The Baseball Buzz: Quick Hits Around MLB – Red Sox Edition

Aug 25, 2012 4 Comments
Bobby Valentine Boston Red Sox

Was Bobby Valentine hired to deflect attention away from the core faults of Boston? Photo By: Keith Allison

Bobby Valentine the Lame Duck 
I was talking with the Sports Glutton (aka Jed Gray) earlier this week via Skype when he asked me what I thought about the ongoing soap opera surrounding the Red Sox season. My initial thought was, “where do you begin?” Does the conversation start with how the team has had to endure a plethora of injuries; is it the bad contracts and inflated payroll; or is it attributable to manager Bobby Valentine’s insatiable appetite for calling out and embarrassing his players (most notably Kevin Youkilis who was subsequently traded mid-season)? What about the lackluster pitching and team ERA of 4.31 that ranks them 11 out of 14 teams in the American League?

Before I could put an answer together, the Sports Glutton posed an intriguing question that I hadn’t really considered:

Did Boston hire Bobby Valentine (someone who is infamous for his abrasiveness and ability to deflect criticism) to manage a team that the Red Sox brass knew was in transition and likely embarking on a losing season?

On one hand, it’s hard to accept that the Red Sox would hire Valentine just to be a season-long scapegoat. But on the other hand, it’s not that far fetched when you consider the immense pressure to win in Boston and level of uncertainty the team was facing heading into the 2012 season. How much uncertainty exactly was there you ask?

Well, on the field, the Red Sox were dealing with several key personnel issues including, whether or not the seven years, $142 million investment in Carl Crawford would start to pay off; who was going to assume the closer role with Jonathan Papelpon gone as a free agent to Philadelphia; and could they move beyond the total collapse of last season that ended in a missed playoff appearance and a clubhouse scandal that involved several Red Sox pitchers who were drinking beer in the clubhouse during games down the stretch?

Off the field, the Red Sox fired Manager Terry Francona and released General Manager Theo Epstein at the end of last season – two people who were instrumental in bringing the franchise its first World Series title in 86 years in 2004 (and another one in 2007) – and brought in Valentine to take over for Francona and Ben Herington to replace Epstein.

Once the season started (injuries aside), it was apparent that there were just too many off-season changes to overcome. You had a volatile Manager, a new General Manager and a team that was flawed with too many overpaid and underperforming players such as Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedoria and Jon Lester, to name a few.

While I believe the Red Sox management hoped for the best this season, they knew Valentine could be their fall guy to serve as a distraction to mask the deficiencies of the team and deflect attention away from the organization when things went awry.

And boy has he played the part well. Consider the controversies just this month: there was the August 2 quarrel between Valentine and third baseman Will Middlebrooks when Valentine told Middlebrooks “nice inning kid” after he committed two errors in one inning; then there was the August 14 meeting that players called with the ownership group to complain about Valentine (this is a huge deal); and there was the firing of pitching coach Bob McClure on August 20 whose communication problems with Valentine were well-chronicled.

So where does this all lead?

In some respects, I think the Red Sox were given a one-year pass by fans and the media as Valentine absorbed most of the criticism while creating the bulk of drama. This allowed Herington the opportunity to get his feet wet, and work quietly behind the scenes to start to rebuild a team left in shambles by Epstein.

The Red Sox just had a solid draft where they loaded up on pitching (a real need) and they have made it known to other teams that they would entertain trade offers for Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett who collectively make around $40 million a year.*

There is no question that Valentine will finish the season as manager, but I don’t think it will be any surprise when he’s fired shortly after the season is over. In a town that lives and breathes baseball, I just don’t see an alternative solution at this point. Changes will need to be made.

It’s probably not the ending Valentine anticipated when he came out of retirement to take the job, but from the Red Sox perspective, it may have been the plan all along.

*Indeed the Red Sox have traded Gonzalez, Beckett, and Crawford in a mega-deal with the Dodgers (click here for full story)

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4 Responses to “The Baseball Buzz: Quick Hits Around MLB – Red Sox Edition”

  1. Sportschump says:

    Dude, that team is a friggin’ mess.

    Wherefore art thou, Theo?

    • William Hodges says:

      Hey Sportschump — thanks for reading. Yes, they are a mess, but I think the mega-trade they made with the Dodgers last week gives them flexibility moving forward and puts them on a path to success. I mean, they shed $260 + in payroll in one day! That’s insane!

  2. RedRaider says:

    I know I havent been a subscriber for long, but how about some love for TX Rangers. They have won eight of their last ten, pitching is really starting to click and Beltre is on a major tear. Beltre recently had a 3 homer game, hit for the cycle in another and missed the cylce by a triple in the next.
    The Rangers have the best record in the American League and are likely to overtake the top seat in both leagues with their next two series against the lowly Indians and Royals.
    I cant wait for October.

    • William Hodges says:

      Thanks for subscribing RedRaider. I love the Rangers and want to show them love as much as anyone, but for me, it’s not about how well the Rangers do in the regular season. I mean, I think they’ve proved to the baseball world over the past three seasons that they are good team. They have had great regular and post-season success, but I want to know (and I’m sure that you do too) if they can get over the hump and win a World Series? I think it would be a great story.

      Beltre has been incredible no doubt — you might see a blurb about him for this week’s post!

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