Bard dilemma a sign of the times?
Don't buy Bobby vs. Ben 'power struggle;' probably more like consensus-building
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- So, is this the way every Red Sox decision is going to be spun this summer?
Bobby V. thinks Ryan Lavarnway's bat can help the big club now. Ben is determined that Lavarnway spend more time learning how to catch.
Bobby V. wants to write a different lineup every day. Ben prefers a set lineup.
Bobby wants to squeeze. Ben hates to give up an out.
Bobby wants to win now. Ben sees the big picture.
Bobby wants Rocky Road. Ben orders maple walnut.
Controversy on every corner, a clash of wills at every turn, a forced union already headed for divorce.
Already there are those that contend that the tug of war already has begun between the magnitude-of-me manager and the Theo Lite GM, which is the "Access Hollywood" way of casting the protagonists. These guys haven't even made it yet to Opening Day and already there are rumblings that Valentine and Cherington are headed toward the same kind of contretemps as Valentine and former Mets GM Steve Phillips, which turned the Mets clubhouse into a daily battlefield, much to the delight of the New York tabloids.
The only difference being, Phillips didn't have a Larry Lucchino to turn it into a real three-ring circus.
We sure wouldn't be having this discussion if the Sox had made Gene Lamont manager, now would we?
But here's a novel thought: Differing points of view between those who wear the uniform and the civilians in the front office are hardly unique to Valentine and Cherington. Two examples of recent vintage: Jimy Williams fought Dan Duquette, who wanted to send Trot Nixon and his below-the-Mendoza-Line batting average to Pawtucket, and prevailed. John Farrell, then the Sox pitching coach, pounded on a conference table to underscore how opposed he was to the notion of trading Jon Lester, even if it meant getting a Johan Santana in return.
Here's one not involving the Red Sox: Last season, Toronto manager John Farrell wanted Brett Lawrie to open the season as the team's third baseman. GM Alex Anthopoulos decided Lawrie needed more seasoning and sent him down. No one declared there was a civil war brewing on Blue Jay Way.
Valentine, we all understand, was not Cherington's first choice to manage this team. But that is not the same as saying Cherington has failed to recognize the merits of having a voice as strong as Valentine's collaborating on the composition of this team. It doesn't have to be an either-or proposition. And Valentine and Cherington are not the only ones with a place at the table. Valentine's coaches have their opinions. Cherington's baseball-ops people have theirs. Lucchino's management style invites debate.
For either Valentine or Cherington to yield on a previously held position does not mean surrender. It means compromise. Heck, even Congress used to operate on that principle, as hard as that it is to believe.
From Day One, Valentine said he was eager to see Iglesias play. Cherington said that he was inclined to think Iglesias needed more time, but that he would keep an open mind. Eleven days before the regular-season opener, it would appear that this one will break in Cherington's favor. Aviles has played well all spring; Iglesias has shown a better approach at the plate, especially against fastballs, but he has been getting killed lately on off-speed stuff and is batting a buck-74.
The pitching situation is a little more complicated. Cherington was a key sponsor of Bard's move from the bullpen to the starting rotation, and the pitcher went all in on the idea. Valentine is clearly enamored of Aceves, who a year ago turned down the chance to start with the Mets for a chance to start with the Red Sox, wound up in the pen, and would like nothing more than to start again.
Left-hander Felix Doubront came to camp committed to the proposition of being everything the Sox thought he was a year ago, only to be disappointed when he reported out of shape and fell prey to a series of nagging injuries. Doubront is out of options, and has pitched well enough to be on the team. Like Aceves, he's pitched well enough to start.
Then there's the veteran, Aaron Cook, who doesn't have the velocity that made him one of Colorado's better pitchers a few years ago, but has a sinker that would play very well in Fenway. Cook has a May 1 opt-out clause in his contract, which gives the Sox a month to play with. The Sox could have Cook begin in Triple-A.
What, then, to do with Bard. Valentine inherited the decision to make Bard a starter, and until Sunday had dropped enough hints to indicate that he hadn't fully embraced the idea. He struck a different tone on Sunday, saying there wasn't anything he didn't like about Bard's start.
That's not to say he will be in the rotation, though. It's possible that Bard and Aceves will indeed open the season in the rotation, the way Cherington had it penciled in at the start of spring training. The Sox could elect to make Doubront the second lefty in the bullpen, with Franklin Morales, especially if Andrew Miller starts the season on the DL because of his hamstring, which would not be a shock.
The argument also could be made that the Sox bullpen will not be strong enough unless either Aceves or Bard is moved back. Even with the Sox rotation falling apart last September, manager Terry Francona felt he couldn't afford to make Aceves a starter because he needed him night after night out of the pen.
Talk to scouts, and opinion on Bard is as divided as it may be internally. One scout said he can't imagine how the Sox don't put Bard in the rotation. "That was their major offseason project, and then you pull the plug even before the kid has a chance to show whether he can do it?" the scout said. "That makes no sense."
But a key talent evaluator with another club who watched Bard pitch Sunday came to the opposite conclusion.
"He's a bullpen guy for me," the evaluator said. "His secondary pitches aren't that good. He threw some good breaking balls, but some bad spinners, too, and his changeup is too hard. Some of his sliders were good, but a lot of them were bad, and in your ballpark, hitters will sit on that pitch and hit it nine miles.
"He's a bullpen guy. And for me, some of your other bullpen guys, like [Andrew] Bailey, aren't throwing that good. I'd like to have Bard in the pen in case Bailey fails. [Mark] Melancon, to me, is a seventh-inning guy. I'd give the left-hander [Doubront] a shot in the rotation for sure. I hope they don't mess Bard up like you've seen with guys like Chamberlain, Feliz and Hughes."
All three of the pitchers he named -- Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes of the Yankees, and Neftali Feliz of the Rangers -- have been converted into starters. Chamberlain stumbled in the role; Hughes got off to a great start as a starter, winning 18 games, but has regressed since; and Feliz, a terrific closer for Texas, is new to the conversion.
There are other factors to consider: How many innings can Bard reasonably be expected to handle after throwing just 73 last season? A cautionary example is another Texas pitcher, Alexi Ogando, a converted reliever who had a great first half last season -- 9-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 17 starts -- then hit a wall and was 4-5 with a 4.48 ERA in the second.
There is also an economic component to consider. One reason Bard was willing to become a starter is he knew the potential rewards would be far greater than they would be as a setup man, or even a closer. How will he take it if he not only doesn't get to start but, with Bailey now here, won't get to close, either? And returning Bard to the pen also invites controversy the first time Bailey stumbles as closer; the phone lines would be lit up within seconds of that happening.
So we head into the final days of spring, final calls yet to be made. Chances are that the opinions will flow freely, and voices may be raised. In the end, chances are there will be consensus -- which lacks the melodrama of "power struggle" but will probably be closer to the truth.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
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