Valentine hire doesn't solve all problems

Bobby Valentine is a good hire, but no manager can fix all of the real problems that face the Boston Red Sox.

In the end, the Boston Red Sox decided to hire a celebrity manager.

In the end, they gave fans (and reporters) someone who will add intrigue to what had become a bland Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.

In the end, they brought in a native New Englander with an ebullient personality and incisive, strategic mind.

Bobby Valentine is the new Red Sox manager. At his introductory news conference Thursday evening at Fenway Park, no one will question whether he can handle the Boston pressure cooker or if he has the necessary baseball know-how. Valentine is, by that measure, a very sound hire.

But let’s promise one another, right now, to ignore the spin that is sure to come from Fenway Park. We shouldn’t confuse the hiring of a manager with establishing a course for the organization. The Red Sox fumbled their compass in September and still are kicking through leaf piles in a haphazard attempt to find it.

My colleague Ken Rosenthal first reported that Terry Francona would not return as the Boston manager on the night of Sept. 29. The Red Sox and Valentine reached a verbal agreement on Nov. 29. That is a two-month managerial search, culminating with the hiring of a candidate who was available the entire time.

I hope no one attempts to insult our intelligence by claiming Valentine was the first choice all along.

Valentine, as an ESPN analyst, has been a managerial free agent for more than two years. The Red Sox didn’t need to call the commissioner’s office and ask for permission to speak with him. Boston general manager Ben Cherington was free to meet him for lunch at Bobby V’s Sports Gallery Café in Stamford, Conn., every day since the end of the season. But that’s not what happened.

Instead, after succeeding close friend Theo Epstein as GM, Cherington began his managerial search by interviewing five candidates. He hired none of them. Cherington felt strongly enough about Dale Sveum to bring him before team owners John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino earlier this month. But the Red Sox didn’t offer Sveum a job at the end of that meeting. The Cubs — under Epstein’s leadership — hired him instead.

Meanwhile, the dialogue between Lucchino and Valentine started even before that. Once the Sveum possibility disappeared, it was a fait accompli that Valentine would become a top candidate. Now here we are.

The personality clash between Lucchino and Epstein, leading to Epstein’s sabbatical during the tumultuous 2005-06 offseason, is well known. Now Lucchino is peering over the shoulder of Epstein’s successor at a close proximity. By choosing the candidate Lucchino championed, the Red Sox have perpetuated the notion — accurate or not — that the rookie GM is not in complete control.

In that way, the process is a greater concern than the result.

Valentine is brilliant. He’s an excellent quote. Red Sox Nation should love him, even if he is from The Other Side of Connecticut. And if it doesn’t work, well, the Red Sox will fire him and look for a new manager. That’s the way it goes in Major League Baseball. It’s not nearly as complicated as the Red Sox have led us to believe.

Hiring a manager is much easier than, say, fixing a broken starting rotation — which is the true offseason objective on Yawkey Way. And after turning one job search into a nine-week calamity, can this front office be trusted to make meaningful, efficient upgrades to a starting rotation that presently includes Alfredo Aceves and Kyle Weiland?

All of this — Francona’s dismissal, Epstein’s departure, the ham-handed managerial search, the revelations about in-game fried chicken and beer — goes back to an expensive pitching staff that underperformed in 2011. It’s now two months post-collapse, and the Red Sox have yet to improve their starting rotation. Say what you will about the disappointing John Lackey, but the season ended with at least some hope that he would contribute in 2012. The revelation that he will miss the coming year because of elbow surgery hasn’t made Cherington’s job any easier.

The Red Sox are interested in free-agent starters C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, sources say. But can they afford either when they’re paying tens of millions to Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka not to pitch? No. 3 starter Clay Buchholz, talented but injury-prone, is far from a sure thing himself. And who’s the closer, now that Jonathan Papelbon is a Phillie?

These are Real Problems, from which the managerial search was an unnecessarily long distraction. The winter meetings are suddenly less than one week away, and the roster is nowhere close to spring-training ready. Cherington has a lot of work ahead of him. Hopefully Lucchino will leave him to do it in peace.

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