MILWAUKEE -- The Red Sox have made a surprise, 180-degree turn in their managerial search, moving from a list of well-regarded relative neophytes to take a close look at bigger-than-life veteran manager Bobby Valentine, a force of personality who was originally viewed as someone who couldn't possibly fit into an organization reliant on Moneyball principles and run by a strong front office.
The Red Sox, a model franchise in recent years -- actually, right up until the beer-and-chicken parties that will mark their September 2011 collapse -- look a bit "confused'' right now, in the words of one rival executive who actually sees Valentine as an especially inspired candidate. Nothing against Valentine, but he's nothing like any of the original managerial candidates.
There's surely a perception of confusion now, but it's also possible that the Red Sox are just showing a better understanding about how deep their problems are and how difficult their managerial job is. Valentine might have his quirks, but he is a cleanup artist who just may fit them now.
Valentine managed the Rangers from 1985 to 1992. In 1996 he took over a floundering Mets team and by 1999 had them in the playoffs and by 2000, the World Series. He then managed in Japan, winning a championship there with Chiba Lotte. Valentine, a native and resident of Stamford, Conn., is currently an analyst at ESPN and has turned down opportunities with the Dodgers, Rays and Marlins in recent years, but friends say he has a special interest in the Red Sox. "He'd be terrific for them," said an owner with another team.
New Red Sox GM Ben Cherington's first choice, Dale Sveum, may do fine as manager of the Cubs, with low expectations and a (somewhat) smaller spotlight. But the Red Sox could probably use someone who's more experienced and dynamic to run their clubhouse and games and to control their message.
It remains uncertain whether Boston will pull the trigger on Valentine, indicating they might consider one or two others as well. He has a strong personality that makes him seem like the diametric opposite of the low-key Sveum. Valentine also doesn't fit the managerial profile in Moneyball -- a middle manager who carries out the wishes of a strong front office -- but he had an interest in computers and analytics many years before Billy Beane ever met Michael Lewis.
The Red Sox say first-list candidates Sandy Alomar Jr., Torey Lovullo and Gene Lamont are still in play (curiously, the Phillies' respected bench coach, Pete Mackanin, was the one called on Tuesday and told that he is out of the running; "I was a little bit surprised. Maybe I didn't have what they were looking for ... I didn't insult them,'' Mackanin said by phone ). None of them looks particularly likely, however, now that it's clear Red Sox ownership is involved and seems to have vastly different ideas. Word is that Cherington spoke with Valentine at one point, but it is clear to all that Sveum topped Cherington's list.
Sveum, who made a strong positive impression with the Red Sox front office while coaching there in 2004 and '05 despite being a laughably overaggressive third base coach, came here to meet with Boston's ownership honchos in what looked like a prelude to an offer. But Red Sox higher-ups apparently were not sold that he was up to the task and no offer was forthcoming, making Sveum's decision to accept the Cubs' three-year offer an easy one.
Cherington, an extremely bright young executive who'd been Theo Epstein's righthand man until being promoted to replace the departed Epstein four weeks ago, put together a list of pleasant get-along candidates. That roster was definitely OK for the Cubs, as it was basically their list, too. But Red Sox honchos, who know they operate in a fishbowl, appear to feel the need to make a more serious choice.
Hours after the lunch with Sveum, Red Sox president Larry Lucchino told reporters they were "widening'' the process. Sveum interviewed here with the Cubs and Red Sox in quick succession, and it appears now that Boston's top triumvirate of owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and Lucchino weren't about to approve Cherington's top choice for the job. Cherington originally suggested that Sveum could be the final interview. But rather than rubberstamp the new GM's choice, the top trio apparently thought the Red Sox should do better.
The perception that Lucchino was now heavily involved was inescapable, especially after the name of Valentine, who is a longtime friend of Lucchino's and is viewed as a of his favorite, surfaced. And Lucchino did admit to reporters here that the search is a "collective'' process. A longtime Boston person said that one of strengths of the Epstein, who earned near-full autonomy after winning his second World Series as GM in 2007, was "helping save some people from themselves.'' The perception now will be that Cherington's power isn't what was believed.
Cherington told Joel Sherman of the New York Post that he doesn't feel like he's being "undercut.'' However, Cherington came here suggesting that there might be only one interview to go, and now others are suggesting they are seeking a more experienced man and Lucchino is publicly hinting that the process could take a few more weeks, reminding reporters that recently-departed Red Sox manager Terry Francona wasn't hired by Boston until early December in 2003. There was also was no suggestion that Valentine or anyone like him was on Cherington's radar in the first go-around.
