The Boston Red Sox are putting the finishing touches on a forgettable 2012 campaign; one leading to the franchise's first losing season in 15 years. The team is guaranteed to finish in last place for the first time since 1992. Combining their September 2011 record with this season, the team has gone a collective 76-112 (.404) which represents the fourth worst record in all of baseball during that span. All this for the exorbitant salaries paid to many underperforming veterans.
After the collapse of September 2011, few fans could have predicted that the Boston Red Sox would be exponentially worse in 2012, but they have. After the release of Terry Francona, Red Sox management began their search for a replacement which resulted in hiring a big name former manager and color commentator in Bobby Valentine.
Almost from day one, Valentine seemed to be a poor fit with this current group of veteran talent. At times, the hard-nosed and outspoken Valentine appeared to contradict himself and refrain from lashing out as he has done in prior managing stints. As the season wore on, Valentine's demeanor resembled that of a person disconnecting from those that hired him and acting like a man expecting to be relieved of his duties.
The terrible 2012 season will likely cost manager Bobby Valentine his job, and rightfully so. This team not only underperformed but became an unlikeable team as well. The man brought in as a symbol of change has become the personification of this season, one filled with clubhouse disharmony, dissention, and uninspired play. The team's struggles cannot be all laid at Valentine's feet, as injuries have deprived the Red Sox of some of their key talent at critical junctures of the season.
Where do the Red Sox go from here? There is already a list forming of potential managerial candidates even before the incumbent has been relieved of his duties.
Below is a list of candidates, many of whom are familiar names. Note that there may be other strong candidates who will eventually be available but are still under his respective team's control. They have been omitted from the list for this reason.
Promote from within
As with player development, some teams look to promote their coaches and managers from within. There are a couple of individuals that meet this criteria, although their managerial experience in the major leagues is lacking.
The team's current bench coach will likely be on any list of candidates. Retained despite the change in manager this past winter, Bogar is highly regarded with Red Sox management but has also been on hand during the 2011 collapse and this 2012 disaster season. If the team is looking to change their direction and regain the confidence of Red Sox Nation, Bogar may be granted an interview out of respect for his contributions but a long shot to hire.
Beyeler has moved his way up the Red Sox farm system, coaching the Portland Sea Dogs for four seasons before being promoted to the Pawtucket Red Sox. All Beyler did in his first season in AAA was take his team to the International League (President's Cup) title. Given the number of AAA players that eventually became regulars in Boston, the accomplishment is even more impressive. With no major league playing or coaching experience, he would be a tough choice to put in this team, especially if the team maintains a veteran core. Beyeler could however be a choice to fill the coaching staff in order to reward his accomplishments and to give him needed major league experience.
Candidates who are familiar faces, in different places
The following represent individuals with past connections with the Red Sox and have coaching and managerial experience.
I mentioned before that the list excludes many possible candidates who are yet free from their existing team's contractual control. One exception to this rule is John Farrell, who the Red Sox have sought to bring back since departing for Toronto following the 2010 season. His no-nonsense approach will probably be well received by the veterans, many of whom had respected relationships with the former pitching coach during his prior tenure. Inhibiting the Red Sox acquisition efforts is Farrell's current contractual status (current contract runs through end of 2013 season). To obtain Farrell, the Red Sox will have to part with prospects to make a deal possible.
The former Red Sox catcher has prior managerial experience, albeit it was with the Kansas City Royals. Pena has been a trusted advisor for Joe Torre and Joe Girardi for the past several years. With a big market team position open, it may be time for Pena to retry the manager role. It might be tough for the Red Sox to get permission and obtain Pena from hated division rival.
A former manager in the Red Sox farm system, Macha has had mixed success in his managerial career. Macha had a winning record in his four seasons as manager in Oakland and compiled a .560 winning percentage while working in the Red Sox farm system for four seasons as well. This solid manager who does not have a domineering personality might be a good fit in with this team and should be considered a strong candidate.
Big Splash Candidates
If the Red Sox wish to gain the attention of the Boston sports market and be on the forefront of fan's minds, the team may look to make a splash and bring in a big name to lead the team in 2013 and beyond. There are a few candidates who are or may soon be available that could be considered.
The strong-minded Scioscia is likely to have seen his Angels managerial tenure end based on a disappointing 2012 season, one that also included a power struggle with the team's front office. There is little disputing Scioscia's qualifications, posting a .549 career winning percentage and a World Series title in 2002. His Angels teams never finishing lower than third in their division. Whether the Red Sox front office wants another experienced manager and gives him authority to call his own shots on personnel is yet to be seen, and likely to prevent the former Los Angeles Dodgers' catcher from getting the job.
It is hard to imagine a manager who retires after a World Series win would want to inherit this mess. LaRussa has had a long and successful managerial career, winning titles in Oakland and in St. Louis. I cannot see a situation where he would want to tarnish his positive reputation in baseball by taking on this rebuilding project in Boston. If he has any interest, the Sox would be smart to interview him.
The 1997 World Series winning manager for the Florida Marlins is heading into yet another postseason, this time without a contract beyond this year. It is odd that the Tigers would allow this contractual situation to remain as it is. Given his advancing age, Leyland may wish to manager no where else than in Detroit. If his services are not wanted after this season the Red Sox would be wise to kick the tires.
