As the Red Sox embark on yet another hunt for a new manager, the availability of John Farrell has come up yet again.
After a second straight disappointing season north of the border, the Red Sox are hoping that Toronto will be more willing to move on from Farrell as skipper than it was last season, when the Jays demanded Clay Buchholz in return for allowing Farrell to manager Boston. Amid a flagging team that won 85 games two seasons ago and dropped all the way to 73 this year, Toronto might be ready to make a change. That would sit just well with the Red Sox, as the front office has a love affair with Farrell and desperately wants him in the manager’s seat.
On the face of it, it’s easy to see why the Red Sox would want Farrell. He’s one of the smartest men in the game, with Cleveland president Mark Shapiro saying once that Farrell could be a manager or a GM of any team. His pedigree as pitching coach in Boston, turning around the staff and allowing Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester to emerge, is safe. He has the trust of the front office and the players, and would guide the team with a firmer hand than Terry Francona, while also working to keep things internal. It seems like a match made in heaven.
So why am I so skeptical of Farrell? Why am I hoping the team goes in a different direction?
A lot of it has to do with Farrell’s tenure in Toronto, but not all. For starters, the Blue Jays have clearly regressed. Is that Farrell’s fault, or is that an organizational issue? The minor leaguers that came up haven’t produced as expected, which might be more of an organizational failure, but how about the major leaguers who have regressed? What about the pitching, which looked like a burgeoning strength and is now almost at the drawing board phase again? There’s also the case of Omar Vizquel, baseball’s elder statesman that is retiring. Vizquel came out and said that the team was inexperienced and prone to making mistakes on the field with no accountability. Farrell refuted this, stating that Vizquel doesn’t really know what goes on behind closed doors or in practice with fundamentals, which Vizquel did not attend. Who’s right here? Probably a bit of both, but the fact that Vizquel had to come out and say this publicly certainly piqued my interest.
Farrell is the easy choice. The Red Sox know what they would get with him. Having experience skippering a team, Farrell might even be better once he gets a new slate in Boston with which to work with. He can apply his beliefs, learn from his experience in Toronto and come into a situation with the full backing of management and players who are fans of him. But things change quickly. Players can fall out of love with managers, management can suddenly find out that a skipper isn’t as impressive as he came off as.
I’ve chatted with a few different Red Sox fans who also expressed trepidation about the hiring, mostly for the reasons above.
Would it be better to bring in someone with new blood? A new way of looking at things, with a strong reputation? Managerial experience should be irrelevant here. How well does the person communicate with players? Will they guide the players with a firm hand and force players to be accountable? How does he handle conflict — does he air it out in the public, keep it internal, or a mixture of both? There is so much that goes into determining the worth of a manager, and Farrell has a leg up on the competition simply because Boston already knows him. But is that reason enough to exclude such talented candidates like Ryne Sandberg, the heir apparent in Philadelphia? How about Dave Martinez of the Rays, who somehow hasn’t been handed a job despite the success of the Rays and Martinez’s presence on the team? Or is following the trend of Mike Matheny and Robin Ventura the way to go by tabbing local boy Brad Ausmus or 2004 hero Bill Mueller?
Right now, it’s obvious the Red Sox aren’t particularly keen on anyone else beyond Farrell. That’s unfortunate, because I think the Red Sox have a real chance here to hire not just who they are most comfortable with, but who the best person is for the team — and the Sox desperately need an innovative thinker, not just the same old every time. Hey, Farrell could be that guy, I’m just not as sold on it as Boston seems to be. They need to go into the interview process with an open mind, to allow Farrell to be judged against his competition. And if someone else is a better fit, then hire that man.