have to look further than that if we want to get
better. The American League is so strong this year that if you have
flaws it gets exposed pretty quick -- like if your bullpen's a
little beat up."

The Red Sox have already decided that Papelbon will be a starter
in 2007. Epstein said pitching on a regular schedule will cause
less strain on Papelbon's shoulder.

But still unresolved are:

-- Second base, where Mark Loretta is a free agent and prospect
Dustin Pedroia is waiting.

-- Shortstop, where Alex Gonzalez is a free agent after providing
stellar defense all season.

-- Center field, where Coco Crisp (.264, 8, 36) didn't perform up
to expectations or his predecessor, Johnny Damon. Crisp had surgery
last month on a broken left index finger that is expected to be
healed by the spring.

-- Left field, where Ramirez will be shopped -- again. Finding a
team to take on Ramirez's quirky persona and the last two years of
what started as an eight-year, $160 million contract will be the
tough part.

-- Closer, where Keith Foulke has struggled since starring in the
championship season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.