Earl Weaver takes over in Boston as the Red Sox head into the offseason

Weaver3Apparently second place in the American League East wasn’t good enough for the Baltimore Orioles. The O’s sent popular manager Earl Weaver packing after an 83-79 campaign, finishing 20 games behind the AL East champion New York Yankees.

The Red Sox hope Baltimore’s loss is Boston’s gain. Even after dealing with a glut of injuries in 1976, Darrell Johnson knew his days in Boston were near an end when his Red Sox followed a World Series appearance in 1975 with a 55-107 record that matched San Diego for the worst record in baseball. Johnson was fired one day after the conclusion of the regular season.

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While the Cincinnati Reds and Oakland Athletics battled it out in the World Series, the Red Sox opened negotiations with Weaver. On Oct. 31, Boston received a Halloween gift with Weaver signing a five-year deal worth $108,440 annually.

The Red Sox also announced the signing of key free agents in catcher Carlton Fisk and starting pitcher Rick Wise.

Boston avoided making a splash during the winter meetings, although it did make a big offer to lure Pirates free agent Jerry Reuss to help strengthen the rotation. With the first-year player draft right around the corner in mid-December, Reuss informed the Red Sox that he is close to signing.

Even if that happens, the Red Sox may need to look for more improvements as the Yankees made some potentially big moves in response to a disappointing loss to Oakland in the ALDS. The Yankees added promising 22-year-old minor leaguer Andre Dawson from Montreal for a package that included minor-league centerfielder Kerry Dineen and infielder Pat Tabler.

In response to the likely loss of Reuss, the NL East champion Pirates worked out a trade with Atlanta, sending Rick Lanford, Fred Breining and Eugenio Cotes to the Braves for Phil Niekro.

Up next: The Red Sox prepare for the first-year player draft with the belief they should add an impact player with the No. 4 overall pick. Who would you target from the list below?

Not appearing among the top 10 draft prospects is a slick-fielding 20-year-old shortstop named Ozzie Smith, who has reportedly been coveted by Boston’s front office.

The Red Sox have also turned in their list of 15 names to protect in the upcoming expansion draft.

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Here’s a look at some of the final numbers from 1976. Note that World Series MVP and 1976 batting champion Pete Rose is among the top free agents available this offseason.

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