Friday, June 25, 2010

The Bobby V Package

  • What the Marlins can expect from Bobby Valentine:

It's an open secret that the Marlins have been intrigued with Bobby Valentine for quite some time and now that they've fired manager Fredi Gonzalez and are set to meet with Valentine today, the general consensus is that it's a matter of when----not if----Valentine becomes the new manager of the Marlins.

As polarizing a personality as there is in baseball, Valentine is a man who cannot be pigeonholed. He's beloved by one baseball Hall of Famer like Tommy Lasorda; and loathed by another Hall of Famer, Goose Gossage. Respected for his strategic skills and despised for his arrogance, Valentine elicits a reaction one way or the other and as fearless and smart as the Marlins are, presumably, they know what they're getting themselves into.

Let's take a look at The Bobby V Package.

On the field:

Bobby Valentine is a master strategist who knows the rulebook from cover to cover----better than the umpires----and he'll let them, the players, the media and the fans know it.

Tending to try different things such as his propensity to have the first baseman shift back-and-forth when holding a baserunner, he's accused of overthinking and trying to re-invent the game with his innovations.

Valentine has a knowledge of sabermetrics combined with a feel for the game that can't be acquired by memorizing statistics. Because he has the breadth of experience that comes from having coached and managed in the big leagues for extended periods, he can tell which way the wind is about to blow during a game and act accordingly.

His experience extends beyond having been a big league player. Because he was a multi-sport, star athlete in high school and was even a ballroom dance champion, Valentine knows what it's like to be the pampered superstar; anointed in the minor leagues and babied by Lasorda, the other players reviled him because of his golden boy status and his extroverted personality.

He also knows the feeling of barely hanging on as a player; wondering every day whether it's the last day of his career. Derailed by a broken leg in 1973, he became a journeyman utilityman clinging to a big league job by his fingertips.

As a manager, Valentine took over an atrocious Texas Rangers team early in 1985. The next season, with a roster stacked with young talent like Ruben Sierra, Pete Incaviglia and Bobby Witt, they won a surprising 87 games.

Expected to contend, the team fell into mediocrity and underachievement, never winning more than 85 games again until he was fired (by George W. Bush) in 1992.

Resurfacing in the big leagues with the Mets in 1996, Valentine turned them around as well getting a good but not great team into the playoffs in 1999 (they lost to the Braves in the NLCS) and to the World Series in 2000 (losing to the Yankees).

He doles out his pitchers' innings evenly and doesn't abuse them. His lineups were eclectic for much of his time until he did almost a complete 180 in 1999 and played his regulars almost every single day. On some level, there's an overreacting quality to Valentine. He was oft-criticized for his lineup tweaks (sometimes moments before the exchange at home plate) and threw his hands up in the air as if to say, "Okay, you want a set lineup? Here's a set lineup."

Loud and obnoxious, the opposing players, coaches and managers cannot stand Valentine and in many cases, nor could his own players. His antics (such as the fake mustache and glasses he donned to return to the Mets dugout after an ejection) prompt snickers from some and overt anger from others for embarrassing the game.

I think he does some of this stuff on purpose.

Duels with players and management:

This is where the Valentine legend has been made.

His smug responses to questions; condescending head tilt as if to say, "you know nothing about baseball and why are you even here?"; frequent wars with the media; power hungry struggles with upper management, and reputation for micro-managing everything from top-to-bottom are what to keep an eye on as he molds the Marlins.

Valentine has been accused in various degrees of getting both Mets GM Joe McIlvaine and longtime broadcaster Tim McCarver ousted; of bickering endlessly with former Mets GM Steve Phillips; and of openly criticizing his organization from ownership on down.

Regarding Phillips, Valentine's famous reaction when the GM outfoxed the manager and held onto his job after the 2002 season summed it all up. When told he was fired, Valentine responded to owner Fred Wilpon with something to the tune of an incredulous, "And Steve stays?!?" The unsaid understanding around the organization was that if one went, both went; but Phillips beat Valentine at his own Machiavellian game and held on until he was fired early the next season.

