Boat of skipper is taking on water

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / September 3, 2012
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OAKLAND, Calif. — The ears of Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner have been burning, to the point where they like to avoid the subject of whether Bobby Valentine will return as their manager altogether, after their late-July defense of him.

Werner said in Peter Abraham’s story in Saturday’s Globe that he didn’t want to discuss Valentine’s future, but that, “he’s doing a good job.” But in avoiding the topic, he gave more fuel to the “Fire Valentine” campaign.

If Valentine has “done a good job,” you would be talking about him for 2013, wouldn’t you? In fact, his contract probably would have been extended, or one of his options picked up, so he wouldn’t be saddled with the lame-duck status that Terry Francona found himself in last season. The fact that ownership has done neither speaks volumes.

The owners are no longer trying to shut up an emboldened media, members of which are stumbling over each other to write the next “Valentine Must Go” column.

If the owners really think that a deal that cleared $275 million off the payroll, leaving the Sox with a lineup short of Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz (injury), Will Middlebrooks (injury), and Carl Crawford, and a pitching staff minus Josh Beckett, means they should win a lot of games the remainder of the season, then Valentine will be fired because that’s not going to happen.

If they believe that Valentine showing up late one time for a 7:10 game (at 4:15) was an egregious offense — he was picking up his son and got caught in traffic — then he will be fired.

If they believe that responding “Who cares?” about Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s bunt in the fifth inning Saturday night to break up A.J. Griffin’s no-hit bid was a bad thing to say (he was reacting to what the A’s thought about the bunt), then he will be fired.

Valentine has had a horrible trip so far, almost a worse one than his players. He’s said some strange things, including his odd explanation of why Scott Podsednik was batting third Saturday night. “Just a mistake,’’ he said with a shrug. “Is that what it says on the lineup? What the [expletive], switch it up. Who knows? Maybe it will look good. I haven’t seen it.’’

We understand Valentine’s frustration with the names he has to write onto the lineup card every day, but these are the players your front office has left you with.

General manager Ben Cherington was supposed to be in Seattle Monday, and there was even word that Henry might show up. Hmm.

There’s a wide range of opinion from people in the organization when asked if Valentine will be back for another season.

“He has a two-year contract and I expect that will be honored,” said one Sox official. “He deserves the chance to come back under better circumstances, with a healthy roster and a new roster, and that’s what he’ll get next season. Has it been perfect on his part? Absolutely not. He’s made his share of mistakes and missteps, but it would be unfair not to give him one more year to show the things he does do well.”

Yet another said, “The dysfunction is too tough to ignore. It hasn’t gone smoothly in any way for him. I think it’s almost best for him to get out of it.”

And yet another: “I don’t think any decision has been made one way or the other. I think even the owners go back and forth. They don’t want to get run over in the groundswell against Bobby, but it’s hard to ignore that he may be a part of the problem.”

The manager always gets blamed for losing seasons, no matter what the circumstances. It’s in the job description. In this case, give the owners, Larry Lucchino, and Cherington credit — they fired the players. That doesn’t happen in sports very often.

So if they decide that Valentine should be fired as well, they at least can justify it by indicating that they knew the roster was a huge problem.

But I was warned by one official, “Don’t read support of Bobby into those moves. I think they recognized that they had to shake up the roster and they did that to help whoever the manager is in 2013.”

Now the Sox have to deal with Alfredo Aceves, who shot his way out of New York and is now doing the same in Boston. He has great stuff, a rubber arm. He was Boston’s best reliever in 2011 and he did a fine job for three-quarters of this season as the closer.

But his three-game suspension for taking his uniform off in the bullpen because he was bypassed for the closer role a day after getting lit up, and then his argument with Dustin Pedroia in the dugout Saturday night, are just a few of the issues the team has to deal with on and off the field.

Aceves’s dismissal of Valentine during the argument with Pedroia (Aceves waved Valentine away with his hand) was also horrible. Which manager gave him a chance to enhance his career by making him a closer? How could he act that way toward someone who has believed in him?

So the Sox will have to decide, do they want the baggage Aceves brings?

The bigger problems are that some of the younger players they’ve brought up don’t look so good. It was thought that over these last few weeks after the purge that these younger players would create some excitement, but that hasn’t been the case so far.

One hears these days that the players have quit on Valentine. Really?

Pedroia has quit? Pedro Ciriaco, fighting for a chance to play next season, has quit? Podsednik, trying to stay in the majors, has quit? Cody Ross, who wants to stay in Boston, has quit? James Loney, who just got traded here and will be a free agent, has quit? Ryan Lavarnway, trying to show the world he’s a major league catcher, has quit? Saltalamacchia, who could break the Red Sox home run record for a catcher, has quit? Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was ripped to shreds Sunday but needs a good month to get signed by someone next season, has quit?

So which players have quit? Don’t they just stink?

If you fire Valentine, do you go big-time and try to lure Tony La Russa as a replacement? Try to coax Joe Torre or Bobby Cox out of retirement? Doubt it. Do you wait to see what transpires with John Farrell, who has had a horrible year in Toronto? Do you go after Brad Mills, who never had a chance in Houston and would be a tougher guy than Francona but with the same pedigree? Gene Lamont? Would you try to recreate a Robin Ventura/Mike Matheny situation by giving the job to Jason Varitek (if he would want it), or Mark DeRosa or Brad Ausmus? Tim Bogar?

Not the most exciting list.

Lucchino has said that Valentine will be the manager for the rest of the season, but after this disastrous trip, Valentine is waiting to hear whether he will be awarded a stay, or whether he will be asked to put on a blindfold.

The advice here is go out and buy yourself one really cool blindfold, collect your millions, go back to ESPN, and put this nonsense behind you.

It’s better than looking up at every game and seeing a 4-0 deficit before you can blink an eye.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at or on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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