Blank Slates

Why Bobby Valentine has to go.

Tough to watch is a bit of an understatement. Ben Cherington and the Red Sox ownership group boarded a plane destined for Seattle last night, to personally see the mess that their team has become.

For the first hundred or so games of the season, there were injuries and bad luck to blame. In fact, it was only until this weekend that the Red Sox did not have a positive run differential on the season. That being the case, it wasn’t hard at all to assume that this was in fact a group of talented players vastly underachieving their potential.

Now?

It’s a mess, a full meltdown. The likes we haven’t seen since…well, last September.

This time Boston isn’t blowing a playoff spot though, they’re simply digging themselves deeper into a grave that some would argue was started the day the season started.

At the end of last September, the worst collapse in baseball history complete, the Red Sox fired their manager, Terry Francona. Arguably the greatest manager in franchise history, Francona led the team to two World Series titles, five playoff appearances, and 744 wins over an eight-year span. The front office clearly believed that much of the September collapse stemmed from his inability to control a clubhouse that was quickly spiraling towards a state of entropy.

So, here we are at the dawn of another September, the memories of the last one much fresher than they should be, and all reports coming out of Boston are that manager Bobby Valentine will be sticking around for at least one more year.

Immediately following the blockbuster trade that sent Boston’s three highest paid players to the Los Angeles Dodgers, all signs pointed to the front office building a team suited for Valentine. The Red Sox went on to win their next two games, and it was looking like the team might be invigorated.

Then they went west.

Six straight losses. 54 runs allowed over 48 2/3 innings. 15 runs scored while hitting .231.

This team is a mess, and that’s probably putting it lightly. No one expected them to make a run to the playoffs after trading Adrian Gonzalez and plugging in James Loney, but at least being competitive on a game-to-game basis doesn’t seem like too much to ask for.

Dustin Pedroia is the only player on the team who looks like he even cares anymore. Every pitcher on the team is getting shelled, players aren’t being patient at the plate, the clubhouse is counting the days until October.

If the front office blames the collapse last September on Francona losing the clubhouse, what are they calling this September? There are no more injuries to blame, this is just bad baseball.

The Red Sox are committed to rebuilding. If they weren’t, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford would still be on this team. But how can you rebuild when you still have the one man perhaps more polarizing than any one player on this team? The Valentine era in Boston was a gamble. The owner’s believed that the one thing this team needed more than anything was someone who would keep them in check. Someone who would keep them disciplined, and would not allow the disaster that was last September to unfold for the second year in a row.

Valentine didn’t lose the clubhouse in September as Francona did, because he never had control of the clubhouse to begin with. From Dustin Pedroia calling him out in April, to Kevin Youkilis being pushed out of town, to the team only meeting in July, to the infamous text message, the list goes on and on.

Maybe it isn’t his fault, maybe this collection of players was truly just doomed from the beginning, the chemistry and the comraderie never meant to be. Then it truly is a shame that Valentine had to be caught up in the whole mess, but regardless he becomes a victim. Maybe with a different Red Sox team, he wins the World Series, but that’s just not a risk worth taking.

Some have said that the Red Sox need to get back to the basics. Some have said that they need laughter. Some have said that they just need to try different things, new lineups, new pitchers, etc.

What the Red Sox truly need more than anything is a blank slate. With Bobby Valentine still the manager, this can never happen. He’s been involved in too much controversy this year for it not to linger next year, and if there’s any visceral proof of that, it’s last September and the affect it has had on both the media and the players this year.

Maybe it’s a tragedy that a good manager like Valentine got caught in the middle of this mess. Maybe he’s just a bad manager. Either way, it can’t be him who stands on the first step of the dugout on the first day of the 2013 season, watching as the Red Sox prepare to take the field, ready to start a new year.

Ready to start over.

Categories: Bobby Valentine

Alex Convery is a student at the University of Southern California where he studies screenwriting. He spends his time procrastinating. Follow him on twitter here: www.twitter.com/alexconvery

6 Responses to “Blank Slates” Subscribe

  1. DezoPenguin September 4, 2012 at 11:19 AM #

    The problem is, that blank slate had better begin with major repairs to the starting rotation. Injuries maimed the bullpen (how many late-game chokes could have been avoided simply if Andrew Bailey had been healthy all year and the resulting domino effect?) and had taken their toll on the offense even before the trades, but the starters have been bad all year. Lester's underperformed. Beckett's underperformed. Buckholz was awful with incredible run support saving his W-L record, then got hurt, then made a comeback to be the genuinely good starter of the bunch. Dubront started out acceptable, then slumped. Morales has been up and down (sufficiently up to look like a good-to-adequate #4-5 guy, but the Sox don't need a #4-5 guy, they need a 1-3). Dice-K has been often hurt, and usually bad when he's not. Cook has been a reclamation project that didn't work out. Bard has shown that the sabermetrician's cry of "better to start than relieve" only works when the pitcher can start (though in all fairness, he's actually been awful dating back to last year's collapse when he was working out of the pen). Zach Stewart was Zach Stewart.

