Talkin Sox with Dan

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Archive for the tag “Bobby Valentine”

Deep Depth

Photo via bostonherald.com

On Wednesday night, Andrew Bailey ran to the pitcher’s mound from the bullpen at Progressive Field in Cleveland and recorded three consecutive outs. He pocketed his first save of 2013, and the Red Sox notched their tenth win of the season.

The scene was similar on Thursday night for Bailey and the Red Sox in the ninth. Strike out. Foul out. Ground out. Save. Ballgame.

It was a pair of uneventful ninth innings — just what you’d want from your closer — but it represented something larger, something that the Red Sox desperately missed last season: bullpen depth.

In 2012, before Bailey even pitched in a regular season game, he underwent surgery on his thumb due to an injury he may have suffered during a collision at first base during Spring Training (it was pitching coach Bob McClure who disclosed that Bailey first felt soreness in his thumb when he was squeezing his bottle of shampoo in the shower). With Daniel Bard transitioning from eighth inning reliever/fireman to starting pitcher, Bobby Valentine was left to choose between Alfredo Aceves and the newly acquired Mark Melancon.

Aceves was anointed the closer, and like many members of the Red Sox bullpen, he failed. His command suffered greatly in the role, but he was far from the being the only ineffective reliever.

April 21, 2012. It was a Saturday afternoon game at Fenway Park against the Yankees. And it epitomized the utter disaster that was the Red Sox bullpen. The Sox lineup pounded out crooked number after crooked number early in the ballgame. They had racked up nine runs before Mark Teixeira hit a seemingly innocuous solo home run off of Felix Doubront during the lefty’s last inning of work. Doubront left the game after the sixth with 9-1 lead, and when Cody Eppley threw the last pitch of the game it was 15-9, in favor of the Yankees. Vicente Padilla, Matt Albers, Franklin Morales, Aceves, and Justin Thomas (Junichi Tazawa gave up one hit and no run in his 1.1 innings of work) combined to allow 14 runs, 13 of them were earned. The Yankees won the game, and the Red Sox bullpen was downright atrocious.

To be fair, it’s not as if the Red Sox bullpen was relinquishing nine-run leads from the first pitch of the season all the way until Game 162. In fact, the bullpen turned things around a bit following their aforementioned implosion on April 21. From April 23-May 25, the Sox ‘pen posted to lowest ERA in the big leagues. So while things may not have been as bad as they were that Saturday afternoon at the Fens in April, it’s fair to say that the Red Sox bullpen was much more of a weakness than it was an asset last season.

Just like 2012, this year’s Red Sox team lost their closer early. Joel Hanrahan was placed on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring on Tuesday. He is still experiencing soreness.

Hanrahan wasn’t available on Monday, and yes, Bailey blew his first save chance on Patriot’s Day against the Rays. But this year’s Red Sox are much more capable of dealing with the loss of a key member of their bullpen. With Hanrahan on the shelf, John Farrell has the luxury of turning to Bailey, a guy who the Boston Globe’s Chad Finn accurately characterizes as “a statistical comp for Jonathan Papelbon during his three seasons in Oakland.”

What if Bailey falters in the role? The Red Sox have options.

Tazawa has emerged as one of the most reliable options out of the bullpen, not only on the Red Sox, but in the entire American League. He has everything that a manager would look for in a closer–he has excellent stuff and refuses to issue free passes. Ideally, Tazawa will not be asked to close ballgames in 2013 but should Bailey and Hanrahan succumb to injuries or fail to perform, the Red Sox have a legitimate third option. Not many teams can say that about the backend of their bullpen.

Do the Red Sox have one of the game’s top tier closers like they did when Papelbon was still employed by the team? No. But they do possess a tremendous amount of depth that should only deepen as pitchers like Hanrahan, Craig Breslow, and Morales return from injury.

Baseball is a war of attrition, and the bullpen is certainly not immune. The 2013 Red Sox, unlike last year, stand a real chance to succeed in battle.

Time to Let Go

Moving on is tough. Change is difficult. The past can often seem better than the present. For the Boston Red Sox and its fans, this couldn’t be more true when it comes to their ball club. Nevertheless, it is time to look forward.

