Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine gathered the group, asked for their attention, and spoke eloquently about personal values.
Be responsible for your actions, he said. Give respect to others, particularly those older and younger, and you will get it back in return. Embrace the opportunities that come your way and you can build the kind of life you want.
It sounded like the kind of talk Red Sox players should hear in spring training, given their September collapse and the revelations that followed. But Valentine was speaking yesterday to a group of grade-school kids at the West End House Boys and Girls Club in Allston.
After his brief presentation, which drew loud cheers, Valentine handed out gift bags and sneakers courtesy of New Balance.
“That was fun,’’ said Valentine, who considers community service an important aspect of his job. “Hopefully, it’s a good memory for them. Giving is a fun thing.’’
Valentine was back in Boston after spending Wednesday in Florida. He toured the team’s new spring training complex then drove across the state to Wellington to spend some time with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
“It was good. He let me into his home and I met his wife and kids,’’ Valentine said. “We had a good talk.’’
What kind of pitching staff Saltalamacchia has to work with next season remains in question. Outside of righthanded reliever Mark Melancon, general manager Ben Cherington has yet to upgrade the bullpen or rotation.
Valentine is prepared to go into spring training needing to identify his closer and set the roles in the bullpen.
“I’m fine with that,’’ he said. “I’d like to know, just like anybody else. But the team that won the world championship [the Cardinals] changed their closer during the season. You can win a world championship that way. I’ll figure out how to do it.’’
Valentine said he likes what he has learned about Melancon so far.
“His fingerprint is excellent,’’ the manager said. “He has the pitches, and when we talked I liked the things he said.’’
The Red Sox were interested in Athletics lefthander Gio Gonzalez right up until he was traded to the Nationals yesterday. Oakland received righthanders Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole, catcher Derek Norris, and lefthander Tom Milone in return.
Cole, Milone, and Norris were three of Washington’s top prospects. For the Red Sox, that was too high a price to pay for a pitcher who would be their No. 3 or No. 4 starter.
The Sox remain interested in Oakland closer Andrew Bailey, a deal that has been discussed for weeks. The rotation could be bolstered as well. Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt, and Hiroki Kuroda are among the free agents on the market.
Payroll flexibility is an issue. According to the Associated Press, the Red Sox will pay $3.4 million in luxury tax to Major League Baseball, up from $1.5 million last season.
The Sox were approximately $11 million over the threshold of $178 million. They were taxed at a rate of 30 percent because they also exceeded the limit in 2010.
If the Sox exceed the limit in 2012, which they almost certainly will, they would be taxed at a rate of 40 percent. The threshold will remain at $178 million for 2012 and ’13 under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement.
The only other team over the limit was the Yankees, who were hit with a $13.9 million bill. That’s down from $18 million in 2010.
“It’s not the individuals that matter, it’s the group,’’ Valentine said. “I’m sure Ben is going to put together the right group. I’ve been very impressed with everything we’ve done so far.’’
The Red Sox are expected to name their coaching staff today.
“Progress every day,’’ Valentine said. “It’s exciting. I started looking at spring training, how we want to schedule things and how to best use the facility. We’re getting closer.’’Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.