Your Favorite Valentine
Posted by JD on June 25, 2010
UPDATE: I spoke too soon: Bobby Valentine is no longer a candidate for the Marlins’ job (God, I hate linking to Jon Heyman). I guess that means Valentine is still a candidate to replace Jerry Manuel. That’s all fine and well, but doesn’t mitigate my original point: a non-zero percentage of Valentine’s success as Mets manager came from his familiarity with the AAA team, a luxury that he cannot replicate.
It looks like Bobby Valentine is going to become the next manager of the Florida Marlins. That’s going to disappoint a large segment of Mets fans: Valentine is a colorful character who has achieved success in the major leagues, and he’s also a tangible link to one of the more successful periods in recent Mets history. I understand why fans are upset that he’s going to Florida: I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal.
Valentine’s Mets teams succeeded because he made the most of what he had a Hall of Famer (Mike Piazza), several All-Stars (Al Leiter, Mike Hampton, Robin Ventura) and some pretty marginal bench players, whose performance Valentine maximized. They were overachievers, and that’s certainly a credit to Valentine, but I feel like a fairly important fact has gotten lost throughout the years: Valentine managed the AAA Norfolk Tides for 283 games over two years before taking over the Mets. His 1994 squad was little more than Jeromy Burnitz, Rico Brogna, and Butch Huskey, but the 1996 squad included Benny Agbayani, Alberto Castillo, Matt Franco, Alex Ochoa, Jay Payton, and (most importantly) Rick Reed, all of whom would go on to contribute to Valentine’s Mets teams.
Valentine managed that 1996 team to an 82-59 record, good for second in the International League West. He developed a relationship with those players, an appreciation of their strengths and weaknesses that he would later use to his advantage as manager of the Mets. It’s not the sole reason why he succeeded, but it was an inherent advantage that he had that can’t recreate with the Mets (or the Marlins, for that matter).
Valentine is a smart, resourceful man. I don’t doubt that he’ll have some success with the Marlins. But he’ll be stuck with the same limitations that faced Joe Girardi and Fredi Gonzalez before him: an owner (Jeffrey Loria) whose priorities lay in profits, not necessarily performance. Valentine will again be forced to maximize limited roll players, only this time without the benefit of experience with them. It’s not an insurmountable task, but it’s a handicap nonetheless.
It would have been the same story if he took over the Mets: he doesn’t know any of these players and would have to spend valuable time learning how to use them. Combine that with an eight year absence from American professional baseball, and it might actually be a bit of a hindrance.
I would have enjoyed seeing Bobby Valentine manage the Mets again, but I don’t think it would be the panacea some of you were expecting.