It is about 2013, not 2004.

Terry Francona is not walking through that door.

Francona will always be beloved in these parts. He brought Red Sox fans salvation in 2004 and again three years later. Tito is arguably the greatest manager in Sox history. And that’s part of the problem–he is history. He’s not the manager in Boston any longer. In fact, he’s now the enemy (a relatively benign enemy in the form of the Cleveland Indians, but an enemy nonetheless). On April 16 — when the Indians visit Fenway — Francona will officially begin attempting to beat his old club.

The Tito Love Fest needs to end. It went on all of last year, mostly due to circumstances that surrounded the Red Sox and their former manager. Francona was dismissed at the end of the 2011 season in a manner that most people who follow the team would describe as unfair. Despite the allegations concerning Tito’s prescription drug abuse, he walked away from the rubble that befell Yawkey Way pretty clean. He went on to hook up with ESPN in an innocuous gig on Sunday Night Baseball.  Bobby Valentine, who is the black to Francona’s white when it comes to managerial style, never really got settled in Boston–much to his own device. It was easy to long for the way things were under Francona when Valentine was busy looking like a total idiot.

Tito quickly became the figurehead for anti-Establishment. Cheering the old manager meant opposing John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and to a lesser extent, Valentine. It was a theme that permeated throughout the season — Francona received the biggest ovation during the 100-year celebration of Fenway Park on April 20. In July, the ESPN analyst held court with a small group of Red Sox players in the visitor’s clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. Despite the denials from both sides, it must have been incredibly awkward for Valentine.

Franonca, however, is no longer serving in a role that has no real bearing on the welfare of the Red Sox. He is actively competing against them. Valentine has been disposed as manager, and the Sox have a new man at the helm in John Farrell who possesses many of the same coveted managerial skills as Francona but has a starkly different style. It is no longer about Francona. It’s about Farrell, and his team’s performance this summer.

Stop selling the past. Make a case for the future.

Let’s first deal with the facts. Last season was the 100-year anniversary of Fenway Park, and that is important. The aforementioned celebration this past April was necessary and well-done. The All-Fenway Team was acknowledged before the final home game of the season in September, and that too was appropriate given the circumstances surrounding the park’s birthday in 2012.

But recognizing the eight-year anniversary of the 2004 championship team? Please stop.

It’s time for ownership to stop leaning so heavily on the equity of good will that they have built up since purchasing the team. Instead, they must reinvest themselves in the 2013, 2014, and 2015 Red Sox. In turn, fans will reinvest accordingly.

Get excited about Will Middlebrooks, not Kevin Millar.

—–

None of this is easy. Francona was a superb manager during his tenure in Boston. Farrell owns a sub .500 record since taking over his first managerial gig in Toronto. Middlebrooks is heading into his sophomore season as a pro, and in the grand scheme of things, hasn’t done much of anything yet. Conversely, a player like MIllar helped deliver a World Series trophy to this city. It’s understandable why fans and even members of ownership gravitate towards these guys. They’re fun, likable winners.

And it’s perfectly fine to give Francona a nice ovation when he visits Fenway in an Indians uniform. Let him tip his cap and acknowledge the fans. He deserves that.

But after that, let go.

The Red Sox Take You Into the Weekend

It’s Friday. That’s a good thing. Celebrate by reading a few must-know points on the Red Sox. I’ll keep it short and sweet.

Torey Lovullo was officially hired as the Red Sox bench coach today. The former major leaguer was John Farrell‘s first base coach last season in Toronto. Lovullo is a known commodity in these parts. He managed the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2010. He also interviewed for the Red Sox’ manager job last offseason. Lovullo is a manager-in-waiting, but the take away here is that Farrell is going to surround himself with guys he trusts, knows, and respects. It is a stark difference from what the Red Sox did last year with Bobby Valentine.

— I’m eager to see who is hired as pitching coach. Farrell has a strong pitching background, but it’s important to realize that the pitching coach is the individual who will be managing the staff on a day to day basis. The Red Sox and Farrell must choose a guy who is given full autonomy over the pitchers. Rick Peterson would be a blessing.

