In the end, it hardly matters whether Bobby Valentine was hired by Ben Cherington or Larry Lucchino, John Henry or Tom Werner. What matters is whether this can work.
So while the Red Sox seemed to spend as much time yesterday propping up Cherington as they did introducing the telegenic Bobby V, the major pieces are at least in place for the Red Sox to once again tend to their baseball team. The major questions now center on Cherington, Valentine, their philosophies and relationship, all of which will go a long way in determining the roster decisions the Red Sox now must make.
For example: Valentine yesterday sidestepped a question about Daniel Bard, whose role seems to be increasing in importance daily, particularly amid the news that free agent closer Heath Bell has agreed to a three-year contract (with a vesting option for a fourth season) with the Miami Marlins for an average of $9 million per season. If the Red Sox hold true to their opinions on relievers - namely, that performance is unpredictable - it is difficult to imagine them committing three years (with an option for a fourth) to anyone,which immediately introduces questions at the end of the game.
And if Bobby V thinks Bard should close, then isn't it reasonable to assume that is where Bard will end up?
Think about it: When the Red Sox convene at the winter meetings in Dallas next week, will you be more interested in hearing from Bobby V or from Cherington? Whose opinion will carry more weight? Eight years ago, the marriage of Theo Epstein and Terry Francona seemed far more like a partnership, if for no other reason than the fact that neither had the credentials he possesses now. Valentine, on the other hand, has been a manager for 2,189 games while Cherington has been a GM for zero, which certainly creates a far different dynamic.
From 2004 through 2011, for the most part, it often felt as if Epstein and Francona shared parallel, if not intertwined, growth lines. But Valentine and Cherington are starting from two very different places, and suddenly it feels as if Larry Lucchino, Bobby Valentine and the rest of the Red Sox organization are bringing along a young general manager more than it feels like Cherington is in charge.
Really, can we all stop trying to kid ourselves about that? The Red Sox spent an inordinate amount of time yesterday emphasizing that Valentine was Cherington's "recommendation" and that Cherington "spearheaded" the process, undoubtedly coaching Cherington to ensure that the general manager said "I" and not "we." (Doesn't that fly in the face of a "collaborative" effort?) Thanks largely to their downright laborious managerial search, the Red Sox undercut the credibility of their own general manager, and they know it. So now they're trying to rebuild it.
If Cherington is as smart and level-headed as we think he is, he will brush all this off and securely assert himself as he has always done. Anyone who knows Cherington knows he has never been an "I" guy so much as he has been a "we" guy, and that should be celebrated as a strength. If this new administration is going to succeed, after all, the Red Sox need more people with Cherington's attitude and fewer who concern themselves with appearance, image or power.
When you win, guys, we celebrate you as a team. It's only when you lose that we start asking who's in charge.
In that way, perhaps, Cherington could be a good fit for Bobby V, the managerial equivalent to a bonus baby. Bobby V. was a childhood star who won everything from pancake-eating contests and ballroom dancing competitions to the school science fair, and he hardly shies away from the spotlight. Bobby V clearly likes talking about himself. Bobby V is accustomed to the attention. Bobby V will be front and center on most days, and that will be a perfectly acceptable happening so long as Cherington does not want to be out there instead.
Based on what we think we know about him, Cherington doesn't. If he does, then he will end up like former New York Mets general manager Steve Phillips, squared off against Valentine the way Epstein once squared off against Lucchino.
And with no championship to show for it.
The difference in this case, of course, is that Valentine is hardly here for the long haul. Quite the contrary. Valentine will be 62 in the spring and he is here on a two-year contract, which sends a very clear message. Valentine might have a year to find his way, assess his roster, make judgments. But if the Red Sox are not in the thick of championship contention by the middle of 2013 at the very latest, Valentine will spend even less time here than Grady Little did, and he may end up doing more harm than good.
You have the team here, Bobby. You have the payroll. If you can't make more noise with this club than you did with the Texas Rangers or the Mets, it's on you.
That said, pitching is now the obvious emphasis for the Red Sox, who have needs in both the starting rotation and bullpen. Durability at the front end is a huge question for this team. Assuming the Sox elect to bring back Josh Beckett -- the Valentine-Beckett dynamic would be interesting, to say the least -- Jon Lester is still the only starter in the Boston rotation that seems built to last. John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka are already injured. Clay Buchholz did not pitch after June 16. Beckett has a history of nagging ailments and problems, the latter of which now includes his attitude.
Alfredo Aceves? It's a nice idea, but his 114 innings last year were a career high. And taking either Bard or Aceves from the bullpen would leave sizable holes in a relief corps that already has lost Papelbon, introducing risk into two areas instead of one. Bobby Jenks? Good luck.
Clearly, there is a lot to consider.
The best news from all of this, of course, is that change alone will benefit the Red Sox on some level. At the end, under Francona, players clearly grew a little too comfortable. They were protected, catered to, enabled. Beckett's insistence on Jason Varitek alone proved that, especially after Francona spent part of last spring indicating that the Red Sox would not have personal catchers. The players got their way far too frequently, it turned out, and a new manager (as well as a new general manager) means they should be on their toes more.
For precisely how long remains to be seen.
Because unlike Terry Francona eight years ago, Bobby Valentine brings with him an entirely new set of issues.
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