It took two managerial searches and one massive embarrassment of a season, but the Red Sox finally have the manager they wanted pretty much since the best one they ever had was gracelessly dismissed an October ago. Ben Cherington will almost certainly say it sometime around noon on Tuesday, and I’m comfortable saying it in the hours before he is formally introduced: John Farrell is the right man at the right time for this job.
Yet judging by the feedback at this address, there’s a strong sentiment that someone other than Farrell should have been hired. That’s no surprise. In a poll during my Friday chat — the day before the news broke that the job was Farrell’s — 58 percent of readers said former catcher Brad Ausmus should be the choice. Farrell, who spent the past two seasons as the Blue Jays manager after four as the Red Sox pitching coach, was the runner-up with just 20 percent of the vote.
I agree that there’s little doubt that more evidence must be gathered and further deliberations are necessary regarding Farrell’s ability and approach as a big-league manager. Toronto was an injury-plagued mess this season, and perfectly mediocre in 2011 at 81-81. But it seems to me the primary reason fans preferred Ausmus, or favored DeMarlo Hale, Tim Wallach, or Tony Pena, was one that was misguided if understandable after enduring this season’s 93-loss debacle.
They need a fresh start, not more of the same.
If more of the same means bringing back underachieving players or Dr. Charles Steinberg-crafted, transparent, spin-controlling memos on Larry Lucchino’s letterhead, I wholeheartedly agree that a fresh start is required there. More talent and transparency would go a long way to winning back the fans who were absent during so many “sellouts” in August and September. Heck, in June and July, even.
But if more of the same is a reference to Farrell being linked to all that has gone wrong recently with this organization, well, that doesn’t really make any sense. At all. There’s a warp in your timeline somewhere. Farrell was here when the Red Sox were a model franchise. The Red Sox won the World Series in his first year as pitching coach, were a win from the World Series in his second, made the playoffs in his third, and “endured” and 89-win bridge year in which championship aspirations might have been fulfilled had Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury not suffered major injuries.
I’ll take more of that same, thanks. So should you.
I have little doubt that Ausmus is going to make the first general manager to hire him look prescient, and I’m glad the Red Sox interviewed him in case the Farrell compensation could not be worked out. (If you think giving up Mike Aviles, who for a true contender wouldn’t be anything more than a valuable bench player, was too much, I have to assume you didn’t want Farrell under any circumstances. This is hardly the equivalent of giving up Manny Sanguillen for Chuck Tanner.)
But Farrell brings at least two attributes to the job that no other candidate could. First and foremost, he has a history of success with players who have faltered since he left for Toronto. If he can’t help Daniel Bard find his missing velocity and Clay Buchholz discover the consistency of his superb 2010 season and Jon Lester to get in shape and stop worrying about ancillary nonsense, then it’s probably time to move on from them. He’s succeeded where Curt Young and Bob McClure and Randy Niemann have failed. If Farrell can’t aid or salvage these guys, no one can.
The other known attribute that is unique to him is that he knows what he’s getting into, the dynamics of the entire situation, at least in relation to what a true outsider would know. He knows the vast majority of the personnel, whether that’s the players, the front office, or even the Liverpool branch of ownership. He knows the expectations of the fans and the exaggerated importance of NESN in-house. And yet he’s not stained by September 2011 like DeMarlo Hale might be.
By hiring a new manager they already know well, the Red Sox are miles ahead of the game compared to where they were last year, when they were still interviewing the likes of Dale Sveum in November and didn’t hire Bobby Valentine until the end of the month.
Which, from what I gather, didn’t work out quite so well.
Farrell’s detractors will remind you that it didn’t go quite so well for him in Toronto, either. There was the Yunel Escobar embarrassment on top of less shameful suggestions that the Jays were a sloppy, undisciplined team. (Descriptions of Brett Lawrie’s recklessness on the bases should give Red Sox fans Mike Greenwell flashbacks — I believe his philosophy was “run until they tag you, son.”) The team was 16 games below .500 overall during his two seasons, and I imagine we’ll hear more whispers about what went wrong in the coming days. Rumor has it he was terrible at coaching the power play.
I’m presuming Cherington listened to and investigated the pros and cons of Farrell’s time in Toronto, but ultimately, his personal experience working with him for four years and knowing him for much longer than that should trump any second-hand information from afar.
Besides, it’s not as if he’s going to be worse than his predecessor, a disaster against which all others will be measured. The Red Sox could name Matt Patricia manager and Josh Boyer pitching coach and it wouldn’t be a bigger mess than Valentine’s career-killing one-and-done.
We’ll find out soon enough what Farrell’s habits are tactically, but presuming he doesn’t have a recurring habit of bunting with his No. 3 hitter in the fourth inning of a tie game, his task really isn’t so difficult.
He knows the city, he knows the media, he knows the passion of the fans, and he knows the Red Sox. There will be no surprises in getting acclimated. If he is upfront with the players and makes them accountable without feeding them to the media first, if he treats them like adults unless they prove they don’t deserve to be treated that way, if he puts together a lineup based on logic rather than look-at-me hunches, and if he works wonders with the pitching like he did when he was here before and asks himself “What would Bobby do?” and does the opposite with everything else, I’m betting he’ll win over his skeptics, one victory at a time.