Bobby Valentine can handle Boston. Can Boston handle him?

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Bobby Valentine in Boston. I’ve seen a lot of people getting a bit worked up by all of this, but I’m having trouble seeing what the big deal is. He’s a bright guy. He’s had success. Especially in tough situations such as in New York and in the higher-pressure-than-anyone-ever-acknowledges world of Japanese baseball.

Indeed, to the extent you see anyone questioning this hire on the basis of “can Valentine handle Boston?” feel free to ignore that person, because they’re simply unaware of where this guy has been for the past decade.

There was perhaps no more scrutinized and publicized manager in the history of organized baseball than there was when Valentine managed the Chiba Lotte Marines in the NPB.  As we learned in a fantastic series of articles by Robert Whiting a couple of years ago, the Marines were Bobby Valentine:

At the entrance to the park, a flat-screen TV showed continuous loops of Bobby greeting fans. The concourse walkways inside the park were lined with 3-meter high Bobby murals, inscribed with his aphorisms — e.g. “The team is a family. A happy family makes the team stronger.” Even the food there had his image on it, including the Bobby box lunch, a brand of sake with his picture on the label, a beer named after him and Bobby bubble gum. Near the main entrance to the stadium there was a small shrine in his honor, featuring his papier mache image, and not far away there was a street named after him, Bobby Valentine Way.

But it wasn’t all just ego-stroking either.  Near the end of his tenure the owner of the Marines — wanting to cut costs and find a way to push Valentine out — orchestrated a campaign to smear and undermine him, falsely accusing him of kickbacks and nepotism and drunkenness and all manner of awfulness. The owner was later exposed and Valentine’s reputation, though he left the NPB, emerged intact.

None of that means that Valentine will win in Boston.  But it does suggest that the guy is going to be more than able to handle the scrutiny and pressure of the job. I mean, say what you will about the Boston press, the front office leakers and the insanity of Red Sox Nation, but it just doesn’t compare to a guy going from demi-god to public enemy seemingly overnight like Valentine did in Japan.

The one area of concern I still have stems from the way in which Valentine became a candidate in the first place. He was clearly the owners’ choice. He was clearly imposed on new GM Ben Cherington.  As such, if there ever comes a time when Cherington and Valentine have a dispute as to how best to use and deploy Red Sox’ personnel, you have to figure Valentine — knowing that John Henry and Larry Lucchino have his back — won’t back down.  To the extent the story of Boston’s success over the past decade has been a function of the Epstein/Cherington brain trust calling the shots and Terry Francona dutifully implementing it,  this could mark a shift.  Though to be fair, we don’t know that Henry and Lucchino weren’t calling more shots over this time than has been generally accepted. Maybe it’s an old dynamic.

Anyway: I know a lot of folks are wary of Bobby Valentine because a big famous guy coming into the dugout after several years of the unassuming Terry Francona marks a distinct shift in tone.  But to the extent anyone is worried about Valentine being able to “handle” Boston or whatever, I think it’s a pretty trifling concern.

I think the bigger question is whether Boston can handle Bobby Valentine.

Orioles sign Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar
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The Orioles have inked shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league contract, MLB.com’s Joe Trezza reported Saturday. The deal comes with an invitation to spring training and will allow Escobar to earn $700,000 in the majors if he breaks camp with the team (via Jon Heyman of MLB Network). The team has yet to formally announce the agreement.

Escobar, 32, completed an eight-year run with the Royals in 2018. No longer the .280-average, 3.0-fWAR player of seasons past, he hit several career lows after batting .231/.279/.313 with four home runs, eight stolen bases (in 10 chances), and a .593 OPS through 531 plate appearances last year. His defensive ratings also took a hit, and FanGraphs pegged him as the fourth-worst shortstop in the majors after he accumulated -12 DRS over the course of the season, only slightly higher than the Orioles/Dodgers’ Manny Machado, Mets’ Amed Rosario, and Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts.

Still, Heyman holds that Escobar is being considered for the starting gig this spring and could yet prove an upgrade over top prospects and infield candidates Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. At the very least, the veteran shortstop figures to stabilize the position given Martin and Jackson’s relative inexperience, as both infielders played to varying results in Double-A Tulsa last year and have yet to break into the majors. Should either player earn consideration for the position in camp, however, Escobar might still work his way onto the Opening Day roster in a utility role as he saw some time at third base, second base, and center field in 2018.