Boston Red Sox players may not agree with what new manager Bobby Valentine says or does, but they must be patient. The team needed a change and Valentine will come in and be the driving force that the Red Sox need.
Valentine wants to win just as much as the players do. He may not have been part of the team that collapsed down the stretch last season, but he knows what it feels like. Valentine’s New York Mets collapsed in his last two seasons as manager in New York. They too had locker-room issues and in the end it cost him his job.
As much as players will complain, Valentine's methods work. In his first four full seasons as the Mets manager, they went 367-282, went to the playoffs twice and reached the World Series in 2000.
The Mets' collapse was not as epic as the 2011 Red Sox's, who lost it all on the final day of the regular season, but Valentine, like last year’s manager Terry Francona, had lost control of the locker room.
Valentine comes in as manager and is the polar opposite of Francona and the players will have to get used to it. Francona was the epitome of a player’s manager, only stepping in when necessary, letting players police themselves and always taking the blame when things went bad. In the end, Francona’s kindness and friendships he formed got the better of him and he was shown the door.
For the better part of six seasons, Francona managed the Red Sox as well as anyone could have imagined. They ended the curse and won two World Series and he was part of the organization that revitalized Fenway Park. In the end, however, the locker room was too difficult for Francona to control and it was time for the organization to move on.
Valentine comes in after a 10-year hiatus from managing in the major leagues. Despite a stint in Japan, he last managed the Mets in 2002.
He is boisterous and is not afraid to voice his opinions on his own players to the media. For many players this could motivate them to elevate their game, but with a locker room full of $10 million-per-year superstars, Valentine may have a hard time getting them all to buy in.
Valentine’s managerial style will also be evident to the fans as you will see more in-game strategy than under the Francona regime. Valentine will put runners in motion, he will sacrifice more outs to move runners along and he will even change up the lineup in ways that players aren’t used to.
During spring training, Valentine went back to basics more than Francona, having players work more on fundamentals and workouts were longer and more controlled than in years past. This strategy could pay dividends down the stretch when a single play could determine the outcome of a game. In last year’s case, one more win would have secured the Red Sox at least a one-game playoff.
The Red Sox have the talent to win the AL East and make it to the World Series. Sandwiched between a 2-10 start to the 2011 season and the historic collapse, the Red Sox managed to go on an 81-42 stretch where they were the best team in baseball.
Valentine will struggle if he tries to tinker with the lineup too much as the offense wasn’t the problem last year. The Red Sox scored the most runs in the AL last year; the pitching staff is where Valentine can make the biggest impact.
Hopefully the pitchers will listen to Valentine and let him help them regain their form. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett can be a potent one-two punch and as long as Clay Buchholz stays healthy, Valentine won’t have to worry about the top three in the starting rotation.
The final two spots in the rotation and the bullpen will be the biggest question marks for the Red Sox and Valentine. If Valentine can manage a bullpen that lacks an elite arm following the loss of Jonathan Papelbon, and if the four and five starters can be average, than the Red Sox will return to the playoffs and Valentine will be viewed as their savior.
If Valentine tries to do too much, the team will struggle.
In the end the, Valentine’s time as Red Sox manager may not be a long as Francona’s, but he will have success. Valentine, 61, is at the end of his career and despite bringing the Mets to the World Series and the success he had in Japan, he still hasn’t won a title in the United States.
Valentine is a proud man who cares about his legacy, and this opportunity to manage one of the best teams in baseball may be his last chance to prove his critics wrong. That could be the driving force behind a new Valentine and a winning Red Sox team in 2012.