The 2012 MLB trading deadline has come and gone, with far fewer large trades than in years past, but a flurry of smaller trades coming in the closing hours. The Red Sox were connected with just about every available starting pitcher. But in the end, they made only two minor moves, neither immediately addressing their starter concerns.
To be honest, it’s a little difficult to blame them for not being able to swing a deal for a top-end starting pitcher; they merely don’t have the means to give up for a guy like Zack Greinke, compared to the prospect package the Angels gave up for him. However, this hardly absolves the front office from blame – most any available starter would have been an improvement over the trainwreck that has been the Boston rotation this year. It’s hard to imagine that there was no one available for cheap that isn’t better than, say, Aaron Cook, who’s struck out only four batters in 40 innings, for an astounding 2.4% strikeout rate, by far the worst among pitchers with 20 or more innings pitched (he’s allowed more home runs than he’s gotten strikeouts, even). Their biggest position of strength to deal from was their outfield – indeed, the Red Sox have more outfielders than they even know what to do with – but ultimately, the only one traded was Scott Podsednik, who was part of a trade, along with Matt Albers, for lefty reliever Craig Breslow. Breslow’s a good reliever, no doubt, but a acquiring a left-handed reliever specifically is a luxury that teams get when they don’t necessarily have a tremendous gaping hole to fill.
Not being able to go ahead and get a starter – pretty much any starter, as stated previously – casts an ominous shadow over the rest of the Red Sox’ season. This is a team that still firmly believes that they are capable of contending, and it’s possible, but with a rotation lacking any firmly above-average starters, it’s VERY unlikely. An honest shot at contention would require at least that Josh Beckett and Jon Lester pitch unlike they have all year and return to their pre-2012 career form which is, again, possible, but seems unlikely.
Even in the case that Lester and Beckett both start pitching like the front-end starters they are, their rotation is still their weakest spot – Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz aren’t much more than back-end starters and Aaron Cook shouldn’t be getting major league innings anywhere anymore, so it appears that the Red Sox’ silence at the trading deadline is actively hampering their ability to compete this year. There’s always the possibility that they acquire a starter through the waiver wire, but I’m not certain that they intend to go that way given that they were not in too deep with any starter during the non-waiver trade period. Plus, it’s significantly harder to pull off a successful waiver trade unless they’re willing to send any interesting pieces as players to be named later.
The Red Sox are a team in flux. Their payroll is high enough that they should be constant contenders, but they’ve underperformed thus far this year and haven’t made any attempts to make improvements on the areas that have faltered. It was completely obvious that they weren’t going to blow up the team and try to start from scratch, but that would’ve been preferable to a mostly silent deadline where they stay expensive but without any meaningful talent added.
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Bobby Valentine Has Got to Go
The Red Sox have had their fair share of woes this season, and now that it’s gone public that the players had a meeting with the front office in order to air grievances about manager Bobby Valentine, there’s another one to add on the pile. The players, it seems, feel as if Valentine doesn’t have their collective backs, a feeling exacerbated by his leaving Jon Lester in for a 4 inning, 11 run disaster of a start late last month in Toronto. The Red Sox front office, however, stands behind Valentine as their man, purportedly due to his strategic savvy. But how much effect does a manager really have on his team?
The media narrative of a manager as some kind of general locked in a battle of wits with the opposing manager is a tremendous exaggeration; for the most part, the only way a manager is going to make a significant impact on his team is in a distinctly negative fashion. Very rarely will a manager like Earl Weaver take the stage and effectively utilize platoons and defensive shifts to the team’s advantage, most managers don’t do much more than setting lineups, making pitching changes to a bullpen where the relievers have hard roles and occasionally pulling a shift on a lefty pull hitter. In that manner, Valentine hasn’t hurt the Red Sox, but I also imagine that most managers not named Ron Washington would avoid screwing that up; the Sox have a strong order and a solid, deep bullpen, two things that are unlikely to be done wrong barring a manager that knows almost nothing of baseball. A good portion of managers don’t even make the defensive shifts or call pitches, those tend to be handled by the bench coach and pitching coach, respectively, though there are some catchers that call pitches instead.
You may be wondering that, if managers do so little, what is their actual job? And it’s much simpler than people tend to want to admit: managers are meant to keep their players happy, that’s it. Terry Francona was good at this, Bobby Valentine is not. A team that gets along works as one cohesive unit and will avoid throwing any one member under the bus, even if getting along won’t make them play better. When there is such a tremendous breakdown of communication that the players are almost unified in their dislike of the manager, the manager has completely failed at his job and has totally lost control, and therefore the front office has no business continuing his employment. Rarely a team will come together where everyone hates each other but has incredible success in spite of that, akin to the Yankees teams of the mid to late 1970s. But, should it fail and the team plays less than spectacularly, expect the season to turn into a whirling maelstrom of distraction and drama, much as this one has.
To take this back specifically to Valentine, it’s worth mentioning that he was so regarded as a caustic, unapproachable manager that he was more or less exiled from the MLB after his stint with the Mets, forced to take a job in Japan, where managers are expected to take critical attitudes towards players that they don’t think are giving their all. Valentine’s manner of criticism, using the Youkilis incident from earlier this year, seems to be less about lighting a fire under an underachieving player and seems to be more about saving his own skin. Hence, the Red Sox players aren’t being divas, primadonnas, or whatever negative adjective one wishes to assign to them, they’re merely trying to protect themselves from a manager who has no qualms with openly trashing them in the media and putting a magnifying glass on their disappointing performance in order to take the magnifying glass off of his job. He has no concern for his players’ well-being, and as such they should have none for his.
So, should Valentine get fired? Almost certainly, when the manager has failed at keeping his team together, there’s no reason behind him keeping his job other than to spite the players. But will he get fired? Most likely not, since the front office, including Larry Lucchino, team president and general manager in all but name, seems to have cast their lots with him. He’ll continue being the manager until the fire starts creeping towards the front office guys, and just as quick as they sided with him, they’ll turn him into the villain. But until then, they’ll keep alienating the players in order to prove their point.
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