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Hearts should be set on Valentine

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / October 1, 2011

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Bobby Valentine was mentioned in last Sunday’s Baseball Notes as a possible replacement should Red Sox manager Terry Francona not be retained.

If that’s the choice, bravo.

At the time he was contacted yesterday, the Sox had not announced they had declined to pick up the options on Francona’s contract, so Valentine did not feel it was appropriate to comment.

But he’s exactly what this organization needs. If you want a man who is considered one of the best in-game managers and who has control of his team and the clubhouse, there is no one better available. The question with Valentine is how would he coexist with general manager Theo Epstein and the organizational approach?

Where Francona accepted a lot of input from Epstein and the front office, Valentine would likely not be as welcoming. Suggestions of playing Darnell McDonald because he hits a certain lefthander wouldn’t fly with Valentine. He would have to know he has complete control of his team in the clubhouse and on the field. Some would say that’s not the way 21st-century baseball works, but it would be the way it would have to work.

Valentine, who has Connecticut roots and is an ESPN baseball analyst, is precisely the no-nonsense manager this franchise needs. He also has experience with Japanese players, and pitchers in particular. In an earlier column this year, Valentine offered some constructive criticism of how the Sox handled Daisuke Matsuzaka, a pitcher his team faced when he managed the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Valentine may not be the new-wave type the Sox are looking for, but he is a guy with a tremendous track record for getting the most out of players and leaving no doubt who is in charge, and that there are consequences for the type of behavior Sox players exhibited this season.

That is the choice here. Who will be Epstein’s choice or John Henry’s choice? Will it be someone like Francona, who will be open to suggestions from the front office? If that’s whom they’re looking for, there might be some candidates out there.

Ever hear of A.J. Hinch? He’s the former manager of the Diamondbacks whom former Arizona GM Josh Byrnes defended until the day he had to fire him. Hinch is in line with the analytical type of manager who could fit the Sox’ style, but would be considered a long shot. The issue would be whether he could handle Boston. Another is Trey Hillman, the former Royals skipper who served as Don Mattingly’s bench coach this season with the Dodgers. The Boston issue would also be a concern with him.

There are lieutenants of top managers, such as Dave Martinez in Tampa Bay. There’s Ryne Sandberg, who has had great success as a minor league manager in the Cubs and Phillies organizations.

DeMarlo Hale, a fine bench coach under Francona, would be an excellent choice, but he may be perceived as being too close to Francona. Hale would likely go wherever Francona ends up.

One would think toughness would have to be a major attribute of the next manager. Toward that end, how about Yankees bench coach and former Red Sox catcher Tony Pena, the 2003 American League manager of the year? Pena is very close to Red Sox assistant GM Allard Baird, who hired and fired him in Kansas City and maintains that Pena is a manager who can motivate and have control of the clubhouse.

Toronto bench coach Don Wakamatsu, former manager of the Mariners, is open to statistical analysis and management input when making decisions. He worked under former Sox pitching coach John Farrell this season.

There are all sorts of names and styles out there. Don Baylor, Willie Randolph, John Gibbons, Jerry Manuel, Ken Macha, and Bob Geren, to name a few.

As one ex-manager said yesterday, “The problem with a tough guy is if you don’t have the backing of ownership and the GM it won’t work. You’ll be hung out to dry. In most cases, the players run the asylum. The GMs are scared of the agents and they tend to dictate when a player is returning to the field.

“If you have a strong ownership and allow the manager to run the team and respect the integrity of the game, great. But if you have owners who constantly interfere and care only about statistical analysis, forget it. That won’t work. It hasn’t worked.’’

Whomever the Sox hire, he must bring in a strong-minded pitching coach to deal with this staff.

Rick Peterson, the former A’s and Mets pitching coach, fits the type. Peterson won’t tolerate a lack of conditioning, and stays on his pitchers about it.

Farrell had an intimidating way about him in Boston, and perhaps the pitchers were kept in line as a result, although the staff’s decline began prior to Curt Young arriving this season.

One member of the Red Sox executive staff said yesterday, “You have to go with a tougher guy. There has to be more of a professional atmosphere. There have to be rules.’’

Another issue was the fact Francona was never able to hire his own trainer or conditioning coach. The trainer’s role is huge. He can’t be just a pal of the players - he has to be someone who can get on them and keep a professional distance. Since the Sox let Paul Lessard go, a trainer Francona liked and who was effective, the number of injuries has increased.

The new manager’s staff has to consist of people he feels comfortable with, and who are aligned with the way he thinks.

The power must shift to the manager, who must be able to have the support of the front office to run the team the way he sees fit. Buck Showalter has that power in Baltimore, Tony La Russa in St. Louis, Mike Scioscia in Los Angeles, Jim Leyland in Detroit, and Francona should have had it in Boston.

Valentine would surely want that in Boston, and be the ideal choice.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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