Despite winning two World Series championships, making four playoff appearances and keeping a depleted 2010 squad relevant through the final weekend of the season, the Boston Red Sox and manager Terry Francona parted ways following an historic September slump and missing the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Of course, this is news to no one as the Sox and Braves have shared gloomy headlines for the past month, while the Rays and Cardinals fought back in their respective wild card races. The question is, rather, “what’s next?” When Francona arrived in 2004, the need was obvious. Grady Little was all but run out of Boston following a game seven loss to the rival Yankees in the ALCS after it seemed certain the Sox were headed to their first World Series since 1986. Now, amid fan frustrations, the pulse of Boston is more reflective on the end of an era and the question of regime change.
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Internally, it would seem that the obvious choices would be either first base coach, Ron Johnson, or bench coach, Demarlo Hale. Johnson has risen through the ranks managing at the triple-A level with Red Sox affiliate Pawtucket, then being rewarded as the first base coach when the vacancy came in 2010. In Pawtucket, Johnson managed current Red Sox All-Stars, Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis, among a host of others and would have already established a managerial rapport with the team as a result. However, Johnson missed a large amount of time in 2010 handling a family issue and would likely refuse the job as a result.
Hale, on the other hand, is as viable a candidate as any outside option and would follow in the footsteps of past Red Sox coaches, Dale Sveum, Brad Mills, and John Farrell, all of whom left the Francona regime to accept managerial positions, though none have been particularly successful as yet. Hale was recruited for the Toronto job last offseason before being beaten out by his coworker, Farrell, and also has the recommendation of Francona on his side. The problem is, however, such a recommendation may not be as helpful as might initially appear.
The Sox and their Boston fan base are ready to do some substantial overhauling, and Francona may just be the beginning of it. Hale may be disadvantaged by having been so close to the organization the past five years and could be too much of a lateral move. Francona parted with the sentiments that it is time for a new voice in the clubhouse, and I don’t know that Hale is it. Assuming he does not get the job, look for Hale to be managing outside of Boston in the next year.
Outside the organization, I’m interested to follow former Chicago White Sox coach Joey Cora this offseason. Expected to have been the successor to Ozzie Guillen, who accepted a contract with the Marlins in the final week of the season, Cora was named the interim manager for a day before being let go, as well, before managing even one game. While Cora may still end up following his outspoken counterpart to Miami, Chicago is overhauling as well, which may be a benefit to Boston. Regardless, Cora is still probably a long shot in Boston.
Another interesting name that has been mentioned is that of former Mets manager and current ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine. The first whispers of Valentine came from coworker Mike Golic, but since then, talk of Baseball Tonight’s correspondent joining the Sox have started to explode.
A New England native, Valentine has managed both domestically with Texas and New York (NL) as well as abroad with two stints in Japan before settling into his current position on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight and Sunday Night Baseball. Valentine wouldn’t be the first ESPN analyst to take a job in the AL East as Buck Showalter was called upon in the latter portion of the 2010 season to manage the Orioles. Under Showalter, the Orioles played spoiler to the Red Sox in the final two weeks of September, which helped lead to Francona’s dismissal.
A knowledgeable, if not sometimes over-spoken, baseball personality, Valentine led the Mets to the World Series in 2000 losing the “subway series” to their dominant New York neighbors from the Bronx. Valentine’s New England roots, experience with Yankee rivalry, and keen baseball insight may make him the perfect candidate to be the “new voice” in the Red Sox clubhouse in 2012.