ESPN's Tim Kurkjian joined Mut & Merloni Wednesday to offer his thoughts about Red Sox spring training. New manager Bobby Valentine has come in and made some changes in the team's approach to the preseason, and Kurkjian said that some of those changes haven't been as well-received by all the players.
"I think he's doing the right thing. I think it's something that he has to do," Kurkjian said. "Overall, it's going just OK, from what I can see. My warning -- if that's the right term -- to all the Red Sox players is, Bobby Valentine is first and foremost a teacher. He is not going to allow somebody to say something or, more important, do something incorrectly and then get away with it. Bobby is going to correct them no matter who they are, and it's going to be done his way.
"When I say that, trust me when I tell you this: His way is the right way. He's going to teach them the way to get a secondary lead, how to do cutoffs and relays, and if they don't listen to him, he's going to keep harping on it. And the teaching is not going to end in spring training. It is going to go through the rest of the season. All Red Sox fans and players should understand that this is going to continue, and yet they will never -- never -- be outfoxed in a game as long as Bobby Valentine is managing."
Asked to further explain his comment that "it's going just OK," Kurkjian said: "That's what I sense, is that the players didn't know what to make of Bobby yet. And Bobby didn't know what to make of the Red Sox system yet. Now, this is probably all normal and natural for a guy who's coming in making some changes, hasn't managed in the major leagues in 10 years. All of this is expected.
"And yet, I think it's been even more confusing for some of the players, like, 'Why are we doing this?' I'm telling you, though, eventually, whether it's late in spring training or that game in early May, they're going to look back and say, 'That's why we did that in spring training. We just got an out on a play because we were prepared for it.' Bobby will have them prepared for everything. And again, if they don't like it, I don't think he cares about that. He's going to get it right, no matter what. Even is some of the players are wondering, 'What are we doing here?' "
Outfielder Carl Crawford is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2011 season, his first in Boston after signing as a free agent. Kurkjian said he does not have high expectations.
"I'm hopelessly positive about things, but I don't think he's in the right place right now -- not meaning Boston. I mean, I think at this point he's going to have a similar year to last year, as opposed to those really good years in Tampa Bay," Kurkjian said. "As we know, this guy's all about comfort, he's all about trust. At least that's what the Rays people have told me. And if he's not comfortable and he doesn't trust the people around him -- meaning all the people around him -- he's not going to be the player that he needs to be.
"I didn't sense from spring training that he was in the right place mentally. He is going to have to be if he's going to be a different player than last year. You guys saw it: He was tentative in the outfield. He was tentative on the bases. Nobody that fast should be stealing [only] 18 bases in a season. And he didn't swing the bat like he did in Tampa Bay, either. He is crucial to this team being a really good team. One through six in this order should be the best in the American League, but only if he's the 2 hitter and the Carl Crawford from Tampa Bay. And I'm not sure he's that guy right now."
Following are more highlights from the conversation.
On the difference in Valentine's managerial style from his rookie season to now: "He's just smarter certainly than he was back then. He was young, he was impulsive, and even though he still believes he's the smartest guy in the room, now he has a more diplomatic way of going about explaining that. So, even though he'll yell at a player now and show some frustration, he has grown up to the point to understand that the players have changed dramatically from 1985 to 2012, and that dealing with the players is now -- he has to be more than just a teacher, he has to be a master psychologist to figure out, 'How am I going to get the best out of these guys?' That's what I think he's learned. And this thought that he's going to come in and just push everybody around, that simply is not going to happen. He's going to push, but when he realizes, 'If I push this guy too hard he's not going to respond,' that's what Bobby has learned in the last 27 years."
On shortstop Jose Iglesias: "I don't think he's going to be the starting shortstop. That's certainly not what I gathered with my one day [at spring training] with the Red Sox -- that he's going to Triple-A and he needs to work on what he can do at the plate. With this lineup you would think you could flip him in there, tell him to hit .190 and we're going to be fine. But at the same time, he needs some more seasoning. And that's why Mike Aviles is there. That's why Nick Punto is there."