In the world of professional sports there is a wide range of personalities. It is part of the nature of the sports world when multi-million dollar contracts and egos come into play. It is a manager’s job to keep the more volatile personalities in check and maintain a cohesive team. Sometimes, that proves to be too much and the Boston Red Sox may be approaching that point with pitcher Alfredo Aceves.
Spring training is only days old, but Aceves is already making waves for a bizarre incident during a routine drill. He was throwing live batting practice to teammates, during which he was supposed to pitch as he would in a game. But, rather than throwing actual fastballs, he threw lob balls, much to the dismay of his pitching coach and manager. He was eventually talked into completing the practice as it was meant, but not with the sense that all was understood.
Following the day’s workout, Aceves was far from apologetic, nor did he convey that he would be agreeable for the rest of the spring. Manager John Farrell was stuck dealing with questions from the media about the incident. He did his best to keep his comments to a minimum, but he was clearly unhappy with his behavior. Some believe this was just Aceves testing Farrell in his first year leading the team. It’s almost as if one of his heroes, Dennis Rodman, was advising him.
This, of course, is not the first time Aceves has pushed buttons like this. Last year, it became evident that he and manager Bobby Valentine did not get along. In August, he was suspended for three games for “conduct detrimental to the team” for slamming Valentine’s office door after a game. The following month, he refused to give Valentine the ball when being pulled from the game, instead giving it to his catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. His attitude also didn’t sit well with some players as he got into an argument with Dustin Pedroia in the dugout over pickoff throws.
Such is the risk a team faces when having a player like that on its roster. There are some who just seem to be in their own world and don’t take to direction very well. Manny Ramirez is the perfect example of this. He often had his own agenda and way of doing things. Some were harmless quirks, like heading into the Green Monster during pitching changes or running out to left field with a water bottle in his back pocket. But others were more disruptive, like faking injuries to get days off.
With Manny, it was easy to look the other way for a long time as he was the most dangerous right-handed- hitter in baseball. In his 7 ½ years in Boston, he hit .312 with 274 home runs and was an all-star every year with the Red Sox. He was also a huge part of the two World Series-winning teams, earning the World Series MVP Award in 2004. He was such an offensive force, the Red Sox were willing to put up with his antics for years. But it still got bad enough with him that the team had to trade him in 2008.
It’s not as easy, though, to make the case that Aceves is valuable enough to the team to warrant keeping him around. If this was last offseason, that might be a different story. In 2011, Aceves was an instrumental member of the Boston pitching staff. He went 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA that year pitching mostly from the bullpen, but also adding in a few spot starts. During that year he also became the pitcher with the highest winning percentage in MLB history with a record of 19-2, a title he has since given up.
That’s because last year was a disaster. His record from the year before was flipped, as he ended the season 2-10 with a 5.36 ERA. When Andrew Bailey injured his thumb during spring training, Aceves became the closer. Based on the previous year it seemed like a good idea. But, in 2012, Aceves ended up leading the American League with 8 blown saves.
One could make the argument that his poor performance was due to his dissatisfaction with Valentine and that he is still a very talented pitcher who can be valuable to the 2013 Red Sox. However, the bullpen may now be the area in which the team needs the least amount of help. With Joel Hanrahan, Bailey, Koji Uehara, Daniel Bard, Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller, and Craig Breslow, the Boston bullpen looks as strong heading into the season as it has in years. Aceves’s services aren’t as important there now as the last two years.
At this point, Aceves isn’t needed in the starting rotation either. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, and Felix Doubront will likely fill the five starting spots to begin the season. Franklin Morales is also worthy of a spot at the back-end of the rotation, as well. Aceves, with a 2-1 record and 4.18 ERA in 9 career starts, doesn’t exactly command consideration for a full-time starting job, either, even if that’s what he wants to do.
Thus, he is looking at being a middle reliever with the potential to fill in elsewhere when needed. That isn’t the type of role in which a team will generally put up with a problem -causing player. It’s not worth it. And that’s what the Red Sox need to realize now. They have spent the last few months cleansing the clubhouse of the headaches that plagued the team for a year-and-a-half. Chances are the Red Sox still see value in keeping him and will find a role for him on the roster. At the same time, though, his leash may be getting shorter and, with many more outbursts like this latest incident, Boston should cut ties with him and move on with one less headache.