Competing execs did wonder whether Epstein's departure inspired Lucchino to try and re-assert himself after being mostly in the background on baseball matters the past few years. One AL GM said, "It looks like Boston's ownership is throwing its weight around and making things tough on Ben.''
Now it looks like Valentine would be mostly Lucchino's call, and one of the others Cherington's. Word is, Cherington had spoken once before to Valentine, but it wasn't made clear whether that discussion was at Lucchino's direction. What is clear is that, heading into the meeting here, Cherington was ready to make Sveum the manager.
With Valentine's name the first to surface, the new direction is undeniable. Sveum is seen as another player's manager who isn't likely to rock the boat, while Valentine has all his own ideas. Bobby V is widely respected as a brilliant and accomplished baseball man, but he is a curiously strong personality for a team that uses Moneyball principles and has been run more from the front office than the manager's office in recent years. That would have to change if he gets the job, of course.
• The Miami Marlins are said to have a good feeling about their chances to sign Jose Reyes. But even they know they will have to do better than what was described as a "preliminary'' offer. Sources suggest it was actually less than the reported $90 million over six years by $10-to-20 million. However, Miami is thought to be eventually willing to come up to $90-to-100 million on a five-year deal. People familiar with their situation continue to describe the Albert Pujols offer as a lowball special designed to work only if Pujols has some incredible and unknown desire to play in Miami. While he is said to have a grandmother in the South Florida area, people who know him say he'd prefer to remain with St. Louis, all things being equal. The Cardinals met with Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano, here, but there continues to be no evidence that they are willing to consider a big boost in their preseason offer of about $200 million over nine years.
• The White Sox aren't in rebuilding mode yet, but they are expected to take offers on pitchers John Danks and Gavin Floyd, as well as outfielder Carlos Quentin. So, as GM Ken Williams admitted, they could rightly be considered in rebuilding mode if they make a trade. The Yankees and Rangers will be in on Danks.
• The Yankees may be gun shy bidding on acclaimed Japanese league pitcher Yu Darvish following their disastrous Kei Igawa signing. They seem more interested in C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson, BMark Buehrle and perhaps Danks at the moment.
• Speaking of Wilson, he is seeking close to $120 million for six years, a figure many suggested is way high. It's been portrayed in some places that the Rangers are trying hard to keep Wilson but that may be exaggerated. His agent asked to visit the Yankees and Angels and at least the Angels said ok
• The Giants' main order of business right now will be to try to lock up superstar pitchers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Cain's situation is pressing in that he can become a free agent after 2012. But the Giants also want to get something done with Lincecum to avoid an arbitration process that could end with him getting $18-to-19 million. Lincecum has said he is fine going short-term (either one year or two), but of course he'd consider a longer deal. The Giants seem inclined to want to keep it to four or five years so far, meaning it will not be a snap.
• The Dodgers seem inclined to hold off, at least for now, on a long deal for Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who is only 23 and arbitration eligible for the first time this year. That might be a project for the new owner, whoever that may be. (By the way, Frank McCourt seemed very relaxed at the owners meetings, joking with reporters and being an all-around bon vivant. He might be in a good mood with the knowledge that the Dodgers are apparently going to fetch $1.2 billion, or more.)
• Hiroki Kuroda would be a nice option for a lot of teams, but he is said to be only willing to play for the Dodgers or Angels, both of whom have some interest.
• The Mariners could wind up as a player for free agent Prince Fielder. They are badly in need of offense, and their GM, Jack Zduriencik, is the one who drafted Fielder for Milwaukee.
• The Mariners intend to give top draft choice Danny Hultzen every opportunity to make the rotation. Seattle has a trio of great pitching prospects coming, counting also Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.
• Jamey Carroll signed a two-year, $6.75 million deal with the Twins to be their starting shortstop. HIs agent, Jonathan Maurer, told MLB.com, "Many teams were aggressive early in pursuing Jamey, which gave us many good choices. The Twins made it clear early they appreciated my client's play at shortstop and his winning character in the clubhouse."
• Though new Astros owner Jim Crane was unanimously approved, some teams would have been opposed had there been any chance they could have voted him down. The Angels, for one, were against him. But as is usually the case in baseball, the vote was 30-0 in Crane's favor. No matter what anyone thinks of Crane, having 15 teams in each league and a balanced schedule -- ripple effects of the approval, which was contingent upon Crane agreeing to move the Astros to the AL West -- are major benefits.
• There is a conceptual agreement between MLB and the players union on a new collective bargaining agreement, so there is "no impediment'' to a deal, in the words of one person familiar with the talks. They are just working out some specifics of the luxury tax that will be attached to the draft slots. A deal could be announced as soon as Monday, though it could take a day or two longer to finalize things.