The relationship was never friendly and Valentine's fundamental issue with Phillips might have been due to Phillips's rise to the top of a major league organization after coming from the corporate world while Valentine was working his way up organically and in the trenches. Making matters worse was that someone as egotistical as Valentine was under the auspices of someone who he didn't feel had earned the right to be his boss. Phillips's behavior away from the field didn't help win him favor with the conservative Catholic Valentine.

This "how are you my boss?" is a dynamic to bear in mind with the Marlins because there's a chain-of-command in place that's not going to change.

Owner Jeffrey Loria is known to be petulant and react quickly to perceived insubordination; team president Larry Beinfest is the best in baseball at what he does and the hierarchy isn't going to change because of Valentine. The rumors have him getting a 4-year-contract. Honeymoon period or not, he'd better stay in line in Florida because they won't hesitate to get rid of him if his Bobby V-ness rears its head.

With the Mets, it had become a case of diminishing returns and that it was easier to get rid of the manager than the players. Having gone on so long and been successful with the known rift between Valentine and Phillips, the Mets had put a team together in 2002 that was filled with veterans who weren't going to buy into the Valentine mystique and do what he wanted them to do.

Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz and Roberto Alomar were All Stars with long-term contracts who could ignore Valentine safely without fear of repercussions. In prior years, Valentine had taken on players who were on the decline (Bobby Bonilla); too old to bully him (Gossage); or were middling enough to be relatively insignificant in the grand scheme (Daryl Hamilton, Pete Harnisch).

There was a cold and calculating brutality to the way Valentine treated Hamilton and Harnisch as if they'd outlived their usefulness and he didn't want to see them as players or as human beings ever again.

The dichotomy of Valentine is his immense loyalty to players he believes in. Such was the case with Rick Reed, Benny Agbayani and Masato Yoshii with the Mets. Reed and Agbayani were both replacement players during the 1995 strike. Few believed in their abilities after journeyman careers and failure, but Valentine saw something in them to believe that they could succeed in the big leagues and both became indispensable cogs to the late 90s Mets. Yoshii was a Japanese import that Valentine knew from his time managing in the Far East (where he's beloved) and after a slow start he became a clutch performer for those Mets teams.

Relationships with stars:

Anyone who believes that Valentine is going to barge into the Marlins clubhouse with the proverbial both guns blazing and scream in the face of Hanley Ramirez that there's a new sheriff in town and if he doesn't get with the program, he's gone doesn't know what they're talking about.

Valentine is many things, but he's not stupid. Knowing that the star player is more important and harder to replace than the manager, Valentine will forge a relationship with Ramirez and either develop a father-son dynamic as Loria and Ramirez have, or he'll come to an agreement with the mercurial Ramirez to co-exist for the greater good.

With the Rangers, Valentine let Nolan Ryan do essentially whatever he wanted because he wasn't going to win a power struggle with Ryan. With the Mets, it was the same thing with Mike Piazza. Ramirez won't be allowed to run roughshod over the clubhouse and undermine Valentine's stature with the other players, but he'll be handled deftly. Valentine is smart enough pick his battles and carefully select his allies, and that's what he'll do with Ramirez.

A major undoing for Valentine with the Mets was his necessary demotion of John Franco from the closer's role in 1999 when an injury forced the switch from Franco to Armando Benitez. Franco's personality and upbringing in Brooklyn led directly to his waiting for an opportunity to get revenge for the slight and that's exactly what happened in 2002 as part of the reason Valentine was dismissed was the close relationship Franco and Al Leiter had with Jeff Wilpon and that both players had had enough of Valentine.

Valentine won't make that mistake again with Ramirez or any of the other Marlins stars like Josh Johnson.

As for the players without whom the Marlins can easily survive? Watch out.

What will happen:

Bobby Valentine is not a short-term spark for a team that's slumping. When he's hired, he's hired to build for the next 2-4 years. Billy Martin was George Steinbrenner's go-to-guy for a reason. Martin was guaranteed to come in and do whatever it took to win immediately; and if that meant burning out his closer by overusing him in August? So be it. If that meant fistfighting with his players? Then Billy was going to fistfight with his players.

That's not Bobby Valentine.

