Commentary

Red Sox just getting started?

Major housecleaning under way, but Bobby Valentine may stick around

Updated: August 26, 2012, 11:02 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- There was a moment during the Boston Red Sox's 8-6 win over the Kansas City Royals on Sunday at Fenway Park that spoke volumes.

It also made one contemplate what the recent, nine-player blockbuster trade that involved shipping first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, outfielder Carl Crawford and pitcher Josh Beckett -- and their $250 million in contracts -- to the Los Angeles Dodgers really means for the Red Sox organization.

[+] EnlargeBobby Valentine
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty ImagesBobby Valentine showed plenty of fire in stating the case for Dustin Pedroia to umpire Dan Bellino.

Because don't think ownership and general manager Ben Cherington are done making changes. This is only the beginning.

The moment during Sunday's game came in the bottom of the fifth inning. Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia clearly was safe on a ground ball to third base but was called out by first-base umpire Dan Bellino. Pedroia and first-base coach Alex Ochoa both were fuming. With that, manager Bobby Valentine sprinted up the steps of the dugout, losing his balance and nearly toppling over in his haste to defend his player's case.

Eventually he got out there. He was animated and finally ejected from the game. It was the fifth time this season he's been tossed, but this one seemed to have a little more meaning behind it.

After the game, Valentine was asked whether he expected to be back next season. He simply said, "Yeah."

Valentine was asked why he thought he would be back.

"I answered the question, yeah," he said. "I have a contract for next year, that's why. Obviously."

Ownership gave Valentine a vote of confidence for the remainder of the season but never mentioned anything about next season. With all the changes the club has made, not just this weekend but throughout the season, one would have to think there's a 50-50 chance Valentine will be back.

Then there's the trust factor.

Are the lines of communication open and honest between Valentine, Cherington and ownership? And what does this blockbuster deal really mean?

It's evident the club wants a new culture on and off the field. Overall, this trade was a really good thing for everyone involved.

Beckett easily could be considered the most hated man in Boston. Crawford is a good person and a great talent but probably knows that signing with the Red Sox was a mistake from the start. Gonzalez is a great player, no doubt, but he had his issues and was not the type of leader this club needed.

If the Red Sox are willing to get rid of those three players, it's a sure indication that no one -- manager, staff or players -- is safe. The organization has made it obvious it will do anything to achieve total reconciliation.

So now Cherington has a 3-0 count.

Will he get the green light to swing away, or will he remain patient and attempt to draw a walk?

The deal should put the club in a position to be successful financially and in the clubhouse, even though the current players don't seem to like the trade.

"I'll tell you what, those are some of the best teammates I've ever been around," said reliever Mark Melancon, who recorded his first save of the season on Sunday. "I'm not just saying that. Every one of those guys was fantastic. It's depressing that they're gone. Every one of them brought a lot to the table. It's unfortunate that we lost them. Great guys. They brought nothing but positive stuff to this clubhouse."

Red Sox shortstop Mike Aviles said the chemistry among the players has been sound all season.

"The whole year we've all gotten along," he said. "A lot of things were taken out of context through the media. We didn't have any bad seeds in this locker room. We all got along really good with each other. We've had fun, and I think all the younger players who come up see that and fall right in.

"We have a lot of good character people in here. Throughout the course of the year we've had a lot of good character people, and when you keep adding good character people, our team has fun and we're trying to win ballgames. I know it's been a tough year and it's not what we wanted it to be, but at the end of the day we still have to come to the park and do the job that they're paying us to do."

Newcomer James Loney played his first game for the Red Sox on Sunday. So far, he's the only major league addition from the megadeal, and along with some players recently called up from Triple-A Pawtucket, the clubhouse had a different vibe to it, especially without Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett.

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It will take some time for the new atmosphere to jell, and the players know that.

"I think sometimes it does," Aviles said. "But other times it could be an instant thing because everybody knows that we're pretty much at a point that everybody's getting evaluated. I know there are a lot of younger guys up here, too, so that extra energy that comes in helps."

Even though the Red Sox are not mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, the club already is focused on the offseason and 2013. In fact, the next six weeks will be a buffer, as the Red Sox already have begun to put their plan into place.

The remaining games on the schedule also will serve as a six-week tryout for a lot of players. Rookie Ryan Lavarnway likely will catch the bulk of the games. Even though Aviles has played well and has remained relatively healthy this season, rookie Jose Iglesias also will see playing time.

Pedro Ciriaco has played extremely well and given himself a serious opportunity to play full time next season.

"He's been great," Pedroia said. "He's hitting the ball on the barrel. He's running the bases well and has played great defense. He's been awesome, and he's learning, too. He's playing the game right. It's fun."

Then there's next season.

It appears that Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz could be shut down for the remainder of the season with a lingering right Achilles strain. At the very least, it's likely he'll be placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday.

If his season is over, he's proved -- once again -- that this club needs his production on the field and his presence in the clubhouse. Even though he does not want to talk about his contract situation (he will be a free agent again this offseason), it's obvious he wants a long-term deal to remain and ultimately retire in Boston.

With considerably more salary flexibility, Cherington should sign Ortiz to a multiyear deal.

"In this game, when you're capable of doing what I do, it's a plus, I don't care what anybody says," Ortiz said. "It's hard to hit a damn baseball. It's harder than what anyone can imagine, and if you put two, three David Ortizes in your lineup, you're going to have some results -- I guarantee you that.

"You want a guy who's capable of hitting the ball and produce runs for you. That's what everyone is looking for right now. They don't care if you're a catcher, first baseman or DH. If you produce, trust me, you're going to play."

Ortiz's focus right now is to get healthy, and he wants to play again this season before he starts to think about his contract. He was asked whether he thought that the recent salary dump would help his situation.

"I don't know. All I can control right now is doing my job," Ortiz said. "The offseason, negotiations and stuff like that, it will take care of stuff on its own."

The new Red Sox outlook eventually will take care of itself, too. Cherington has made the right decisions in the wake of a horrible season. Changes will continue to happen until the club becomes a perennial winner again.

Whether Valentine remains in the equation remains to be seen, but it appears as though the Red Sox have drawn a line in the sand. Now it's time to totally clean things up.

"There are a lot of good people trying to do the same thing together," Valentine said.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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