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Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Manager pick will say much about Red Sox
When the Red Sox finally arrived at the decision to hire Bobby Valentine last offseason, regardless of how they reached that conclusion, the team made its choice based on what it thought of the team the new manager would inherit.
“When we hired Bobby,” General Manager Ben Cherington told the Associated Press after axing Valentine on Thursday, “the roster was fairly mature and we felt — mistakenly, in retrospect — that we had a chance to win and the team was ready to win.”
It wasn’t, of course. Under Valentine the Red Sox never really had a chance, finishing at 69-93 before Valentine became the franchise’s first manager to be fired after only one season in almost 80 years. It’s made for a humbling 13 months that leave Boston’s brass no choice but to re-evaluate their entire operation, and that’s exactly what the front office has vowed to do since splitting with Valentine.
But more than press-release pledges, the choice of who replaces him in the dugout could say everything about what the team thinks of its players, of its internal culture and of just how deep the problems run at Fenway Park.
If the Sox target an older, established, authoritarian type, it could be an indication that the front office still believes the existing core of players is more solution than problem, and simply needs someone who’ll whip them into shape while extracting the best of their abilities.
Despite the evidence of a 76-113 record since August 2011, and despite having spent more than half a billion dollars since their last playoff victory, such a hire would suggest upper management still has enough faith in its on-field employees to think their return to competitiveness is as close as adding the right leadership. Looking for that type of immediate fix would also likely signal the start of an aggressive offseason from a player acquisition perspective.
If the Sox target a younger, high-ceiling, softer-handed type, it could be an indication that the front office understands that it needs to take the long view, and is better off committing to a forward-thinking manager who can grow with the team as it rebuilds over the next three or four years.
This approach would require Cherington and Co. to be confident that the inhabitants of the clubhouse have been so humbled by their recent failures that they’ve finally reached a point where they have no choice but to respect their new boss and follow him like lemmings. After what the 2011 team did to Terry Francona, Boston can’t hire another so-called “players manager” unless management is convinced that the players are capable of handling such a privilege — but if management trusts that the culture is finally ready to be reset, it would make sense to tab someone who recently wore the players’ same spikes.
This is where the decision to bring in Jason Varitek as an assistant to Cherington should be a valuable asset. He’s far too close to the situation — and far too culpable in the collapse of September 2011 — to be considered himself, but he’s still got his finger on the pulse of the clubhouse.
Undoubtedly, he knows everything that went on behind closed doors this year. And because he wasn’t officially brought on board until a couple weeks ago, he knows it from the players’ perspective. Cherington has indicated Varitek’s input will be considered as the club interviews candidates, and having that players’ perspective represented, without needing to give any current player undue power by bringing him in on the process, should help find a fit.
He can bring firsthand knowledge of how John Farrell, DeMarlo Hale, Brad Mills or Tim Bogar would fare, since he’s already worked under all four, though the Sox will — and should — look beyond the familiar in their search. (Assuming that search goes beyond Farrell even if the Blue Jays’ compensation demands don’t get in the way.)
If they’re looking for an older presence, the Sox may start with Gene Lamont, the Tigers’ third base coach who was a finalist for Valentine’s job. Mills and Hale would also fit that category, while 61-year-old former Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin interviewed in Boston a year ago and has been a major-league coach for the better part of the past 15 years.
If the Sox go younger, Torey Lovullo figures to be at the top of the list after joining Lamont and now-Cubs manager Dale Sveum in last year’s final three before Valentine entered the picture. He’s only 46, and the current Blue Jays first base coach has worked in the Sox minor league system. Other intriguing candidates include Sandy Alomar Jr., Dave Martinez, Mike Maddux and old friend Bill Mueller — all of whom have played since the turn of the century, and have become respected coaches but have yet to manage in the majors.
Experience at that level, remember, is what the Red Sox said tipped the scales in Valentine’s favor last winter, though Cherington said Thursday that the process won’t be the same this time. “We’re now at a different point,” said the GM from Meriden. “We’re trying to build the next good Red Sox team.”
And, like it did last year, their choice of manager should say a lot about how close they figure that team is to reality.
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Dave D’Onofrio covers Boston sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @davedonofrio