As they're currently constructed, I don't know if Valentine's presence is going to do that much good in the state the Marlins are in. Shuffling relievers up and down from the minors and hoping they hit on one that's effective won't be helped one way or the other by Valentine. The starting rotation has been inconsistent; the bench has been awful.

By sheer force of personality and the crackling energy created by his arrival, the Marlins will be more lively; he'll find relievers who can get outs and put them in the right situations; he'll try to get through to struggling starters Ricky Nolasco and Chris Volstad; he'll manipulate the lineup and bench to better deploy both; but he's not going to make the Marlins contenders immediately upon his arrival.

One thing's for certain: the Marlins are going to do things Bobby V's way, like it or not; and everyone had better get ready because Valentine is on his way back onto the field and win or lose, it's a show----a show you want to watch, because you can't bring yourself to look away.

  • Viewer Mail 6.25.2010:

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE the Dodgers baserunning gaffes:

The thing that bothered me about the Dodgers baserunning gaffe last night wasn't so much Martin getting tagged off the bag, but that Johnson wasn't running very hard... he let up at the end only to realize "oh shit, I better run!"... too late.

Torre must've been livid.


I can't get on Reed Johnson in that case, who would've thought that Russell Martin would've screwed up so badly?

Torre's been managing for so long, it must take a lot to make him freak out. He seemed more perplexed than anything else. Larry Bowa, on the other hand...

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Dodgers-Yankees:

The Yankees made a bunch of base running blunders last night too, so the Yanks-Dodgers series this weekend should be full of gaffes. Can't wait!

The subplots for this teleplay are never-ending! Joe Torre! Joe Girardi! Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera across the field from Torre for the first time!

My guess is both clubs will be on top of their games----at least mentally----for the whole series.

Kyle Johnson writes RE Brian Fuentes:

Couldn't agree with you more on Fuentes. I was really hoping the Angels would make a strong push for Valverde this past offseason to close games and use Fuentes as a left "specialist" out of the pen. Instead they signed another guy that walks a lot of batters and gives up a bunch of runs in Fernando Rodney. Awesome.

Jose Valverde has been terrific this year. I happen to like Rodney much better than Fuentes----he showed immense courage last season as the only reliable bullpen arm the Tigers had. I don't know whether they'd make the switch before they absolutely had no choice, but they'd be a much better team with Rodney closing over Fuentes.

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Jeff said...

Maybe Valentine in South Florida will get people to the ballpark. Watching a Marlins game is so depressing -- not because of the on-field product, but because there's simply no one there, at the stadium.

She-Fan said...

If Loria had a problem with Girardi's "insubordination," how's he going to react when Valentine goes off to the media? Should be entertaining.

Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

Loria, David Samson, Beinfest, Valentine and what coaches he brings in, make for one of the elite front offices in Baseball. If you throw in their very fertile farm system...when the Marlins get their new park they are going to be down right insane with the cash infusion. The Wilpons will still be their relenting, meek/mawkish selves and there-in stemmed my "fear", which should have been taken in jest, of Valentine at the helm for the Fish. The Nats soon will have money back in their pockets when Peter Angelos finishes getting his fill of territorial rights fees and GM Rizzo is fresh. The Braves front office doesn't need detailing by me/us. The Marlin's is better. That leaves us and the Phils. Is the Mets' front office better than the Phil's? I'd have fun debating that but clearly the Phils' run indicates theirs is better. If only Jeff Wilpon had a darker side.

If Josh Thole starts tonight we'll be fielding an all home-grown diamond,- Pagan in CF and with Pelfrey on the mound....Snap a picture because this doesn't happen often. As a Met fan ~ OUTSTANDING! Give me more! This team is a far cry from the Opening Day edition. They should continue this direction. Keep all those malcontents in the doghouse. I'd like F-Mart in RF by 2011. Dillon Gee and Dylan Owen were promoted to AAA. Infielders Reese Havens and Jonathan Malo are doing quite well in AA. I smell something brewing in METropolis. I hope! Mets are in a good spot for a Lee trade. I don't want to rent him but we can do this. It's really all about what kind of club Jeff wants his Pop's Mets to be. This team has a 1984 feel to it now. Not earlier this season or in any of the last 3 seasons. But today? I'm feeling 84'ish.