Before Brad Mills played the patsy for two and a half seasons’ worth of Houston Astros’ rebuilding like the Mad Hatter’s tea party—except that, with the Mad Hatter, at least you got some tea once in awhile—he was very familiar to the Boston Red Sox. That was Mills, serving well as Terry Francona’s bench coach, while the Red Sox went from eternally star-crossed conquered to equivalently star-aligned conquerors twice in a four-season span. And this is Bleacher Report, suggesting Mills, who was guillotined by the Astros Saturday, a week after general manager Jeff Ludhow decided he needed the mercy killing, just might be the man to take the Red Sox bridge from Bobby Valentine, post haste.
You know, as BR writer Paul Francis Sullivan observes, that the Red Sox’s clubhouse toxicities are too overwhelming when it comes to this: Jon Lester—whom Valentine left in for an unconscionable eleven-run beating in July, which triggered the latest hoopla in the first place, albeit with a two-to-three-week delay—waxed the New York Yankees on a Saturday afternoon in the Bronx, yet the number one conversation topic, in its immediate wake, is the revelation that the text message now heard ’round the world, from Adrian Gonzalez’s cell phone to the Red Sox brass, asking (if not demanding) a sit-down over their manager’s untenable behaviours, may have originated with disgruntled, now-former backup catcher Kelly Shoppach.
Sullivan’s argument on Mills’s behalf isn’t that he’s familiar enough with the Red Sox as championship winners (the 2004 and 2007 World Series, including that stupefying self-resurrection in the 2004 American League Championship Series; the 2009 postseason, the last to be visited by the Red Sox, and before Mills thought about the Houston job), but that he’s connection enough to Francona’s happier years without quite being Francona. “Perhaps a season of Valentine,” Sullivan writes, “is what the veterans needed to realize how good they had it with Francona. Perhaps a manager who has the team’s respect from experience will be the best direction to move forward.”
He alludes, of course, to September 2011, when a manager who was renowned for hands-off and allowing his capable veterans to police their own clubhouse found himself quit upon, unconscionably, perhaps in the middle of private turmoil from which stouter men than Francona have found it difficult if not impossible to work. Sullivan continues:
[A] team like the Red Sox should try to get a manager who has made his first-time mistakes with another team. Clearly Mills has an idea of what does not work from the dugout.
Bring Mills into the Boston dugout, create a new link to the title years and turn the page from this awful year.
How could it possibly be worse than the 2012 season?
Mills’s likely ideas on what doesn’t work from the dugout could well include three years’ worth of roster turnover in which established veterans, who may or may not have had certain issues obstructing their contined performance, were flipped at or around the non-waiver trade deadline in favour of players with varying capabilities and little enough apparent cohesion. If the Red Sox brass must own up to a catastrophic error and execute Valentine post-haste, they would likely have to be wise enough to allow Mills, whom they know well enough, to share his own insights on navigating those kind of troubled waters.
It isn’t just the captain’s chair that needs a refill. His crew is going to need an overhaul of varying proportions. Most Red Sox observers think the overhauling should begin with finding a taker for Josh Beckett, removing from the clubhouse and the pitching staff a too-widely-perceived toxin of dubious influence, if possible without having to include Jacoby Ellsbury in the package just to excise Beckett.
The Texas Rangers are thought to have wanted just that if they were going to take on Beckett and lessen the meal the Red Sox would have to make out of his remaining contract. The Red Sox may be reluctant to part with a still-young outfielder of broad abilities and proven leadership, who was hung very unfairly, by teammates who liked and respected him otherwise, with a no-heart tag, after rib injuries—launched when he collided violently with then-teammate Adrian Beltre on a play—put him on the disabled list three times in 2010, including a season-ending re-injury in mid-August and a trip to Arizona to rehab the injury. On the other hand, that very and unfair no-heart tag may have driven Ellsbury himself into the kind of shell that, reportedly, left him trusting only one teammate by September 2011, since-departed infielder Jed Lowrie.
The bullpen may need a bit of an overhaul. Come to think of it, Lowrie, himself bothered by injuries since 2008, was swapped to the Astros for Mark Melancon, about whom it is said often enough that he’s shown in Boston what he once showed in New York, before becoming a useful Astros closer: an inability to stay focused in the heat of a pennant race. Melancon might be thought of as a candidate for departure if a pen overhaul is called for, and the hapless Daniel Bard—of whom Valentine made a mess when he tried converting such a solid setup man into a starter—could be kept in his customary role likewise.
The Red Sox also might be wise to anchor Ellsbury, Lester, Dustin Pedroia, and Clay Buchholz, not to mention David Ortiz if he has something left in his tank, and reconstruct around them. Not to mention lefthander Felix Doubront, third baseman Will Middlebrooks, and shortstop comers Jose Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts. If John Lackey returns successfully enough from Tommy John surgery in 2013, they could yield him to that year’s non-waiver trade deadline and move him for solid players or prospects.
And if they do take Sullivan up on his suggestion, they should listen to their former bench coach upon making him at least the manager to ride 2012 out from the Valentine haboob. Mills more than many knows well enough what happens when the overhaul is done according to anything but sense, and without tea.