Bobby Valentine and Ben Cherington will meet all day Monday to discuss the Boston Red Sox's managerial job. They will trade philosophies, assess personnel and feel out each other's personalities. Then Cherington, Boston's new general manager, will return to ownership with his verdict.
If Cherington approves, sources said Sunday, Valentine in all likelihood will be the Red Sox's next manager.
If he doesn't, we'll learn just how much the Red Sox's oft-criticized ownership values the opinion of the highest-ranking person in its baseball-operations department – a tug of war over power that pervaded Theo Epstein's time as GM and looks to be changing no time soon.
Ownership, after all, already has met with Valentine and thought him a compelling enough candidate that the interview with Cherington, first reported by Yahoo! Sports, was a fait accompli. In the Red Sox's structure of authority, what John Henry, Tom Werner and especially Larry Lucchino say is gospel. And when they liked the 61-year-old Valentine, he shot to the top of their ever-changing list.
The Red Sox's seeming schizophrenia – four of the five candidates they have interviewed came without appreciable major league managing experience, and Valentine would arrive with 15 seasons plus another six in Japan – does nothing to dispel the notion of Cherington as a figurehead. This is not fair to him. Longtime colleagues as well as executives from other teams and agents believe him to be eminently capable of running the team. Epstein's departure only emboldened Lucchino's grasp on the larger pieces of Boston's day-to-day operations.
His fondness of Valentine comes as no surprise. At the annual gala for Craig Breslow's(notes) Strike 3 Foundation, which Valentine emceed Saturday night, those in attendance openly talked about how he would fit as Terry Francona's replacement – and whether Fenway Park is large enough to fit Valentine and Lucchino's egos.
Valentine's reputation as a bright game manager and astute handler of clubhouses remains strong enough that even though his last major league job ended in 2002, his candidacy with Boston isn't looked upon with the raised eyebrows that accompanied Dan Duquette's hiring as Baltimore GM after a decade away from the game.
Since his 2009 return from Japan, where he was ousted as manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines in a power play despite the protestation of more than 100,000 of the team's fans, Valentine has interviewed with the Baltimore Orioles, Florida Marlins and Milwaukee Brewers. The flirtations – which got especially heavy with the Marlins – yielded nothing, so Valentine has bided his time working as an analyst for ESPN and, since January, acting as director of public safety in his hometown of Stamford, Conn.
The Red Sox's job makes far more sense for him than the others did. Even after one of the worst collapses in baseball history, they return a roster loaded with enough high-impact players to win the loaded American League East Division. Having managed the New York Mets, Valentine understands the rigors of a large media market and the accompanying pressure.
Whether Valentine is right for the Red Sox is the more pertinent question. He's certainly the flashiest candidate. If the Red Sox do want to go retread – something Epstein shunned in his new job with the Chicago Cubs as he hired Dale Sveum, one of the Red Sox's original interview candidates – Valentine inspires plenty more confidence than the other option they've spoken with, Gene Lamont.
Valentine would win in Boston. Frankly, it would take a dolt not to with the talent Boston has amassed. How he wins, and how much he wins, would determine whether he is indeed the right person for the job. Because the fear one executive outlined Sunday – a rightful fear – is that with Valentine practically hand-picked by Lucchino, it could marginalize Cherington. What Bobby V. wants, Lucchino could deliver.
Perhaps Valentine, having run the Marines from top to bottom for half a decade under incredible restraints, would arrive with greater respect for a GM's job and facilitate things through Cherington. The mutual admiration and respect between Francona and Epstein provided the bedrock for Boston's two championships since 2002. The manager-GM relationship matters, especially in such a big-budget, high-tension environment.
Skipping that level could torpedo the partnership from the get-go, which makes Monday a touchstone moment for Boston. Should Cherington and Valentine get along, it could be the first piece of the foundation that yields another partnership and steadies the balance of power in the Red Sox hierarchy.
And if not, well, it will give us an even more honest look at the Red Sox than the ugliness that leaked out of Francona's firing and Epstein's departure. Ownership could listen to Cherington and affirm that he is indeed the one in charge. Or Henry and Werner and Lucchino could do what they want because they're the ones who write the checks.
The tug of war is starting. A mud pit awaits. As is always the case with the Red Sox, someone is bound to get dirty.
- Ben Cherington
- Bobby Valentine