A little of this, a little of that …
Believe it or not, as far-flung as this may sound, there was a time when this corner believed Bobby Valentine would somehow be granted a stay of execution and return as manager of the Red Sox next season.
Here’s the underlying reason for such out-of-the-box thinking: John Farrell, clearly the top candidate on Boston’s immediate wish list, remains under Toronto’s control through 2013. It doesn’t seem worth the hassle on general manager Ben Cherington’s part to haggle over the kind of compensation it would take in order to bring Farrell into the fold a year before time runs up on his deal.
Remember, this isn’t Theo Epstein going to the Cubs or Ozzie Guillen to the Marlins; we’re talking division rivals that find themselves in the same unenviable position of trying to escape the basement in the A.L. East. From Toronto’s vantage point, the idea of drawing a hard line with Boston’s pursuit of Farrell should provide enough of a clue to throw Cherington off the managerial trail and tend to far more consequential matters – that of rebuilding the Red Sox into a contender.
In Valentine, the idea of the Sox simply biting the bullet by bringing him back before taking another run at Farrell next offseason seems to fall in line with Epstein’s “bridge year” projection. Valentine may not have been a long-term solution, but by retaining him for a second year, Boston would have avoided creating an uncomfortable environment for his replacement, as the media surely would have jumped on the theory that Manager X is simply in place to keep the seat warm for Farrell.
Instead of fanning the flames, Valentine cooked his own goose. His chance to show that he fit into the Red Sox’ remodeling scheme moving forward came in the wake of the blockbuster deal with the Dodgers, a trade that allowed Cherington to firmly hit the reset button. Yes, Boston was far removed from contending status, but the short-term perception was that at least Valentine was free of the headaches (Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez) that had turned Boston’s clubhouse into a snake pit.
In no time, Valentine showed that he too has scruples. The fact the Red Sox went 9-27 following the Aug. 25 purging wasn’t the determining factor why the “Bobby V” reign ended on Thursday. The Boston had been transformed into a picked over pupu platter, fielding lineups over the season’s final 5 ½ weeks that brought clarity to the phrase “playing out the string.”
That same timeframe served as a prime chance for Red Sox management to get a snapshot of what kind of baseball guy Valentine is when the roster is severely handicapped. Looking back, WEEI radio afternoon host Glenn Ordway hit the nail on the head at asking Valentine if he had “checked out” on the season, as the home stretch proved to be Bobby V’s ode to taking a failing situation and making it even worse rather than smoldering it.
He became a lightning rod in a season that could not end swiftly enough; his oafish and boorish behavior with the media coupled with some head-scratching on-field decisions turning all of September, along with the first three days of October, into one big howling tornado.
Valentine probably had a good inkling that he was as good as gone as soon as the final out of Game 162 was recorded, for why else would you air publicly that there’s disharmony amongst the coaching ranks and decide to run up a pinch hitter in the middle of a count?
There was a chance – albeit slim – he could have been back in the dugout had the Sox showed more than a faint pulse, and maybe Cherington would have heeded Valentine’s wishes of allowing the skipper to have a greater say in selecting coaches. Instead, Valentine chose to have the spotlight shine on him for all the wrong reasons, providing far too many unnecessary distractions at a point in the season where the Red Sox were better off fading to black.
That’ll teach me to think twice about whether a volcano can contain itself from erupting.
Jason Varitek may make a fine manager down the road, yet the idea of legitimizing the former Red Sox captain as a possible heir to Valentine seems delusional. Such a belief has nothing to do with Varitek’s lack of managerial experience. The bone of contention here is that he’s only one year removed from his playing days, meaning he would potentially be inheriting a group of players that not long ago knew him as “teammate” and “captain.”
Such awkwardness can easily be avoided if Varitek and the Red Sox can wait about five years for the remaining ties to his playing days are off the Fenway Park premise. Remember, Robin Ventura capped off his nine-year playing career with the White Sox in 1997 before becoming the franchise’s manager this year. Ventura never managed a single game, hence why Varitek’s name is being bandied about not even a week after becoming a special assistant to Cherington. What Varitek needs is a chance to learn how the off-field game is played before sliding a uniform back on to manage a team that has undergone a clean break from his Red Sox past.
Hiring a manager may garner the most attention, but I’m more curious to see how the Red Sox proceed with the pitching- and bench-coaching spots – particularly if Valentine’s replacement will have any say on the matter.
We can all agree that Valentine was Larry Lucchino’s choice. This time, Cherington deserves to take the lead on the selection process and hire a skipper in which he feels most comfortable. After all, it’s more important for the general manager and the manager to have a stabilizing working relationship, something that at times in 2012 appeared dichotomous.