The Real Questions with Bobby V and Ben Cherington

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Repeatedly we’re seeing the debate as to whether new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington wanted Bobby Valentine as the Red Sox manager.

Some say yes, he’s on board and is sincere about it.

Some say yes, but are shrugging and rolling their eyes as they say it.

Some say no. Larry Lucchino and John Henry wanted someone who was the polar opposite of Terry Francona; that they wouldn’t tolerate the nonsense that played a part in the club’s collapse in September and began the ball rolling sending Francona and Theo Epstein out of town and opened the door to the shocking hire of Valentine.

The truth is probably closer to the middle.

Did Cherington want Valentine?

No.

But Lucchino wasted no time after the departure of Epstein to step right back into the breach amidst the chaos and fill the vacuum. When the Red Sox won their 2004 championship, Lucchino’s position had been usurped and his influence marginalized by his former protege and eventual nemesis as Epstein won the subsequent power struggle.

With the collapse, the dismissal of Francona and the Epstein departure, the opening was there for Lucchino and he took it.

Is Cherington comfortable with Valentine?

I’m sure he’s rationalized it.

Valentine has a 2-year contract with 2 option years; he’s a qualified and experienced manager who is well-versed in statistics and truly knows the game from both a numerical and scouting point-of-view; he’ll nip any behavioral issues in the bud; if things go wrong, Cherington won’t get the blame as the puppetmaster in the Moneyball tradition of telling the “middle-manager” what to do.

Whereas Epstein would’ve been allowed to hire the man he wanted to hire to replace Francona, Lucchino and ownership stuck to the Red Sox recent historical script of doing the Yankees thing and importing a recognizable name.

It’s been this way for years.

When Epstein was hired and the Red Sox set about altering the culture and strategy, it wasn’t to sign the big name free agents or championship-winning managers for show in a keeping up with the Steinbrenners competition—that’s what got them and other teams in trouble in the first place—but it was done to import players and staff who fit into what they wanted to build logically and intelligently.

Now that they have immobile contracts; a greedy fan base; and an apathetic, comfortable and encroaching core of veterans who took advantage of Francona’s hands-off style. Valentine was the one name who’d drop a bomb in the clubhouse and put a stop to the off-field negativity that harmed their playoff run.

Valentine’s not going to storm in and get in the faces of Josh Beckett and Kevin Youkilis. He’ll try a conciliatory “let’s work together” approach, talk to them like men and then handle it if they step out of line.

You can make the argument for a younger, less stringent manager with a personality that wasn’t going to ruffle the delicacy of the clubhouse hierarchy, but the front office is paying the players to be in shape and behave appropriately as a matter of course; they hired Valentine to implement that desire.

If they hired someone inexperienced who fit into the middle-managing profile and it didn’t work, the Red Sox were staring in the face of a full-blown housecleaning which would’ve relegated them to possibly 3-5 years of missed playoffs and repercussions in revenue, fan response and media vitriol.

It’s easier and cheaper to bring in Valentine and see if he can tweak what’s there than it is to make wholesale roster changes and take someone else’s headaches in exchange for their own. Catering to the whims of the players would’ve made the 2011 problems worse.

Hiring Valentine is not so different from the Moneyball style of field managers except that this middle-manager isn’t going to be intimidated nor is he going to get fired if the players complain about him.

Here’s the big question: Had Epstein stayed, would Bobby Valentine be the Red Sox manager right now?

Universally, the answer will be the same no matter whom you ask.

That answer is no.

And despite assertions that all are in agreement, smiles and glad-handing, that pretty much tells you where Cherington truly stands on the situation as well.

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