— I have a feeling that the 2013 Red Sox are going to be very fun to watch. David Ortiz, Cody Ross, Dustin Pedroia, and Mike Napoli would be a fun core to root for.

— The Red Sox would be smart to stay away from B.J. Upton and Justin Upton. The former is a free agent who doesn’t get on-base. The latter is a good player who is under contract for reasonable dollars, but it would require quality young talent to get him here. Spend your minor leagues commodities on pitching. Or don’t spend them at all.

Closing Arguments

I feel like I was sold a product that turned out to be a far cry from what the salesman presented on the showroom floor. It’s not that I feel like I was cheated. Instead, I’m just kind of confused.

Wasn’t Bobby Valentine supposed to be the smartest man in the room? I’m pretty sure he was billed as the guy who was going to hold court with the media, manipulating the media with his every word, right?

But that didn’t happen.

Instead, he seemed like he was constantly searching for the right phrase to use in press conferences. His post-game interviews with Jenny Dell were brutal. It wasn’t Valentine’s fault that “Jenn-ay” (Forrest Gump’s voice) knows as much about baseball as Snowball, my sister’s dog, but did he really have to do that weird stare into the camera? I mean Jenny freakin’ Dell is to your right. Don’t look at me. Look at her for Christ’s sake.

Valentine proved to be more awkward than charismatic. He was decidedly unfunny, often making odd remarks that could not be easily determined as either jokes or serious comments. I honestly believe that he truly didn’t know what he meant most of the time.

Whether it was in pressers or radio interviews, Valentine was often passive-aggressive. It was like he really believed he was above the people he was speaking to, like he somehow possessed some sort of superior brand of knowledge when it came to not only baseball, but life too. That sort of disposition doesn’t play well here.

Valentine’s firing has been met with more celebration than it probably deserves. He is not the devil. Removing him, in and of itself, is not going transform a team that ended its season with 93 losses, into a championship organization.

But it is a step in the right direction.

Waiting for Farrell

The Bobby Valentine era lasted less than one calendar year, but it felt like a decade. I’d love to be able to tell my readers that I saw the writing on the wall when Valentine was hired, that I knew he would about as useful as a warm fart on a hot day. But I can’t. I was very, very wrong.

But that’s okay, right? We’re all wrong at some point. Hell, I thought majoring in English was a good idea.

It’s time to get caught up on the Red Sox managerial search that I hope doesn’t last as long as the one that brought Captain Idiot to town. One thought per bullet. Let’s go.

  • John Farrell is the clear front-runner for the job.
  • I don’t put much stock in Farrell’s sub .500 record as a manager in Toronto.
  • Terry Francona’s record as a manager was terrible when he was hired by the Red Sox.
  • Francona is probably the greatest manager in Red Sox hisotry.
  • By “much stock”, I mean none.
  • The Blue Jays wanted Clay Buchholz for Farrell last season.
  • He has one-year left on his deal, rendering him a lame duck manager.
  • The asking price, if any, will be much, much less.
  • Larry Lucchino and Paul Beeston are very good friends.
  • Paul Beeston is the President of the Blue Jays.
  • I wish my last name was “Beeston”.
  • Farrell isn’t the be all end all, but I believe he brings a great deal of really good things to the table.
  • I won’t be heartbroken if Farrell isn’t managing this team in 2013.
  • No matter who the Red Sox hire, he must be able to earn the trust of the players, communicate well with brass, and manage the pressure that comes with being the skipper of a baseball team that plays in Boston.
  • I hope the Red Sox get their man.

Beyond Stupid

I wasn’t watching the Red Sox game on Sunday. I didn’t see one pitch. Instead, I was busy watching the Patriots piss away a victory against the suddenly pesky Arizona Cardinals. At home. In a week where both the Ravens and the Jets lost.

But I digress.

