Top 100 Baseball Blog

Monday, December 5, 2011

Red Sox Should Not Look to Japan to Cure Their Woes

Bobby Valentine was a polarizing figure in Red Sox Nation as soon as he was identified as a serious managerial candidate. Now that he has been hired, the debate on his fit for the job rages on. Viewpoints have gone back and forth about what he can bring to the team- or not. A recent trend has been the talk that his experience in Japanese professional baseball could have a major impact on the Red Sox pitching staff in 2012 and beyond. Unfortunately, I believe such optimism is simply not that cut-and-dried.

The immense popularity of Valentine while he was a manager in Japan, has been frequently cited as a reason why he might be a driving force when it comes to three pitchers; Hiroki Kuroda, Yu Darvish, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, and potentially righting the floundering Boston rotation. In examining each pitcher a little more carefully, I don’t believe the hype about Valentine’s Japanese influence and his supposed ability to control these pitchers.

Hiroki Kuroda: It is no secret that the Red Sox need to shore up the back end of their rotation. Kuroda is a pitcher the Red Sox have inquired on with the Dodgers in the past, but real trade talks never developed because of the righty’s refusal to waive a no-trade clause.

Now that Valentine is manager, there are reports that Kuroda might be willing to waive his no-trade clause to come to Boston. While Kuroda would certainly help the Boston rotation in the short term, he would command a steep price. The Dodgers would want a mint worth of prospects in return, and the arbitration eligible Kuroda would command a salary in the 12-14 million dollar range in 2012.

Kuroda will also be 36 next season, and at this point in his career, is what he is. He won’t contend for the Cy Young Award, but would be a fine short term #3 starter for Boston. However, suggesting that he would be a savior or that Valentine would be the great facilitator is significantly stretching the truth Kuroda could well pitch in Boston next year, but it would be more about him and the exorbitant price of money and prospects the Red Sox forked over to acquire him, than it would be about Valentine exerting influence.

Yu Darvish: It is still unclear if the Japanese pitching phenom will post and come to the United States. Rumors that he might have led to speculation that he could sign with the Red Sox because he would be most comfortable with Valentine’s perceived ability as a Japanese pitcher-whisperer. Once again, such logic is putting the cart before the horse.

If Darvish does indeed decide to post and pursue a major league baseball career, he will not be free to sign with the team of his choice. The team that submits the highest posting fee will have exclusive negotiating rights with Darvish. So, no matter how much Darvish may want to pitch for Valentine and Boston, unless the Red Sox pony up the cash, it is an option they won’t even be able to explore. Five years into the Daisuke Matsuzaka debacle that cost the Red Sox 100 million dollars for an oft-injured 5 inning starter, nobody would fault Boston for being leery about taking another dip in the posting pool.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: Another story making the rounds is the belief that once Matsuzaka returns from Tommy John surgery, Valentine might finally be able to sculpt him into the pitcher the Red Sox initially thought they were getting. 

The media asserts that Valentine gets what it is to be a Japanese baseball player, and that knowledge can get Matsuzaka into a more familiar regimen that could allow him to finally succeed. Such wishful thinking conveniently leaves out important factors. If Matsuzaka pitches at all in 2012, the final year of his contract, it is likely it will be only towards the end of the year, and will not result in significant production. I am also not clear as to how Valentine’s touch would assist Matsuzaka in ending his propensity as an inveterate nibbler who refuses to bear down on hitters; or change him from a spoiled loner, who often seems more concerned with his contract perks than forming bonds with his teammates.

I initially didn’t support the hiring of Valentine, but since he was appointed, I am willing to give him a chance to see what he can do. What needs to stop are stories erroneously casting Valentine as the only person who can heroically facilitate difficult scenarios. If Valentine is going to succeed, it will be from effectively managing a roster of big personalities, preventing selfish and destructive player behavior, and once again circling the Red Sox wagons. In other words, he’s not in Japan any more.


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