Of course Bobby Valentine should be fired. Some rival executives say the Red Sox should have fired him as manager two weeks ago, when they had a better chance of salvaging their season.
For all of the Sox’s recent complaints about media leaks, Valentine has been his own worst enemy, failing to keep his mouth shut, inflaming his players, losing their respect. While the players in some cases were guilty of overreaction, Valentine should have known his reputation preceded him. Whatever. At this point, even with the Sox committed to him for the rest of the season, Bobby V is but a sideshow, a footnote to an ugly period in Sox history.
The Sox — 12 1/2 games back in the AL East, 6 1/2 games behind in the race for the second wild card — are not simply bordering on irrelevance as they visit Yankee Stadium this weekend (Saturday, MLB on Fox, 4:10 p.m. ET). They are a collective failure, and the sooner their owners and players recognize that, the sooner they all can move forward.
At present, both groups remain in spin mode, the players denying they tried to mutiny against Valentine, as reported by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, and club president Larry Lucchino telling reporters Thursday night in Baltimore, “The cynical, jaded media do not necessarily capture the voice of the fan base.”
Really? Lucchino should open Fenway Park for a town-hall meeting and listen to what fans (many? most? all?) think of the 2012 Red Sox. And, since the Sox are so big on group discussions, ownership should require the players to attend and hear how they’ve alienated Red Sox Nation every bit as much as Valentine has alienated them. Then ownership can do something completely different, and acknowledge its own role in helping create this mess.
The facts are these: Valentine became the manager only this season. The Red Sox haven’t won a playoff game since 2008 or reached the postseason since ’09. They’re currently three games below .500 with a $180 million payroll, the third-highest in the majors.
Few blame first-year general manager Ben Cherington, and few should. The players too often are distracted by side issues, failing to focus their energy on winning. The owners — and specifically, Lucchino — must acknowledge their mistake in overruling Cherington, anointing Valentine and effectively punting on 2012 by hiring the wrong guy at the wrong time.
Less than a year ago — remember? — this franchise showed only the smallest signs of dysfunction. The Sox had the best record in the American League last Sept. 1. Though some club officials privately expressed concern even then that certain players were demonstrating an inflated sense of entitlement, a third World Series appearance in eight years appeared within reach.
Then came the nervous breakdown.
The historic collapse and failure to reach the postseason. The reflexive purge by ownership, which included the dumping of manager Terry Francona and departure of GM Theo Epstein. The revelation that starting pitchers had downed fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse during games — and the smearing of Francona by unnamed sources in a Boston Globe article.
The Atlanta Braves collapsed just as dramatically as the Red Sox last September, but all they did was fire their hitting coach. The New York Yankees play in a market that, at the very least, is as demanding as Boston, yet their players conduct themselves with such professionalism, the contrast is embarrassing to the Red Sox.
The Red Sox’s ownership trio of John Henry, Tom Werner and Lucchino doesn’t necessarily need to mimic the Yankees’ stoic Hal Steinbrenner — the Sox group, lest anyone forget, helped end the “Curse of the Bambino,” presiding over World Series winners in ’04 and ’07. But if they won’t allow Cherington to pick the manager, then he shouldn’t be GM — and the owners can’t say that Cherington hasn’t earned their trust, not when he has been in the organization 14 years.
Oh, and let’s not stop there.
The next time the players start complaining — and there will be a next time, even after Valentine is gone — the owners should tell them to shut up and stop acting like spoiled children. Spoiled, overpaid, underperforming children who should be seen and not heard.
A year ago, no one thought of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and second baseman Dustin Pedroia as problems, and maybe they still are not. But Gonzalez and Pedroia led the uprising against Valentine, according to Yahoo! Regardless of whether every last detail of Passan’s report was accurate, no one will confuse either veteran for a Valentine infantryman.
The players, whether they realize it or not, all are diminished by the team’s internal strife. The Red Sox’s championship teams cared only about winning. This team seemingly is concerned with everything but. Obviously, leaders such as Derek Jeter are rare, but who on the Red Sox even comes close to setting that kind of tone?
Gonzalez never has been known as a leader. Pedroia was Francona’s pet (for good reason), but he is not hitting the way he has in the past, perhaps due to nagging physical issues. Designated hitter David Ortiz, at times, is a unifying force. Other times, he prefers to bitch about his contract.
Yet, virtually every Red Sox player has won in the past, and been a good teammate in the past. Perhaps the hiring of a more respected manager quickly would restore the proper clubhouse dynamic. But at least to some degree, a culture change is required. The team’s agenda should be winning, and winning only.
The defiant one, right-hander Josh Beckett, should be the first player traded, though the Sox might have blown their best chance to move him when the Texas Rangers showed interest at the non-waiver deadline; Beckett is earning $15.75 million through 2014 and can veto any deal as a player with 10 years of service, the last five with the same team.
Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury also needs to go, ideally for a starting pitcher, if only because of his contractual status and the potential for the Sox to replace him with top prospect Jackie Bradley. Ellsbury will be entering the final year of his contract in ’13, and his agent, Scott Boras, generally prefers his clients to determine their values on the open market.
After that, things gets trickier.
Epstein left Cherington with two players whose hefty contracts and shaky physical conditions make them extremely difficult to trade — left fielder Carl Crawford and right-hander John Lackey.
The Sox discussed Gonzalez with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the deadline, according to the Boston Globe, but would move him only in a “transformative” deal, one major league source says. Pedroia is under club control through 2015 at reasonable salaries, but it would be counter-productive to trade him when his value is down.
Cherington, left with little choice, probably should take his chances with the same core. Pedroia, left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buchholz all are under 30, and Gonzalez only turned that age in May.
The Sox, drawing from a more favorable aspect of Epstein’s legacy, also are developing another wave of young talent: Left-hander Felix Doubront and third baseman Will Middlebrooks made impacts this season, catcher Ryan Lavarnway is back in the majors and Bradley and shortstops Jose Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts are getting close.
If only the immediate future were as bright.
There’s no getting around that the Sox blew it with Valentine. They will need to fire him if they want to retain their holdover coaches — bench coach Tim Bogar, hitting coach Dave Magadan, bullpen coach Gary Tuck. But if they fire Valentine after the first year of his two-year deal, they likely will forfeit any chance of hiring their former pitching coach, John Farrell, as their next manager. Farrell’s contract as Toronto Blue Jays manager does not expire until after next season.
A fine mess, isn’t it?
Valentine must go; Valentine will go.
But Valentine, in some ways, is the least of the Sox’s problems.