Red Sox should make Jason Varitek bench coach, not manager
Following the firing of Alex Cora, should the Boston Red Sox answer the call from fans to make Jason Varitek the next manager?
Red Sox fans who were in the camp of the team washing its hands of Alex Cora in the wake of the Astros cheating scandal got their wish on Tuesday night. The now former Boston manager was implicated in the commissioner’s report 11 times. The most of anyone.
Executives from the Fenway front office held a press conference the following day to meet with the media. They said it was an easy decision to move on from their embattled manager, but praised him for his influence and accomplishments during his two year tenure. Which oddly enough, was a much better send off than they gave Terry Francona, who was outed as a drug user in the weeks following his dismissal.
Chaim Bloom gave little clarity on the type of candidate who would eventually get hired. When asked by reporters, the Chief Baseball Officer said both internal and external candidates would strongly be considered.
The market has been largely picked over due to the managerial signings earlier in the winter. Most notably, Joe Girardi to the Phillies, and Joe Maddon to the Angels.
Buck Showalter and John Gibbons have both interviewed with the Houston Astros, who are also said to be interested in Chicago Cubs’ third base coach, Will Venable.
As far back as many Red Sox fans can remember, Jason Varitek has long been thought to be an eventual manager of the team he played 14 years with as a catcher. In that span he established himself as one of the best game callers of all time, and in 2008 he became the only catcher in MLB history to catch three no-hitters.
The trouble for the pro-Varitek crowd is that top executives very seldom ever hire a star who previously played in that market. Should a season start trending downward, fans will often side with the former star player due their pre-existing loyalty to him. It can often put the executive in the vulnerable position of losing support of the fan base, and influence with ownership, as well as make it extremely difficult for the executive to fire the manager. So external candidates are generally preferred.
The roster heading into the 2020 season is about as perilous as I have seen in the Boston’s World Series era. Looking back at some of our worst seasons, the expectations coming into them were still high.
For example, who would have thought a last place finish was in store for 2014? The only notable player not on the roster from the championship season before was Jacoby Ellsbury. 2015 began with cautious optimism since the rotation was revamped, but it ultimately floundered.
The starting rotation is the biggest area of concern this coming season. The “glass half full” crowd will be anticipating a second straight solid season from Eduardo Rodriguez, and a bounce-back season for David Price. It’s much tougher to carry the same optimism for oft injured starters like Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi.
Sale ran out of gas in the final two months of the 2016 and 2017 seasons, and then followed those up with back-to-back nagging injuries in the previous two seasons. With his violent delivery, it’s hard to imagine him having a good run of health now that he’s past the age of 30. And what is Eovaldi at this point in his career? A starter? A Reliever? Humpty Dumpty?
The bullpen, however, started taking shape down the homestretch. Brandon Workman established himself as an adequate closer. Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor both made a lot of strides as potential mainstays in the higher leverage 7th and 8th innings. While it’s not unreasonable to expect this area of the team to be much more solid this year, will the new manager be able to utilize it like a normal bullpen if the rotation gets thin from injuries?
The circumstances right now could not be any further from ideal for a possible first-year manager such as Varitek, who also has zero minor league managing experience whatsoever. Even during his catching days, he never experienced the trends of using openers and nine-inning bullpen games. The game has evolved a lot since he retired in 2011.
If 2020 ends up being a rough season as many expect, the former Red Sox captain will potentially be dealing with daily scrutiny from the media due to the team’s under-performance. Not to mention the relentless trade buzz for players like Betts and Price.
If there truly is a large degree of mutual interest between the Red Sox front office and Varitek to have him eventually become the manager, the best path forward would be to make him a bench coach the next two or three seasons. This would allow him to adapt to the new wave of analytics, and get acclimated to executing new concepts such as an opener, and tinkering with day to day in-game strategies. It’s also an effective way to get the players to adapt to his leadership before he assumes a bigger role.
If the MLB investigation into the Red Sox ultimately finds no wrong doing with the 2018 World Series team, hiring an internal candidate would become a lot more viable due to the fact there won’t be any bad optics.
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63-year-old Ron Roenicke could be the perfect candidate to oversee the the retooling/transitional phase that will likely take place as the roster gets overhauled. The players already have a great deal of familiarity with him, and he has a good idea where all of the pieces currently fit having worked beside Cora.
At his age, he would not likely be viewed as a long-term option anyway, and could be the perfect mentor for a guy like Varitek. Roenicke has never won a title as a manager, but he did guide the Milwaukee Brewers all the way to Game Six of the 2011 NLCS before losing to the Cardinals.
Bloom, without question, has a lot on his plate, perhaps much more so than any top executive among the other 29 ball clubs. Surely he does not want to whiff on the first manager he hires by putting him in a very volatile situation.
Boston’s chief baseball officer knows that 2020 won’t be about deep playoff runs or division wins. It will primarily be about transition and development. Why shouldn’t that apply to both players AND coaches?
So many former players were set up much better for success on the day they were hired as managers. Even if Varitek wants the job, what’s the rush? It’s in everyone’s best interest to be patient.