Remember earlier this month, when Red Sox owner John Henry sent a long e-mail to local reporters, expressing his full support for manager Bobby Valentine? And the same day, when general manager Ben Cherington expressed similar sentiments (a.k.a. "the company line")?
The reason for those statements might not have been clear, at least to those of us who weren't on daily Valentine Watch. But now everything makes a bit more sense, because those statements came shortly after ... Hell, it's Jeff Passan's story; let's give him the floor for a moment:
Boston Red Sox players blasted manager Bobby Valentine to owners John Henry and Larry Lucchino during a heated meeting called after a text message was sent by a group of frustrated players to the team and ownership in late July, three sources familiar with the meeting told Yahoo! Sports.
The owners called the meeting for Boston's off-day in New York on July 27 after first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, texting on behalf of himself and some teammates, aired their dissatisfaction with Valentine for embarrassing starting pitcher Jon Lester by leaving him in to allow 11 runs during a July 22 start. It was the latest incident in a season's worth of bad relations bubbling between Red Sox players and Valentine.
Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia were among the most vocal in the meeting, in which some players stated flatly they no longer wanted to play for Valentine, the sources said...
There is much, much, much more along these lines. I should mention, just in case you don't read the whole article, that the complaints about Valentine don't seem to be unanimous among the players. But Valentine does seem to have lost Gonzalez and Pedroia, both of whom figure to be around a lot longer than the manager. Along with a number of other players, and coaches. Which obviously makes his position tenuous, even in the short term.
So what's next for the Red Sox?
I think there are three competing impulses here:
1. Salvage 2012
2. Avoid the appearance of incompetence
3. Maintain a certain degree of organizational stability.
Taking those one at a time ...
One, salvaging 2012 is still possible, if unlikely. The Red Sox are now 5½ games out in the Wild Card standings. Worse, there are five teams ahead of them. One small ray of hope, though: the Sox have the second-best run differential among the six Wild Card contenders.
Then again, two of their best hitters -- David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks -- are currently disabled, and Middlebrooks isn't coming back this season. The odds against the Red Sox making a big run are long, indeed.
Two, a club looks incompetent when it a) hires a manager, who b) seems to lose his team, which c) wins many fewer games than expected.
Wait, what? By that standard, the team already looks incompetent?
Well, yes. But at this point it's still an under-the-radar sort of (apparent) incompetence. If you actually fire your manager four or five months into his first season, that becomes the big story in baseball for a few days. Everyone likes to divorce themselves from such concerns when making big decisions, but very few of us like to be mocked in the newspapers and the radios and the Internets. Even cold-blooded logicians like the men who run the Red Sox, I suspect.
And three, Bill James has argued that good organizations don't fire managers willy-nilly, and it would seem willy-nilly to fire two managers within one year. It would be willy-nilly.
Whatever the Red Sox do in these next few weeks, I will not fault them for it. Their current illness is too complex for one such as me to properly diagnose. However, if Valentine is fired during this season or before next season, we might fairly fault the Red Sox for hiring Bobby Valentine in the first place. I mean, it's not like they didn't have plenty of information at hand, when evaluating Valentine's résumé. I suspect that the front office did its homework; but if they fire him, we might conclude that they simply took the wrong lessons from that homework.