Christopher Gasper of the Boston Globe recently wrote about a disagreement that has developed between Red Sox GM Ben Cherington and manager Bobby Valentine. It is another in a long line of failures and missteps over the past 6 months for the organization whose season ended so disappointingly last season. Even though the regular season is about to start, the differences Boston management are experiencing have the ability to turn this long winter for Red Sox fans into a nuclear winter.
The disagreement between Cherington and Valentine centers on two position battles. Cherington expects to see Daniel Bard in the starting rotation and Mike Aviles as the regular shortstop. Meanwhile, Valentine believes Bard and his power fastball and slider would be more effective in relief, and would like to install slick fielding, no hitting Jose Iglesias as his shortstop. With spring training about to come to an end, decision time is nigh but no resolution appears to be in sight. Make no mistake about it; rifts like these can contribute to the making or breaking of a season if not resolved properly.
The situation is made more awkward by Cherington having his input usurped when Valentine was hired as manager by team president Larry Lucchino over the GM’s choice of Dale Sveum. It is hard to imagine that much trust currently exists between Cherington and Valentine, but if the team is going to do anything of consequence going forward, that will have to change.
On the surface, this argument may be about differing views on talent and where it best fits on a team, but ultimately it’s really all about pride. If Cherington lets Valentine have his way, it would completely negate the bulk of the moves he made this off-season, trading both incumbent shortstops Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro, and acquiring Mark Melancon to assume the setup role so Bard could transition to starter. Giving in now, combined with being overruled on his managerial choice, would make Cherington the baseball GM version of a eunuch.
For Valentine’s part, he knows he has a lot to prove to a lot of people. It has been a decade since he last had an MLB managing gig, and he only got to come to Boston because Lucchino decided to pull rank. He has been castigated for his flamboyant and often unconventional ways, putting a target on him before managing his first regular season game in at Fenway. Knowing that this may well be his final opportunity to skipper a major league team, he is likely determined to do things his way as much as possible, to prove once and for all if he is a joke or a genius.
Valentine once had Rey Ordonez, a shortstop very similar to Iglesias, who despite his offensive shortcomings contributed greatly with his glove to some successful late 1990’s New York Mets’ teams. Valentine believes that Iglesias’ shortcomings with his bat could be absorbed by the rest of the potent Boston lineup. He also knows that Bard’s two pitch repertoire (no matter how much Bard’s developing changeup is discussed, it’s not yet a viable third pitch) is better suited for relief and would shore up an already weak unit. Bard is a known commodity as a set-up man, and a wild card facing an uphill battle trying to convert to starting. Of course, there is no exciting replacement for Bard if he was removed from the rotation, but is Valentine’s preferred gamble.
It will all come down to pride and who blinks first. Gasper remains hopeful that the disagreement could make the Red Sox stronger, but conventional wisdom makes that seem like a long shot. Valentine has been in professional baseball for over 40 years and the next time he backs down will be the first. Cherington is still trying to make his bones as a major league GM, but is still firmly hunkered in the shadows of the departed Theo Epstein. Given the circumstances, it would seem that the person who gives in would only be doing so if they left Boston. At this point obviously nobody is quitting or getting fired, so the Red Sox stagger on, at loggerheads. If fried chicken and beer were the downfall of the 2011 Red Sox, pride is the early frontrunner to be that cause in 2012.
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