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Sox turn now to Valentine

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / November 18, 2011

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MILWAUKEE - For weeks, the Red Sox focused their search for a manager on low-profile major league coaches they believed had the potential to learn on the job.

Now comes a dramatic change of direction. Spurred on by ownership’s apparent desire for a manager with more experience and cachet, the Red Sox have reached out to Bobby Valentine.

As they turn their attention to him, the candidate they once appeared to favor, Brewers coach Dave Sveum, was hired yesterday as the manager of the Chicago Cubs.

Earlier this week, Sveum was described by Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington as a strong candidate for the Boston job. But he was not offered it after a lengthy lunch meeting Wednesday with Sox principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and president Larry Lucchino.

Valentine, the former manager of the Texas Rangers and New York Mets, is a room-filling personality who would place his stamp on the team. Team sources and sources close to Valentine said the Red Sox are in discussions with the 61-year-old Connecticut native.

Valentine is very interested in the job.

It is uncertain whether Valentine would go through the daylong formal interview process the Red Sox set up for prior candidates or simply sit down with team officials in the coming days.

The Red Sox are still considering three of their original candidates: Sandy Alomar Jr., Gene Lamont, and Torey Lovullo. But none were scheduled for second interviews as of last night.

Cherington first talked about the job with Valentine several weeks ago.

Valentine has not managed in the majors since 2002, when he was fired after a tumultuous season with the Mets. Valentine restarted his career in Japan, spending six seasons as the wildly popular manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Valentine returned to the United States after the 2009 season and has worked as an analyst for ESPN since then. He has never won a World Series but is considered an innovative tactician and a hands-on manager when it comes to player relations.

Lucchino has long admired Valentine, which is likely the impetus behind this latest development. Valentine and Lucchino shared a stage in Hartford Nov. 3 when they spoke at a forum about international baseball.

The Cubs, who are now led by former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, moved quickly to secure Sveum Wednesday night and yesterday signed him to a three-year deal with an option for 2015. Sveum will be introduced at Wrigley Field this morning.

“I’m sure he’ll make a good manager,’’ Lucchino said. “Good luck to him.’’

When asked if he had one particular candidate in mind for the Red Sox job, Lucchino would not comment. But he denied that the Red Sox were opening their search because of dissatisfaction with their original candidates.

“We never closed it down,’’ Lucchino said. “It’s not a process where everybody moves in lockstep. You have different reasons to move people along, or other people have schedules they need to keep.

“You try to respond to people individually. We’re going to make sure we get the right guy.’’

The Red Sox have been looking for a manager since Terry Francona left the organization Sept. 30, quitting before he could be fired after the team’s historic September collapse.

What was an awkward situation then has turned into a lengthy search for a new manager that has the industry wondering which direction the Red Sox are heading after eight years of unprecedented success under Epstein and Francona.

“We’re not looking to have the fastest process, we’re looking to end up with the right guy,’’ said Lucchino. “This team is at a critical point. It should be a contender in 2012.

“We’re comforted by the fact that Francona wasn’t hired until the first week of December [in 2003] and as I remember, we did win the following season.’’

As for Cherington, Lucchino said the new GM has “the complete confidence’’ of ownership despite their apparent rejection of Sveum.

“He’s done a great job,’’ said Lucchino. “He’s not a new guy to us. He’s a solid guy.’’

Cherington was asked about the perception that Lucchino has taken control of the search or somehow subverted him.

“Absolutely not,’’ he said. “I don’t know where that comes from.’’

But on Wednesday night, Cherington acknowledged that Henry, Werner, and Lucchino had become more involved.

“We’ve learned a lot as we’ve sort of asked each other questions both within baseball operations and with ownership about what is it really that we need right now for this team,’’ he said. “So, through that process, it’s sort of, I think, forced all of us to consider whether the current group, whether we’re sort of looking at this in a broad enough way to really make the right decision.’’

Cherington left the GM meetings yesterday with assistant Mike Hazen for the Dominican Republic. As behind-the-scenes machinations continue, they will be scouting Cuban players.

“We’re probably going to take a little breather this weekend [with the search], then pick it up again early next week,’’ Cherington said.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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