My Outlook on the Boston Red Sox 2012 Season

This article was originally posted at BaseballDigest.com on December 4th, but was updated for this publication due to a few transactions that have occurred since it was written.

A Look Back at Boston’s 2011 Season

First, they had that horrific 0-6 start which led to their 11-15 April finish and this was after being tabbed as the AL heir to the Pennant due to their roster with the additions of 1B Adrian Gonzales (moving Kevin Youkilis to 3B) and LF Carl Crawford. Then they went on a tear where they were one of the hottest teams in baseball…until September rolled around. At this point I think we all know what happened then (too much probably), so I won’t rehash it here.

Boston’s Offseason So Far…

 

This resulted in ownership not picking up longtime manager, Terry (Tito) Francona’s 2-year option leaving the team in search of a replacement. Then there was the long and drawn out process of the Cubs prying away GM Theo Epstein to be their new head of Baseball Operations. Although Boston has promoted Ben Cherrington, who has held almost every possible Baseball Operations position since being hired by Dan Duquette (Boston’s former GM, who is now the new GM of the rival Orioles), they still have not reached an agreement on the compensation package for Epstein who was still under contract with Boston. The next step and the team’s top priority, as new GM Cherrington noted when hired, was to find a new manager.

In the process they lost out on the chance to resign longtime closer Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies via Free Agency (signed to a record breaking contract for closers, 4 years at $50M with an option for a 5th year). I’m not sure if this was a rookie mistake, a poorly communicated course of action or just the reaction to the current team situation (the seemingly disharmony between the front office, team field management and the players) because Papelbon didn’t even offer the Red Sox, the team who drafted him and the only place where he has played in his career, the chance to match or beat the offer. Seeing how his annual salary won’t be much different than his 2011 salary with the Red Sox is what makes this decision that much more interesting. Maybe Papelbon, who is not known to be the brightest bulb in the box, just didn’t realize that the reason why the Red Sox hadn’t contacted him yet (he did sign a lot earlier in the offseason that I would have estimated) was because they were solely focused on hiring the next team manager. Oddly enough, shortly after Papelbon’s signing, reports came out that Cherrington contacted either Ortiz or his agent to at least discuss the team’s interest in their longtime DH. Hmm…interesting. Does that move hint towards a rookie mistake in not extending the same courtesy to their former closer or were they simply just ready (and expected) to see him walk and sign elsewhere?

Happy Valentine’s Day, Boston

 

That brings us to the latest news…the hiring of the 45th Red Sox manager, Bobby Valentine (former manager of the Texas Rangers from 1985-1992, Chiba Lotte Marines in 1995, the New York Mets from 1996-2002 and another stint with the Chiba Lotte Marines from 2004-2009 where he won a Championship in 2005). Many people have questioned the signing and even the interest in Mr. Valentine by the new GM due to Valentine’s longtime friendship to team President & part principle owner, Larry Lucchino, but if you look into this signing more closely his hiring actually makes sense. As the rumored leaked out of Valentine’s candidacy, I have to admit, as a fan, I wasn’t happy (not knowing much of the man except that he managed the Mets in the US and the Marines in Japan aside from the fact that he had the reputation of not getting along with upper management). However, in the last 24 hours and a little research, I have come to the conclusion that outside of Joe Torre or current Yankees bench coach Tony Pena (my personal preferences for the Boston managerial job), Valentine was the best choice for the job and here are some of the reasons why I now think so…

As Tim Kurkjian writes in his recent article entitled, “Bobby Valentine’s one of a kind

concerning how Valentine would handle the personalities in the clubhouse after the issues that came to view after the season ended, “Valentine will not allow Josh Beckett to not work in between starts. Valentine will find out how three of Carl Crawford’s five tools disappeared last year, and he will make sure he finds them in 2012.” Kurkjian also writes, “He has no patience for some of the clichéd teaching techniques today, and the common misconceptions about the game.”

Kurkjian goes on to state how age has changed Valentine since his last stint managing in MLB,  “He’s not as smug and as arrogant as he used to be, but not much else has changed. No one sells a team, and the game, better than Valentine. When he takes on a project, “I have to do the whole thing,” he said.”

Kurkjian also mentions Valentine’s effect he has had on the game he writes, “Valentine managed seven years in Japan. He won a championship, but he did much more. In some ways, he changed the way they played baseball in Japan. He changed the way players approached the game and he humanized the players, which wasn’t easy given the structured nature of Japanese baseball.”