The Sox were north of the border, completing an utterly meaningless three-game series against the equally as awful Blue Jays. It was the top of the seventh inning, and the Local Nine found themselves in a scoreless game with two outs. Pedro Ciriaco delivered a single, and Jose Iglesias stepped to the plate. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Ciriaco swiped second base.

Enter Idiot.

Bobby Valentine sent pinch hitter Daniel Nava to the plate to relieve Iglesias. In the middle of his at-bat. In a 2-2 count. In a game that most literally means nothing. Nava, who was probably just as uncomfortable as the 22-year old Iglesias, promptly grounded out on the first pitch he saw. Inning over.

I have no issue with Valentine attempting to win ballgames in the final handful of weeks of the season. Of course that is until he starts acting like a total assclown on the field.

If Valentine is truly determined to pile up as many meaningless wins as he can, here is an idea: Pinch hit Nava for Iglesias before the young shortstop even digs in the batter’s box. That move would have at least been justifiable, given the fact that Nava would be hitting from the left side, making it more difficult for the right-handed throwing catcher to nab the soon-to-be stealing Ciriaco. Let’s not forget that any hitter prefers a fresh count rather than being thrust into a two-strike situation.

Valentine is still employed by the Red Sox, and I’m not sure why. But if this latest act of utter stupidity does not force ownership’s hand, I don’t believe anything will. Count on Valentine managing this team throughout the remainder of the season–that includes the three-game series in New York to end the year.

 

Clearing the Air

Lately, I’ve read a couple of blogs and heard more than one sports radio caller advocate for bringing Bobby Valentine back next season. Their commentary almost always has to do with the idea that the mess that is the 2012 Boston Red Sox is not Valentine’s fault. He inherited a dysfunctional clubhouse. He can’t be held responsible for the rash of injuries that befell this team. He cannot control the fact that the starting pitching staff has been collectively and consistently awful since jump street. You could go on and on.

The fact is that these individuals are largely correct. If you were to slice up a blame pie for this team, Valentine would not come close to getting the biggest serving. But that certainly does not mean he should be at the helm when the Red Sox take the field in 2013.

It feels like years ago, but the Red Sox took a quality first step in refocusing their organization when they shed a quarter of a billion dollars in a post-trade deadline line deal with the Dodgers just a few weeks ago. It is absolutely vital that they continue to operate in that same fashion. Every move GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox make must done with an eye towards the future. And Valentine is not part of it.

Cherington, not Larry Lucchino, must find Terry Francona Part Two — a highly respected manager of people. I’m not sure if that is John Farrell, Terry Lovullo, Ryne Sandberg, or someone else.

But it is certainly not Valentine.

Advice for the Red Sox: Farrell, Morales, Ortiz

It’s not that these September games don’t matter at all. There is plenty of room for evaluating guys like Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway, and Ryan Kalish. However, every move that this organization makes going forward must be done with an eye towards the future. The 2012 Boston Red Sox are officially about the 2013 Boston Red Sox

Here are nine pieces of advice for a ball club in desperate need of putting its best foot forward.

—Do what you have to do to pry John Farrell from the Blue Jays. If Toronto’s GM Alex Anthopoulos demands a player like Clay Buchholz or even Daniel Bard (yes, that Daniel Bard), you move on–because that’s ridiculous. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Farrell should be the top candidate to replace Bobby Valentine.

—Bring David Ortiz back on a one-year deal. I love these tough-talkers who call into radio shows and proclaim how they’re sick of Ortiz, how he’s a baby, and the Sox need to move on. Get real. I wouldn’t necessarily offer him arbitration, but Ortiz has to be the anchor of that lineup next season. And remember: A pissed off Ortiz is a productive Ortiz.

—Sign Cody Ross this offseason and never let him play right field again. Ever.

—John Henry must empower GM Ben Cherington. He is an intelligent, qualified executive who deserves more autonomy. If that means somehow lessening the importance of Larry Lucchino, so be it. Wins are more important than selling commemorative bricks.

—Give Franklin Morales a fair shot to start in 2013. I’d go to battle with that guy as my fifth starter any day of the week.

