Valentine was a managed disaster for Red Sox

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Valentine was a managed disaster for Red Sox

NEW YORK -- Last fall, on the heels of the worst collapse in baseball history, in the aftermath of a scandal that revealed some of their players to be beer-swilling, chicken-eating slackers, the last thing the Red Sox needed was more drama.

So, naturally, they hired a manage who thrived on it.

In retrospect, you could almost understand the logic. In turning the club over to Bobby Valentine, Red Sox ownership probably thought he was the perfect tonic to shake the players out of their complacency and command their focus.

What they failed to take into account, however, was that, often, for every problem Valentine solves, he creates two new ones.

And so it was that Valentine, who will be relieved of his duties either Thursday or Friday, leaves the Sox somehow in worse shape than he found them 10 months ago.

Unlike the 2011 club, which sported the best record in the league until the final fateful month, the 2012 edition never reached such rarefied heights.

They were bad in the beginning, achieved mediocrity in the second month, and then began a long, spiraling descent shortly after the midway point of the season. In the final month they were, plain and simply, an embarrassment, winning only seven times after Sept. 1 and finishing on an eight-game losing streak.

By then, of course, Valentine wasn't the main issue. A succession of injuries -- and a late-August trade which brought payroll relief, future financial flexibility and a fumigated clubhouse -- left the roster in tatters. Often in September, Valentine was given no choice but to field a lineup of journeymen, role players and not-ready-for-prime-time prospects, surrounded only by a legitimate everyday major-leaguer or three.

But the die was cast before that. It was clear Valentine not only wasn't part of the solution -- he was part of the problem.

"He lost a lot of guys in spring training,'' remarked a baseball source with knowledge of the situation, "and it was tough to get them back after that.''

Valentine, sources said, alienated veteran players in the early days at Fort Myers when he needlessly embarrassed Mike Aviles during infield drills. And it went beyond a single incident. He lacked preparation at times, failed to communicate his ideas for fundamental instruction, and seemed to make little effort to build relationships with players.

When, seemingly out of nowhere, Valentine questioned Kevin Youkilis's commitment two weeks into the season, he further put off many of the established players.

Youkilis was never the most popular veteran in the clubhouse, but several players were mystified by Valentine's unprovoked rebuke.

It didn't help Valentine that his predecessor, Terry Francona, made it a point to criticize or discipline players in private. Francona limited his message to the one person for whom it was intended; Valentine preferred to surprise his targets with a very public airing of his grievence.

(It further galled players that Valentine, when questioned about his habit for delivering zingers through the media, often responded with a mystified "What? What'd I say?'' defense).

And Valentine could be cruel. In a radio interview, he made mention (before correcting himself) of then-pitching coach Bob McClure's "vacation'' from the team, knowing full well that McClure's absence was so that he could attend to his gravely ill infant.

The manager's penchant for "divide-and-conquer'' extended to his coaching staff, routinely ignoring bullpen coach and catching instructor Gary Tuck and bench coach Tim Bogar. In his role, Bogar was supposed to provide in-game input on strategy and act as the manager's liason in the clubhouse. But often, his only communication with Valentine was via text or e-mail.

Weeks after McClure was fired, Valentine told others that reliever Alfredo Aceves's hostile behavior in late August and into September was somehow McClure's fault.

Not that Valentine was without his strong points. He proved that he was still a strong talent evaluator by plucking Franklin Morales from the bullpen and putting him into the rotation; arguing against the conversion of Daniel Bard from reliever to starter, and being an early advocate for Pedro Ciriaco.

He deserves credit, too, for patching together the bullpen after closer Andrew Bailey was lost for the first 4 12 months by a freak thumb injury. The team's relief pitching was wretched in the first two weeks, but Valentine soon got it under control, matching pitcher to role.

But each week or so seemed to bring -- or threaten to bring -- more moves reeking of passive-aggressiveness or self-destruction. Like his observation of the team's late-season roster as the "weakest roster we've ever had in September in the history of baseball,'' which infuriated members of the front office.

Valentine's hiring was a gamble last December. Yes, there was the chance he could inject his energy and foster discipline; there was also a far greater chance the team would implode on his watch.

The Red Sox didn't beat the odds. They got the Valentine they feared, rather than the one for whom they had slim hope.

Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

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Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

SAN FRANCISCO  — As an irate Bryce Harper charged toward the mound, Buster Posey just stood and watched from behind home plate.

And when the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants cleared their benches Monday and punches flew both ways, the All-Star catcher did his best to remain just outside the fray.

Not where some expected to find the Giants team leader with his pitcher, Hunter Strickland, exchanging head shots with Harper.

“Posey did NOTHING to stop Harper from getting to his pitcher,” former major league pitcher Dontrelle Willis wrote on Twitter. “I’ve never seen that before in my life.”

Posey declined to enter the fracas, instead remaining around its edges and watching as the players scuffled in “a pretty good pile,” as Giants manager Bruce Bochy called it.

Posey dealt with a concussion in April after being struck in the head by a pitch, but did not say he held back because of concerns related to that. He did say he was wary about the risk of injury.

“There were some big guys tumbling around out there,” Posey said. “You see Mike Morse and Jeff Samardzija are about as big as they come and he was getting knocked around like a pinball. So it was a little dangerous to get in there.”

Still, social media was abuzz at the sight of Posey not sticking up for his teammate.

“Strickland must have told @BusterPosey he was hitting him and let him come cause he didn’t even give a soft jog,” Willis wrote.

“Says all you need to know that Buster Posey didn’t bother to hold back Harper,” tweeted Fox broadcaster Kevin Burkhardt . “Let him go get his pitcher.”

Also absent from the fight: hard-nosed Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. As his teammates flew over the dugout railing, Bumgarner stayed put, perhaps because the left-hander is still recovering after injuring his pitching shoulder and ribs in a dirt biking accident in April.

 

Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

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Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

CHICAGO — More than anything else, Monday’s 5-4 Red Sox loss was a reminder of how much the Red Sox had go right for them a year ago, and just how unrealistic it was to expect so much of it to carry over into 2017.

The Red Sox remain a very good team. But the success of last year’s 93-win team, of any 93-win team is, truly, difficult to replicate. Unlikely, even.

Baseball’s age of parity, the randomness of freak injuries, good old regression — the Sox were due for some elements to catch up to them after a season that was more or less golden in 2016.

Dustin Pedroia, who headed back to Boston on Monday for an MRI on his left wrist, was healthy enough to hit 15 home runs a year ago, his highest total since 2012. The way this year is going for him health-wise, just having him on the field and hitting close to .300 sounds like a worthwhile goal the rest of the way.

(Slides are Pedroia’s enemy, be it from an oncoming base runner, like Manny Machado, or an oncoming first baseman, like Jose Abreu.)

David Price wasn’t living David Price’s best baseball life a year ago. But you know what you can, and probably do, take for granted? He was healthy and devouring innings. He cleared more frames than anyone else in the regular season. Even when he wasn’t pitching well, he could pitch and pitch and pitch. 

Jackie Bradley Jr. had a 1.001 OPS at the end of play on May 29, 2016. His OPS after play May 29, 2017, was .670.

We know how special David Ortiz was. Let’s not go there, because it seems like no one can talk about Ortiz’s absence rationally. His exit did not suck every home run out of the Sox lineup, as many like to say is the case, but he is — of course — a big missing piece.

Not everything was perfect in 2016, lest we remember our ex-girlfriends too fondly. Carson Smith went for Tommy John surgery, for example. 

But look now: Smith still isn’t back, Tyler Thornburg is a mystery if not quiet yet an afterthought and Robbie Ross Jr. not only struggled to the point he was demoted, he’s going through elbow trouble.

Rick Porcello won the American League Cy Young, much to Kate Upton’s chagrin. Porcello will not win the Cy Young this year, if you hadn’t been paying attention, although Chris Sale might.

There’s something going well for the Sox right now: that Sale guy. The bullpen coughed up the game Monday, Matt Barnes in particular. Yet Sox relievers had the fifth best ERA of any team to start the day. 

Hey, Eduardo Rodriguez looks pretty good, doesn't he?

With some downward trends have come some positives. Craig Kimbrel's on another planet.

The Sox may still be a 90-win team. Again, they remain a very good club.

But the wins, the breaks aren’t coming as easily as they did a year ago. You should never have expected they would.