    Say what you want about Bobby Valentine, and he certainly hasn't been part of the solution, but the Sox's pretense of adequacy this year was based on the offense performing incredibly enough to overcome the pitching staff to the tune of .500 baseball. Eventually, injuries (and the trades) took the offense down to a level where it could no longer overcome the pitching night after night, and the current wreckage is the result.

    Looking ahead to next year, the same question marks remain. Will Clay continue to be his good second-half version? Will Lester regain his form? Will Lackey (who's going to start the season in the rotation simply because his salary and the sunk cost fallacy demand it) be anywhere near adequate? Will Doubront make positive steps? Can Morales become a functional starter? Will De La Rosa or Wheeler fulfill their promise? There's not a single piece of the Red Sox's rotation that isn't a question mark going forward, and that's a recipe for potential disaster and a long season of second-guessing the front office, regardless of who manages.

    • Gues September 5, 2012 at 6:59 AM #

      With regard to the pitching, I believe there's only one missing piece and that is a strong frontline starter (not necessarily an ace), and Cherington has the tools at his disposal to go out and acquire that starter. Whether it's a Jake Peavy or a Dan Haren or even an expensive Cliff Lee, any type of #2 pitcher that slots into the rotation with Lester and Clay makes the rotation as a whole look much stronger.

      I'm not sure how the #4 or #5 slots in the rotation are going to be filled, you'd have to assume that Lackey will take one spot and that Doubront/Rubby/Morales will fight for the other spot in spring training. Allen Webster should be available for a call-up at some stage during the year though so it creates a bit of a logjam trying to fit everyone in. If I were Cherington I would be open to utilising either Doubront or Morales in any trade package for a frontline starter this offseason, the team has a surplus of mid to back-end starters (with Barnes and Webster also projected as #3/#4 pitchers) and the biggest need is another #1 or #2 guy like Lester.

      2014 is the real goal here. In a perfect world Lester and Clay would both pitch to their potentials, Rubby would reach the incredible upside that many scouts see in him and Barnes/Webster will reach their #2 ceilings, literally leaving this rotation with 5 pitchers who would all be in the top 3 of any other major league rotation.

  2. lucidsportsfan September 5, 2012 at 10:49 PM #

    Agreed completely. Interestingly enough, despite all this mess the Sox can still control the outcome of the AL East, and possibly the Wild Card too. They might be able to keep NY out of the playoffs… http://www.lucidsportsfan.com/2012_09_02_archive….

  3. LarryAtIIATMS September 6, 2012 at 1:16 AM #

    As a Yankees fan, I can only hope that the Sox continue to put the fun in dysfunction. But to say that Bobby V should be fired is to miss the point. Closer to the point is that the Sox got the guy they hired. This IS the real Bobby V.

    Even closer to the point is that the Sox had no clear idea why they hired Bobby V. There was the idea that the team needed to be "accountable" for September 2011. "Accountable" is a neat word that doesn't mean anything. In the case of the Red Sox, it seemed to amount to a never-ending series of player and management "mea culpas" that never satisfied anyone, least of all the good people of the Nation to whom the apologies were directed. Bobby V was then hired as the anti-Tito, the guy who was supposed to clean up Dodge without a six-shooter. If the "clubhouse culture" was the problem, what was Bobby V supposed to provide as a solution? Was he supposed to change the personalities of the malcontents with his wit and sarcasm?

    A number of pundits say that Sox management never allowed Bobby V to be himself, that they never gave him a chance. I think that's right, but I think management's failure was the way they dismissed Francona, with a shove to a small in the back, the public lie that Francona's departure was a mutual decision, and the private smear job performed via a leak of information about Francona that might not have been true and should have been confidential in any event. Under the circumstances, players that felt loyal to Francona (and I think there were many) had extra cause to feel uneasy about Bobby V. When your beloved former supervisor is fired and trashed on the way out by higher-ups, you're not likely to embrace the replacement hired by those same higher-ups.

    Bobby V is probably gone, whether you like it or not. People compare Bobby V to Captain Queeg, and Captain Queeg wasn't going back to command any ships regardless of the outcome of the Caine Mutiny court martial. If you're still looking for a manager to repair the clubhouse culture, Bobby V is not your guy — I would argue that he was never your guy, but as he's now part of the problem, I don't see how he can be part of the solution. The question is, though, not who should be fired — that was the question Sox management foolishly asked last season, instead of asking how they could put the best performing team possible on the field. The question is, how do you bring in a new manager — any new manager — and give him the best possible opportunity to succeed. How do you rebuild the trust in all tiers of the organization? Because otherwise, you're just bringing in another guy to take the fall the way Tito did (in my view, undeservedly) and the way Bobby V will (in my view, much deserved).

    I think that the Red Sox have to get past the idea that they can solve their problems by getting rid of people. The idea has to be to figure out how to get the organization's talent to work together and to pull together. But I DO think that one more guy needs to be fired to make this work.

    That guy is Larry Lucchino.

    • Alex September 17, 2012 at 5:44 PM #

      Wow. I have never agreed more with a Yankees fan.

      • LarryAtIIATMS September 17, 2012 at 9:50 PM #

        Alex, sorry, Larry was working on a comment to say thank you, but before Larry could finish, Bobby V removed Larry from the comment and pinch-hit Nick Cafardo in his place.