—Integrate some patience this offseason. The Red Sox have gotten away from their bread and butter–taking pitches, working the count, and wearing down the opposition. You can get away with a couple of free swingers like Will Middlebrooks, but for every young, anxious hitter, you need two players who are willing to take what is given to them. ESPN’s Jeremy Lundblad explores this in more detail here.

—Trade Jacoby Ellsbury in the offseason. Fans will undoubtedly gripe, but it is the best decision. Here is why.

—Find a way to harness Alfredo Aceves. He is undoubtedly volatile, quirky, and, at times, troublesome. But he is a weapon, a guy who can pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen, spot start, or even close an occasional game. If he proves to be detrimental to the team, cut bait.

—Do not be afraid of bad publicity. When discussing the idea of firing Valentine before season’s end, WEEI’s Rob Bradford advocated the idea by saying “rip the band-aid off.” I don’t necessarily agree with firing Valentine now, but Bradford’s point is actually a good one. This organization has gotten away from what is most important: Assembling a quality team that is capable of playing consistently good team baseball. Are there going to be bumps in the road along the way? Sure. Rather than compromising what is best for the franchise in order to avoid a few potholes, hit them head on. Face the music and learn from the mistakes.

No Voice, Just Noise

“You’re right that some of his [Josh Hamilton] at-bats aren’t very impressive from the standpoint that he doesn’t work deep into the count. He’s swinging at a lot of bad pitches. He just doesn’t seem to be locked in at all. So what you’re hoping is that his approach will change, and he’ll start giving quality at-bats because there’s a lot of those at-bats that he just gives away.” – Nolan Ryan, President of the Texas Rangers

The Boston Red Sox do not have a voice. John Henry, despite the mass-email that he sent to various media outlets and beat reporters on Monday, is not the backbone of the organization. Larry Lucchino may, according to Henry, run the Red Sox, but when he speaks (or writes), it’s hard to not feel like you’re being sold something. Ben Cherington can be refreshingly honest, but he does not possess the autonomy necessary for a GM to be completely successful. Lucchino lurks. Castration occurred early for Bobby Valentine. He is a hard-nosed manager being forced to toe the company line. Because of that, fans are much more apt to roll their eyes when he speaks, not listen.

From ownership, to baseball operations, to the on-field leaders, the Red Sox have proven to be exceptionally good at organizationally undercutting one another.

Let’s examine.

Dale Sveum, Cherington’s first choice as the next Red Sox manager, is pushed aside by Lucchino in favor of Valentine, a sexier name who brings a reputation that runs perpendicular with Terry Francona’s style. Before Valentine is done unpacking, a combination of Dustin Pedroia and Cherington scold him for being himself, something he was seemingly brought to Boston to do. Would I publicly criticize a veteran player like Kevin Youkilis? No. But I’m also not Valentine, and when you make a hire like the former glasses and mustache-wearing Mets manager, that type of incident should be expected.

Roughly two months ago, Valentine makes a comment to rookie third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, as he comes off of the field follow an inning where he apparently made a couple defensive miscues: “Nice inning, kid” — or something of the like. It was a completely innocuous comment, designed loosen up what was likely a white-hot Middlebrooks. A player in the dugout witnesses the exchange and deems it necessary to mention it to a member of the Red Sox front office. Valentine is later approached by ownership, discouraging him from making comments similar to the one he made towards Middlebrooks.

It has been dysfunction at its finest.

Worst of all, there is not a figure like Nolan Ryan or Cam Neely to set an organizational tone for the Red Sox. Both Ryan and Neely, although experiencing success in two different sports as players, serve as presidents of their respective franchises and command the respect that is often needed to bridge the gap between ownership and on-field employees. Do you think Henry, Lucchino, or Cherington could get away with criticizing David Ortiz‘ approach at the plate the way Ryan (see above) dissected Josh Hamilton’s two weeks ago? Me neither.

The Red Sox advocate the idea of everyone contributing before a decision is made. Everyone gets a seat at the table, sort of thing. But that is likely the root of the problem.

