On October 4, 2012, the Boston Red Sox fired manager Bobby Valentine, who they hired less than a year ago. Personally, I think the decision was the wrong one.
I believe a big reason the Red Sox have under-performed in recent years is due to a lack of strong player leadership in the clubhouse, and a lack of personal responsibility among the players on the roster. I think that was the cause of the September collapse in 2011, and I think it was the cause of the Red Sox's disappointing season in 2012 -- and the manager is not to blame for those two things.
Bobby Valentine is responsible for setting lineups, making pitching changes, and managing a clubhouse. Valentine set the best lineup for the Red Sox, but he couldn't help the fact that Kevin Youkilis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia forgot how to hit, or the fact that both Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury were hurt for much of the season.
With regards to the pitching, he did the best he could, but there isn't a manager alive who could post a successful season when his best three starters post ERAs of 4.56 (Clay Buchholz), 4.82 (Jon Lester), and 5.23 (Josh Beckett). On the season, the Red Sox had only nine games started by a pitcher whose season ERA was under 4.00 (Franklin Morales, ERA 3.77, made nine starts). That's a failure to perform from a number of highly paid players; that's not the fault of the manager.
Bobby Valentine may have had a number of disputes in the locker room this season, but, in my opinion, that speaks more to the spoiled, selfish nature of the players than it does to Bobby Valentine's inability to lead. I think if the Red Sox really want to turn it around, they need to continue the trend established with their trade to the Dodgers. Purge the clubhouse of entitled, over-paid, under-performing players who do nothing but hurt the team, and put responsibility on the players, not the manager.
But Red Sox management has decided to make the manager the scapegoat and try again with a lot of the same players next season. So now that Bobby Valentine is out, who should be in?
Here are the five who I think are the best options for the Sox to hire:
5) Ryne Sandberg
The current third base coach for the Philadelphia Phillies has two things that would make him an excellent fit for this job. First, he has a Hall of Fame pedigree, which would give him credibility among players in the clubhouse. Second, he has shown exceptional managerial abilities as he was named the 2011 Minor League Manager of the Year for his work with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (AAA Affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies). So Sandberg should have no problem getting the clubhouse behind him and should at least lead a unified team. The problem with Sandberg is that he does not have any particular expertise in pitching, the area where the Sox need the most improvement.
4) Arnie Beyeler
The current Pawtucket Red Sox manager led his squad to the International League title in 2012, which should certainly make him somewhat intriguing to an organization whose MLB squad was headed the exact opposite direction during the same year. I like Beyeler because he has won, because he is familiar with being a manager, not just a coach, and because he will have had prior experience with a number of Red Sox players on the roster next season. The Sox are expected to make large roster moves during the offseason, and it is likely that at least some of next year's roster will be players who were in their minor league system recently. This would make Beyeler a familiar face (before managing at Pawtucket, he managed the AA Portland Sea Dogs), and could be an excellent way to stabilize a turbulent dugout. However, I don't like the fact that Beyeler does not have significant MLB experience on his resume.
3) Dave Martinez
The current Tampa Bay Rays bench coach has learned under arguably the best manager in the game today -- Joe Maddon -- and could bring some of Maddon's well-documented creativity to Boston to provide a defensive jump to a team whose pitchers need the help. Tampa Bay has made a habit in recent years of putting up excellent records despite a modest payroll. If the Rays' in-game tactics could be utilized on a team that can afford elite talent across the field, there could be a recipe for sustained, long-term success in Boston. But Martinez comes with a risk as well: Since he has worked under Joe Maddon, it's not clear that he could implement the same moves Maddon has made in Tampa Bay. Additionally, it's unknown if the Red Sox are likely to want to hire any person who was involved in this day.
2) John Farrell
The current Toronto Blue Jays manager is rumored to be the top choice for the Boston Red Sox, but they can only negotiate with him if they receive the Blue Jays' permission. The Jays didn't give that permission last year, so there is no guarantee that this will even be an option.
But if he is made available, the Red Sox like Farrell because he is familiar with the Boston players, having been the pitching coach there from 2007-2010. He carries a lot of respect in the clubhouse, and was seen as a big reason why the Red Sox once looked as though they would ride young, talented arms to numerous World Series titles this decade. But here's what I don't like about Farrell: He hasn't really done well in his two seasons in Toronto. In 2010, the Blue Jays won 85 games. Then Farrell took over. In 2011, they were down to 81 wins, and this year they only won 73 games. That drop-off has led to articles like this about Farrell -- not exactly a glowing review. Farrell has been given a number of young pitchers (such as Brandon Morrow, Rickey Romero, Henderson Alvarez, Carlos Villanueva, Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ) and position players (Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar, J.P. Arencibia, and Colby Rasmus), but he has failed to get much production out of the vast majority of them (so far, only Brandon Morrow and Brett Lawrie have had any sustained success). So I'm not sure that Farrell is the right guy to start getting production out of an under-performing Boston roster.
1) Mike Maddux
The man I think is the best fit for this job in Boston is Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux. Boston doesn't need help hitting. Despite all the injuries and poor play by supposed superstars, Boston still scored 734 runs, good for fifth in the American League. Next year, with Ellsbury, Ortiz, and Will Middlebrooks healthy, along with a free-agent acquisition or two, the Red Sox will again feature a potent lineup.
The problem for the Sox is exclusively pitching; they just did not perform this season. The solution: a man who has repeatedly worked magic in Texas, building dominant pitching staffs out of previous no-name players. Despite playing in one of the best hitters' parks in baseball in Arlington, losing Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis to injury, the Rangers still posted a sub-4.00 ERA as a team, good for seventh in the American League. In 2008, the year before Maddux took over as the Rangers' pitching coach, the team ERA was at 5.37. In his first season, the team ERA dropped to 4.38. In the three seasons after that, the team ERA has never topped 4.00. Not surprisingly, Texas has gone from below .500 in 2008, to above .500 in 2009, to the top of the division in 2010 and 2011 before missing the division title in 2012 on a dropped fly ball. Mike Maddux has built a successful Rangers rotation from nothing and helped lead them to the top of the American League, and that is why he is the perfect fit to attempt to fix the Boston Red Sox, a team that needs a pitching overhaul of its own.
Again, I believe firing Bobby Valentine was the wrong move. It took mistakes from the players and placed the blame on an unrelated party, allowing the players to escape unscathed. I think that encourages the wrong message and fails to hold players accountable, which can only lead to further problems down the road. But the Red Sox made their decision, and now that it has been made, I believe the best choice to fill the managerial position in Boston, if they can get him, is Mike Maddux.
Peter Souders is an avid baseball fan and 2012 graduate of Boston College. He made the most of his time in Boston, being an eyewitness to Red Sox MLB games, as well as games for all of their minor league teams, from Lowell, to Salem, to Portland to Pawtucket. He has watched the Sox sit at the top of the baseball world from 2007-2009, and watched live as the impossible happened on the last game of the 2011 season. He can be found on Twitter @PeterSouders.
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