Scott Lauber recently spoke with Valentine’s former GM in NY, Steve Phillips about his relationship with his former manager and if he think he would be a good fit in Boston and this is what he had to say, “I think Bobby would be great,” Phillips told the Herald by phone today. “You’ve got an experienced manager who has opinions, who is a new-age thinker. Bobby, he’s not an old-school guy. He thinks outside of the box — a lot. Stats mean something to him. Numbers mean something to him. He actually suits the philosophy of the Red Sox very, very well. Based upon how I would evaluate the Red Sox, I think Bobby would be an excellent fit for them.”

“With the Mets, Phillips said Valentine sat in on meetings in which suggestions were made. He described Valentine as “very vocal,” yet receptive to ideas, especially if they were presented in a respectful way.”

By the way, Lauber started off that article with this statement (for those of you who don’t remember), “Nobody had a more volatile relationship with Bobby Valentine than Steve Phillips.

As the Mets’ GM-manager tandem for six seasons (1997-2002), Phillips and Valentine frequently feuded, often through the media.”

To wrap things up on Boston’s new manager, here are a few more practical reasons why I have come to this conclusion about him. These facts come from the David Schoenfield article entitled, “So … what kind of manager is Bobby V?”. He is in favor of a running offense and with Ellsbury and Crawford in the lineup, that’s a good thing. He also knows how to handle a rotation and keeps them in longer than most managers do these days. He also doesn’t shy away from necessary platooning, which might be required in RF in 2012 and he isn’t afraid to use all 25 men on the roster. That last fact might mean more playing time for players such as Jed Lowrie, Jose Iglegias, Mike Aviles or whoever else might find their way onto the roster in 2012. To see what I mean, please check out Schoenfield’s article for yourself.

 

It will be interesting how players such as Beckett and Crawford get along with Valentine after he was so critical of them from the broadcast both on Sunday nights…

 

The bottom line is this…I originally pegged Valentine as an old school, pre-Moneyball type of manager, but to my surprise he embraces anything that will give his team an advantage and that includes sabermetrics (or advanced statistics for those who do not like the former word).

 

Remaining Free Agents from the 2011 Team

 

RP Dan Wheeler – if he can pitch in 2012 like he did in Tampa that any team would love to have him, but last season was one where he was inconsistent (probably due to injury) which makes him a questionable option.

P Tim Wakefield (45) – if they don’t get anyone from outside the system to pitch in 2012, then I would definitely bring him back on cheap money due to his recent back problems. I‘d bring him back in that scenario due to his flexibility to spot start on a moment’s notice, be a long man out of the pen or even a 7th or 8th inning set up to whomever the closer may be.

C Jason Varitek (39) – with Ramon Hernandez & Chris Iannetta are both in new homes already, unless they make a surprise signing, I think they should bring back the captain as their back up. All bets are off if they sign a starting catcher & move Salty to a backup role.

Player(s) To Look Out for in 2012

 

SS Jose Iglesias will get some platoon time under Valentine if he proves he can hit. If not, they may bring him up as a defensive specialist late in games. OF Ryan Kalish will get a serious look if he can stay healthy. If they do not resign either Varitek or Ortiz, then that would open up a roster spot for C/DH Ryan Lavarnway who has the ability to impress with his bat in 2012.

Holes that Need to be Filled

 

RF, 4th & 5th starter, bullpen arms and possibly a closer.

Now with Valentine’s propensity to platoon players, I could see them not make a move at all and go with both Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick. Otherwise, look for them to pick up someone like Michael Cuddyer or Josh Willingham now that Theo signed David DeJesus to play RF for the Cubs in 2012.

Possible free agent 4th and 5th starters could be selected from the following list: Mark Burhle, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Edwin Jackson, Paul Maholm, Roy Oswalt, C.J. Wilson and Chris Young. From this list, Harang’s tendency to be a fly ball pitcher may not do well at home in Boston and it is unclear in Young, Oswalt and Capuano can stay healthy for the entire year. On top of that, I think that Wilson will cost more than he’s worth.

Possible free agent RPs could come from the following list: Todd Coffey, Octavio Dotel, Chad Durbin (who can spot start), Mike Gonzalez, John Grabow, Chad Qualls (in a set up role and Joel Zumaya (if he can stay healthy).

Possible Trade Bait

The top names I would expect to see traded would be anyone who they can move that refuses to play under Valentine (there have been rumors of player unrest over the selection of Valentine) including Josh Beckett. Other possible options would be Kevin Youkilis, Josh Reddick, Marco Scutaro or Jed Lowrie (depending on which wins the starting SS job in the spring) and Matt Albers (although he may not bring back much on his own). This would happen if Iglesias has a good Spring Training or it allows them to get a decent 4th or 5th starter, a right fielder or a quality arm in the bullpen.

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