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Looking ahead to Bobby Valentine

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  November 30, 2011 08:28 AM

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A few thoughts and observations on the hiring of Bobby Valentine:

It'll be tough for Ben Cherington to sit there in the EMC Club in front of television cameras and proclaim that Valentine was the choice all along. Obviously he wasn't.

When most teams pick a manager, it's a swift and decisive move. The Marlins clearly wanted Ozzie Guillen. The White Sox pulled a surprise with Robin Ventura but moved so quickly that he was obviously their first choice. The same was true of the Cardinals and Mike Matheny and the Cubs with Dale Sveum.

The Sox interviewed six people and had a seventh lined up before Mike Maddux bailed. Cherington and his staff presented Sveum to the owners. When that fell flat, Valentine emerged and Gene Lamont became an unexpected finalist.

More dithering ensued and then Valentine became the choice. The whole deal took two months.

Perhaps it will prove to be an inspired choice and time well spent. But right now the Sox need to show they can move forward in unison. Because there has been a lot of stumbling since Sept. 1.

I believe it's critical John Henry monitors the relationship between Cherington and Valentine and smooths out any bumps. Larry Lucchino is too aligned with Valentine to be the peacemaker.

Of the current 40-man roster, only 10 players have spent more than two years under Terry Francona. That could change if the Red Sox retain David Ortiz. But the point is that Valentine can take command a lot easier than you might think.

Guys like Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia could emerge as clubhouse catalysts under Valentine.

This move makes you wonder whether the Red Sox will be more likely to cast off veteran free agents like Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield.

It's overstated to paint a portrait of Valentine as a clubhouse lawman. The 2002 Mets had their issues and Rickey Henderson and Bobby Bonilla once played a few hands of cards in the clubhouse during an NLCS game in 1999.

But Valentine won't rely on the goodwill of players to the extent Francona did in his last season. He'll have a tighter grasp of what is going on.

A Red Sox player could have robbed a bank in full uniform and Francona would have found a way to avoid saying something bad about the guy. His way was to protect his players at all costs with the media, even recalcitrant headaches like Manny Ramirez. But Valentine will not be afraid to use the media to deliver the message.

Roberto Alomar needlessly bunted in one game for the Mets and Valentine was asked his thoughts.

"That's how Robbie hits .300 every year," he said. "Give away at-bats."

Some Red Sox players will not like this move. They knew the deal with Francona, they worked at their own pace and they sort of coasted along. Well, this is what you get for finishing in third place.

Valentine was adept in New York at using his whole roster and turning marginal players like Benny Agbayani or Todd Pratt into contributors. It will be interesting to see which Red Sox emerge. Valentine is adept at judging talent and will put faith in some players who will surprise you.

Be prepared: Valentine loves the suicide squeeze bunt.

The Yankees rivalry just got a lot more interesting. There has been a lot of patty-cake in recent years and Valentine will provide a spark. The New York media will swarm Valentine and he'll have plenty to say.

Joel Sherman and Mike Lupica wrote Valentine columns for their papers today. Gene Lamont doesn't get that kind of attention.

How long before Bobby V becomes a NESN commercial and a big ad in the Globe? He'll help keep that vaunted sellout streak alive. This move was manna for the marketing folks at Fenway.

Prediction: George W. Bush will take in some Red Sox games. The former president loves Bobby even through he fired him in Texas.

Managers are important. They can help set the tone and even in the video game American League, they can deploy some winning strategy on occasion. But the 2012 Red Sox will rise or fall based on what pitchers Cherington can find between now an Opening Day, not the manager he just hired.

If the Red Sox arrive in Fort Myers with Lester, Beckett, Buchholz and a pocketful of dreams, they're in trouble. They need to get a proven major league starter by trade or free agency. It's not going to be C.J. Wilson or even Mark Buehrle. But it has to be somebody.

They can't go to spring training with "we think Felix Doubront can emerge" as one of their options. Bobby Valentine is a good manager. He's not a magician.

Finally, props to my man Nick Cafardo. He wrote on Oct. 1 that Valentine should be a choice and that's just what happened.

Nick hit that pitch a ton.

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