SEATTLE — Red Sox owner John Henry was already on the West Coast, and general manager Ben Cherington had been planning this trip for a month, he said. What a coincidence that they were all together here Monday, with manager Bobby Valentine at his most vulnerable since he took the job last December.
Henry said he was on a “fact-finding” trip, speaking to players, coaches, reporters. The only fact he needs to know is that his team stinks.
He said he came to have breakfast with Valentine, not to fire him.
Even if you buy that, the fact is that while Valentine appears to be safe for the remainder of the season — though neither Henry nor Cherington ever actually said that was the case — his future remains in doubt.
Cherington, in fact, said he is somewhat to blame for this bad road trip (0-7 after a 4-1 loss to the Mariners on Monday) because of the roster he left Valentine with after The Trade. But we all know that Cherington is going nowhere. And he knows it, too.
The owners speak glowingly of Cherington, but if two years from now the team is still spinning its wheels, then he will feel heat. But not now.
No, this is Valentine’s heat.
“For any of you who are sorry that I didn’t get fired, I’m sorry that you’re sorry,” Valentine told reporters. “But I don’t think I did this morning, if that’s what you thought was going to happen.”
Asked what was discussed at breakfast, Valentine said, “What do you think we talked about? Art? Liverpool? We talked about baseball, and our team. Obviously. Things that he’s concerned with and things that I deal with.’’
Cherington did not even come close to answering a question about Valentine’s job security, either because he knows it’s shaky or because he’s not going to be involved in the decision. The final call on Valentine undoubtedly will be 100 percent an ownership-level one because the team would have to swallow about $2.5 million on Valentine’s contract.
The uncomfortable part for the owners and Cherington is that they know firing the manager makes him the scapegoat, and they are aware of the awful roster issues the team has had the entire season because of injuries and trades.
Nice set of circumstances to hand to the manager. But the brass knows it has put Valentine in a no-win situation.
“I think we knew when we made the trade [with the Dodgers] we weren’t helping our team win games the rest of this year,” Cherington said. “But that said, it’s still been hard to watch. There’s things that we need to accomplish the rest of the year. There’s things we need to do to learn more about players and get players healthy and get guys in the best position so that we can be well-informed going into the offseason. It is harder to do that when you’re staring at a loss at the end of every day.
“It’s hard for everyone to get the work done that needs to get done. But the only choice we have is to do it — to show up the next day and make sure the work gets done. I believe that will happen.”
Valentine obviously has his own concerns about what he’s been left with and how he’s supposed to turn a Triple A lineup into a winner.
Monday’s game was a perfect example of what Valentine has to deal with, when an accomplished player such as Jacoby Ellsbury, who has a weak arm, can’t make a good throw from center field to prevent a run from scoring, or when rookie shortstop Jose Iglesias can’t get a ball out of his glove and boots it as another run scores.
The general feeling of Henry and Cherington is yes, the roster is challenging, but they expected more.
“We expected to play better than we have,” Henry said.
Cherington said he understands if Valentine is frustrated.
“It’s hard on all of us,” the GM said. “When the manager is in the middle of it, he has to answer questions every day and it’s hard when things aren’t going well. I feel for him. I’m sure there’s times when frustration comes out. It’s not as easy to write out the lineup as he thought it might be. It would be frustrating for anyone.”
Henry is focusing on a variety of things, but the biggest emphasis is on the pitching. He is looking into a general overhaul of the pitching system and philosophy, and is exploring all avenues to make that happen. That includes trying to find a pitching czar who can bring it all together (Rick Peterson), and also to find top evaluators who can scout hurlers better.
The Sox have had a lot of problems scouting, developing, and keeping pitchers healthy over the past few years. It’s become the No. 1 concern of the organization.
“We have to improve on that side of the ball, not just in the first inning,” Cherington said. “I’ve spent a lot of time on that. I don’t have the answers yet. I know [Randy Niemann] and [Gary Tuck] and the catchers have prepared and helped the pitchers prepare and be ready for the game. I don’t think there’s a lack of effort there. Ultimately there are things we can do off the field and on the field to help prepare us. The guys on the mound need to do their part, too.”Continued...