The Red Sox do not need John Farrell so much as they need someone like him, which admittedly may be trickier than it seems. Farrell has the polish and intelligence to deal with the Red Sox owners, administrators, and media. He has the credibility and presence to deal with the players. And he communicates clearly, directly, and, when needed, sternly.
What Farrell would not have in Boston, at least at the moment, is the players he needs to contend with the iron of the American League, which really should be the focus of the Red Sox this offseason.
And which is why the Sox must move relatively quickly with their managerial search, whether it leads them to Farrell or anyone else.
Managerial searches are difficult to completely botch, after all, which speaks even greater volumes about the disaster that was Bobby Valentine. Dale Sveum surely would have lasted longer than this. By the time next spring rolls around, the Red Sox will have had three managers (non-interim) in three seasons for the first time since the early 1930s, which hardly qualifies as the golden age of Red Sox baseball.
When Terry Francona was hired, nobody imagined he would last eight years or that he would win two world titles. Joe Torre was hardly the managerial icon he is now when the Yankees hired him to replace Buck Showalter between the 1995 and 1996 seasons.
In baseball, the players make the manager far more frequently than the other way around, which is why nobody should get too bogged down with Farrell, no matter how highly we regard him.
In Seattle, Eric Wedge has many of the same qualities Farrell does. The White Sox’ Robin Ventura is similar, too. The Red Sox will find someone capable to manage this team — despite the disaster that was Valentine — whether it is Farrell or not.
But rebuilding the roster and pitching staff? That will be a far more challenging and important task, whether the Red Sox are managed by Connie Mack or Connie Britton.
With all due respect to Farrell, let’s remember how he ended up in Boston in the first place. From 2001-06, Farrell was director of player development in Cleveland, where he crossed paths, if only for a year, with Francona. Prior to the 2007 season, Francona lobbied for Farrell to replace Dave Wallace as Boston’s pitching coach. The point is that Farrell was Francona’s guy more than he was anyone else’s, though he certainly forged his own reputation and relationships by the time he left the club.
If Ben Cherington wants Farrell, fine. But if Farrell is the preferred choice of John Henry, Tom Werner, or Larry Lucchino, let us all cast a wary eye. If Lucchino is indeed the man who runs the Red Sox, as Henry has told us, then we should all remember that Lucchino’s two managerial choices were Grady Little and Valentine. Both seemed like name selections more than baseball ones, which should make you scrutinize the Farrell situation now.
Is Farrell a better in-game manager than Little, a better communicator than Valentine? It would seem so. Maybe that makes those comparisons unfair. But Farrell will end up like both of those men if he does not get what Francona possessed in Boston — and we’re not talking about the relationship between Francona and general manager Theo Epstein that generally remained quite solid for nearly a decade.
We’re talking about talent. During the same winter that Francona was hired, the Red Sox added Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke to a roster that had taken them to extra innings of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Francona excelled in crisis management that October, but he would be the first to tell you that he had the horses.
All of this should certainly resonate with Cherington, whose rookie season in Boston did not go much better than Valentine’s — at least on the field. (Cherington certainly did not create the off-field distractions that Valentine did.) Cherington’s primary job last offseason was to add reliable innings to the starting rotation and rebuild the back end of the bullpen, and he did neither. In fact, he failed miserably at both, producing the trio of Daniel Bard, Mark Melancon, and Andrew Bailey as solutions.
We said it then and we’ll repeat it now: strike one, strike two, strike three.
But then, in some ways, the entire Red Sox season was dotted with dreadfully insufficient at-bats.
Without question, Cherington has his work cut out for him this offseason. The unloading of Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez was an enormous stroke of good fortune for the Red Sox, and nobody wants to see the Sox make similar mistakes with free agents like Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke. Boston’s best options may come on the trade market or in smaller, solid free agent signings, making Cherington’s role all the more critical. Red Sox acquisitions this winter will not be the result of them having the most money. They will be the result of scouting, evaluation, smarts.
Last winter, the Sox might have had Edwin Jackson, Joe Saunders, or Hiroki Kuroda on one-year contracts. Heck, they could have had Wei-Yin Chen. All four of those pitchers contributed to playoff teams this season — and are still contributing now.
As teams get eliminated from the playoffs, the pool of managerial candidates may increase. However enamored the Sox may be with Farrell, Cherington should have had Plans B, C, D, and E in place a long time ago; he should have a list of candidates ready to go so that he can act quickly and decisively with regard to the manager.
That decision, after all, is relatively easy compared with the ones Cherington faces on his roster.
And it is far, far less important.