There was always going to be a fall guy for the Boston Red Sox’s historic collapse (and that’s not hyperbole – it was the worst September collapse in baseball history). Chicago Cubs’ fans hoped that it would be general manager Theo Epstein, and I suppose it still could be.

But, for now, it’s looking more likely that it will be manager Terry Francona. So says Ken Rosenthal:

While Francona’s departure is not certain, it is the likely outcome, in part because he is pressing for a resolution, sources say. He would not be fired; the Red Sox would simply decline their club options on him for 2012 and ’13.

At that point, Francona would be free to pursue long-term contracts with other clubs. The White Sox’s position currently is open, and Francona managed five seasons in their minor-league system in the early 1990s.

The Cubs could be another possibility for Francona once they hire a new general manager and proceed with the expected dismissal of manager Mike Quade. Francona played for the Cubs in 1986.

Or Francona — after eight years under intense scrutiny in Boston — could decide not to manage at all in 2012.

Francona, 52, led the Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and ‘07 — the franchise’s first two championships since 1918 — and took the team to the playoffs five times.

Interestingly, Theo Epstein has said publicly that blaming Francona for the Red Sox’s failures would be a mistake, and he clearly opposes any decision to dump the manager. Might he be sufficiently frustrated with ownership’s decision to scapegoat Francona that he, too, might decide to leave? Could the Cubs end up the Red Sox West, by way of adding both Francona and Epstein? It’s a dream scenario as far as I’m concerned (yes, I do see the irony in pining for two guys who would have theoretically been broomed by their previous team), and it’s far more likely now than it would have been a week ago.

Epstein will be discussed at length in an upcoming Obsessive GM Watch post later today, but, as for Francona, he certainly has the temperament for managing in a place like Chicago. He’s handled the rabid, big market fandom, and he’s managed a roster blending rookies and vets. He’s an attractive managerial candidate, there’s no doubt about it.

But would he come? It could be a tough follow-up gig after what he’s just been through. And would the Cubs pony up? The organization twice went for rockstar managers in the 2000s (Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella), with mixed results.

It’s all very intriguing, and I doubt anyone knows anything for certain at this point.

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