For those who haven’t heard or simply couldn’t care less about baseball (probably the latter), the Red Sox announced that John Farrell will be returning to the dugout for the 2016 season. My initial reaction….Umm, why???
If this is truly the case, I thought, the Sox just squandered a golden opportunity to turn the page and start fresh with a new voice and a new direction. I know I know, it would have looked horrible if they dumped Farrell in favor of someone else, whether it was Torey Lovullo or not. I get that. But you can’t overlook the results on the field since Farrell’s unfortunate yet treatable diagnosis was made public on August 14th.
Before his emotional press conference which ended his season, the last place Red Sox were 50-64 and inching closer to their worst season in 50 years. But from that point on, whether they were ‘playing for’ Farrell or benefitted from Lovullo’s presence as interim manager, the Sox played the kids, got hot and finished the year 28-24. I’m not saying that Lovullo is the next Casey Stengel, but the players responded and played much better baseball after he took the helm. Moreover, Farrell is a solid pitching coach but he’s not a major league manager. He just isn’t.
Yes, Farrell won a World Series in 2013. But aside from that season where literally everything went right, his track record as a manager has been spotty at best. In-game example: on May 15th of this year in Seattle, he elected to pitch to Mariners’ DH Nelson Cruz in bottom of the 9th with first base open- Cruz then ended the game with a walk off single to left. You CAN’T pitch to Cruz in that spot. You have to put him on with first base open and take your chances. Personnel example: in a lost season with nothing left to salvage and youngsters like Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr. ready to play, he inexplicably stuck with veterans Shane Victorino (later traded to the Angels) and Mike Napoli (shipped to Texas where he finally rose above the Mendoza Line) far too long, and the Sox went down faster than the Titanic as a result. Being loyal to players is one thing, doing so while your team sinks deeper and deeper into a hole due to their lack of production is another. I’m compelled to include the unmitigated disaster that was Hanley Ramirez in left field, but I’m not going to do that. Simply put, Farrell didn’t ask for Ramirez and probably didn’t want to play him, but the team was paying him so much money that he had no choice but to play him. The result was a black hole in left field and probably the worst defense in the history of the game. No, I’m not exaggerating. It was an embarrassment. Still, that doesn’t excuse Farrell’s failures. In his five years as a Major League manager, his 2013 World Championship is sandwiched in between two fourth place finishes in Toronto and back to back last place finishes in Boston. And they want him back?
And then it struck me, of course they want him back. Why? Because new President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski has a Get Out of Jail Free Card for the 2016 season, so why not take advantage? He’ll no doubt make some moves this offseason to try to improve the roster, and retaining Farrell as manager keeps his ass out of the fire if the team performs below expectations. They already sent GM Ben Cherington packing, and even though the Red Sox are saying all of the right things, it’s obvious that Dombrowski wants to hire his own guy. He probably has Jim Leyland on speed dial. Dombrowski worked for John Henry in Florida, and I’m sure that when he took the job, there was a gentleman’s agreement that he could run the team with no interference from Henry, Werner, Lucchino, or anyone else. So the rationale was likely “let Farrell come back to start the year….if they play well, great….if they fall into the cellar, we have a fall guy…and then we can ‘choose a new direction’ with a new manager, and give John a token front office job and spin it however we want….like he doesn’t feel like managing anymore.” Besides, we all know how image-conscious the John Henry Red Sox are about everything, especially after the fiasco with Terry Francona. This allows them to (potentially) get who they want while saving face.
I wish John Farrell nothing less than a full recovery and a long and healthy life, but I think he’s heading for the Fenway Gallows sooner rather than later. There was no pressure on him during his first year in 2013, nobody expected much from the Sox and anyone who says they were is lying through their teeth. To his credit, his guys played hard for him, rallied around the Marathon Bombing tragedy, and won a World Championship. Let’s be honest here, his illness is the only reason that he’s coming back as manager of the Red Sox. In Boston, last place finishes are simply not tolerated, never mind finishing last two straight years (some of that is on management too- when you’re relying on Clay Buchholz to be the ace of your pitching staff, you’re screwed). So bringing back Farrell really isn’t as stupid and nonsensical as it sounds- it’s just another in a long line of mind games from the brain trust on Yawkey Way.