Every team's coaching search ultimately includes names of candidates that have had mixed managerial success, but whose credentials warrant some consideration. Although there is a large number or people that meet these criteria, here are the names of two that may be in the mix this offseason.
Lamont was a candidate last season and a finalist for the Red Sox job. True sense of a retread, the long tenured coach and manager would be a safe choice but may be an interim step during a rebuilding phase. Not sure if the Sox want a temporary solution more than a long term selection.
The former Washington Nationals manager was beginning to cash in on his lengthy no-nonsense managerial approach, having the 2011 Washington Nationals above .500 before surprisingly leaving the team over a lack of long term security. Despite being a team in need of a fundamentals infusion of the type of fundamentals Riggleman preaches, the Red Sox may find the former Nationals' manager's polarizing approach to be too much of a gamble.
Candidates with promise but unproven
Part of any managerial search includes candidates who have proven to be successful in their leadership on the field or in their coaching support roles but yet not gotten the chance to prove their worth calling all the shots from the dugout. Below are a handful of individuals who are likely to top most team's short list of potential candidates ready for the major league managing experience.
Another respected coach, Martinez has learned the ropes under a very successful manager in Joe Maddon. Martinez appears to be on most team's radar as a coach ready to ascend to manager, but chose not to interview for the vacant Red Sox position last winter. If he is interested he will likely be on a short list of candidates.
Long-standing assistant to the ever volatile Ozzie Guillen has been patiently awaiting a manager job. With Guillen's status in Miami in doubt, Cora could either await a chance to coach there of depart for greener pastures.
The former Red Sox pitcher from the 1990s is another candidate that the Red Sox pursued last season and will likely be called again to gauge his interest. Pitching coaches tend to not have a lot of success as managers, but Maddux has been a success in helping the pitching starved Rangers to a third straight postseason berth. With a possible third straight American League pennant in his sights, the time would be perfect for Maddux to cash in on his success and land a coveted manager job.
Another candidate from last season who was strongly considered may again be in the mix for this season. The Philadelphia Phillies' bench coach was a candidate in 2011 and has a lot of coaching experience but no managerial experience in the major leagues. Working in a tough sports market like the Philadelphia should result in his name surfacing again this winter.
One means of bringing fan interest back on the team is to consider individuals who have been part of their winning past. Many former Red Sox players from the 2004 and 2007 World Series champion teams lack much if any experience as coach or manager; but in today's game, experience is not the only criteria (see Robin Ventura in Chicago as an example). With that in mind, here are a few players whose style of play and leadership qualities on the field could easily transfer to the bench coach or manager role.
Jason VaritekPerhaps too soon to go from former player to manager of this team, but a move to bench coach might be an option. I have always believed that, over the long term Varitek is a manager-in-waiting and needs experience calling a game when not behind the plate. His appointment to a bench role would enable him to learn the managerial ropes while building up a resume for a future manager's role. His recent appointment as special assistant opens the door for the former captain to assume any role in the organization. Few people would be strong candidates without coaching experience, but his leadership qualities on the field during his playing days trump other candidates' minor league resume.
Gabe KaplerAnother member of the 2004 World Series champions in Boston, Kapler served as a single-A manager in the Red sox system. His attitude and grit as a player is just the type sorely needed on this team but this team may decide that more experience is needed for the current dysfunctional situation at hand.
Dave RobertsOwner of the most famous stolen base in Red Sox history, Roberts is a beloved fan favorite who is now part of the major league coaching fraternity. While departing San Diego for Boston would be a step up for Roberts, he is relatively new to the coaching scene and has yet to prove capable of coaching a veteran ballclub.
Trot Nixon"Dirt Dog" personified. Nixon was a fan favorite and well respected member of the Red Sox clubhouse. No experience managing or coaching in baseball since his retirement from the game in 2008, Nixon would be a severe long shot to be even interviewed at this stage.
Successful new hire managers in the past have had either prior experience or a long tenure as a coach under another successful manager (see Joe Maddon, Terry Francona) although there are some examples where experience is not essential (Robin Ventura).
For the Red Sox, the front office needs a leader who will be able to handle the tough media and fan attention. I would rank my top four selections as follows:
1) Mike Scioscia: If the man is available, he is a winning manager and a strong personality. He can work with younger players along with veterans and would be a stable presence in the clubhouse.
2) Dave Martinez: Learning the managerial ropes from one of baseball's best (Joe Maddon) makes him a solid "inexperienced" choice.
3) John Farrell: Well respected in the clubhouse when he was pitching coach, the Red Sox should not let compensation be a barrier in securing his services.
4) Tony Pena: Has prior managerial experience and has been a well respected confidant for two Yankees' managers. Bringing the personable and knowledgeable Pena back to Boston would be a smart move.
The Red Sox began their makeover with a nine player blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers which jettisoned over $260 million in long term contracts. That move was meant to signal a change in front office philosophy towards fiscal sanity.
Whether the team has learned from their free-spending habits of the past and plan on building a manageable and sustainable organization won't be known until the offseason begins.
Their first move in addressing the dysfunctional managerial position will also be a key indicator of how long Red Sox Nation must wait for the team to be contenders again.
Scott Duhaime is a Boston Red Sox fan for over 30 years; following the team's highs and lows culminating with two World Series titles in the 2000s
Follow Scott on Twitter: @Scott_Duhaime
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