No one in that organization just goes to work and does the job assigned to him. The players know that ownership will listen when they complain. Sometimes they’re even rewarded for their gripes. Cherington is promoted to be the GM and oversee baseball operations, but Lucchino pauses his perpetual Red Sox sales pitch to choose the manager, subverting his new GM’s authority. Henry has deep pockets but seems disinterested with the product he owns.

Ideally, players would stick to hitting, fielding, and pitching. They would respect their manager enough not to go to ownership about an exchange in the dugout they witnessed–and if they did, they would not be heard. Ownership would back their manager, simultaneously fostering a sense of respect for him within the walls of the clubhouse.

Ideally, Cherington would be allowed to do the job he was assigned to do by his bosses. He is the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox because somebody believes strongly in his skills as a decision-maker when it comes to baseball operations. In turn, if Cherington believes Sveum puts his team in the best situation to succeed on the field, he should be the manager, not Valentine, not Joe Torre, not Casey Stengel.

Ideally, Henry would identify that his ball club is in complete disarray. He would care enough not to let it continue. He would be vocal. Lucchino may “run the Red Sox”, but Henry owns them. He can do what he wants–that includes firing Lucchino.

From the players on the field, to the coaches in the dugout, to the executives watching from above, there is a tangible lack of respect that permeates throughout the organization. Everyone steps on each others toes and thinks that it is perfectly fine because no one says that it’s not. When things go awry, nobody in the Red Sox organization steps up to right the ship because they’re too busy bumping into each other.

Until a sense of respect is injected back into this organization, it would be silly to expect anything but mediocrity out of the Red Sox. With or without Valentine at the helm or whether Josh Beckett is on this team or not, the Red Sox will be .500 on the field because they’re .500 everywhere else.

Sunday’s Notes

The Red Sox lost last night 5-3 at the Trop in St. Petersburg, FL., which is a total diaper of a stadium. Will Middlebrooks hit a big two-out two-strike two-run home run. The blast was a big hit within the context of the game but also personally for the young third baseman who is attempting to fill the void left by one of Boston’s most beloved sports figures in recent history, Kevin Youkilis, who returns to Fenway Park in a White Sox uniform on Monday.

Here is more on the Red Sox.

Josh Beckett will get the ball today, opposed by James Shields. Beckett is typically excellent against the Rays, especially at their place. He will look to rebound after letting up five first inning runs to the Yankees two Fridays ago. You will remember that it was Beckett who threw one-hit complete game gem against the Rays last year. He was one Reid Brignac dribbler up the third baseline away from being perfect. If you don’t remember the game, that’s okay. It may have something to do with the fact that he did it the same night the Bruins won the Stanley Cup.

—The Red Sox have a slew of difficult games on the docket, including today. As the trade deadline approaches, the front office will have some difficult decisions to make. If baseball operations on 4 Yawkey Way believes that this team can not only make the playoffs but compete for a World Series in October, then they should go out and seek a pitcher like Matt Garza to augment a starting staff that has struggled. If they feel as though this year’s team does not possess the capability of playing up to the level of the Yankees, Rangers, and Angels, GM Ben Cherington and company should look to sell some pieces. The latter option is not very likely as Red Sox brass is dedicated to putting a winning team on the field, or at least a group that can successfully be sold as a winning team. My point is simple: Pick one or the other. Fold your hand or go all in.

—For a period of time, just about a month ago, the Red Sox had gotten in the habit of taking two out of three games from teams. They were winning series after series, typically against teams who were just as good them or worse. Today is a great opportunity to get back into that groove.

Franklin Morales has been solid since Bobby Valentine moved him to the rotation. However, the story does not simply end there. Earlier this season, the Red Sox had the luxury (and I mean that literally–it was a luxury) of having three capable lefties in the bullpen. The aforementioned Morales, Andrew Miller, and Rich Hill were all capable of coming into a game to get one tough left handed hitter or multiple batters. Hill has since moved to the disabled list, and Morales is firmly entrenched in the rotation. Miller is the only left-handed weapon that Valentine has left at his disposal. As a result, the manager has to be much more conservative with how and when he calls upon his lone lefty. It is a small issue but one that looms large as games move towards the later innings.

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