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Friday, October 5, 2012

Why the Red Sox Should Beware of John Farrell


Bobby Valentine’s run as manager of the Boston Red Sox came to a merciful end yesterday afternoon. By going 69-93 (the team’s worst record since 1965) and serving as a lightning rod with his blunt outspoken manner, Valentine ended his tenure as ignominiously as Nero, who allegedly plucked his fiddle as Rome burned around him. Fans are so relieved to see Valentine leave that they appear to hold a collective belief that anyone different would be better. The candidate being mentioned the most, including being linked to the front office’s wish list, is John Farrell. However, if Farrell does emerge as the front-runner  it would be a major mistake, as his hiring could prove to be just as disastrous as his predecessor.

Farrell served as the Red Sox pitching coach from 2006-2010, before being hired to manage the Toronto Blue Jays, a post he has held for the past two years. He has done little to stand out as a manager, going 154-170 with two 4th place finishes in the Al East. Even looking at his body of work as a coach it’s unclear why he is being chased so lustily by the Red Sox and their fans, as a number of factors indicate he is far from the ideal candidate.

Although the Red Sox won the World Series in 2007 and made two other playoff appearances during Farrell’s tenure as pitching coach, the team’s success was dictated more by its offense than its pitching. The team finished in the top three of the American League in OPS+ in four of Farrell’s five seasons, while only once having a team ERA under 4.00 (in 2007). Farrell was lauded for his coaching ability, but his pitchers routinely failed to meet expectations and suffered major bouts of inconsistency. Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz were just some of his pitchers who were unable to find sustained success or growth under his tutelage. His stint as manager has only sustained the reality of his mediocrity. Despite playing in the tough AL East, his collective 16 games under .500 should be considered disappointing given the amount of talent and resources at his disposal.

If you consider Farrell’s two seasons as manager to be too small of a sample size, it is still prudent to question his fit. While in Boston he was considered Terry Francona’s top lieutenant; undoubtedly a prime reason fans are so eager to see him back in the Fens. No matter how sleazy Francona’s departure was handled by the Red Sox, it was clear they were looking for a major shift in team culture. Valentine’s spectacular failure shouldn’t mean that the team looks to reclaim the old magic. Their commitment to change was set in stone by the epic trade with the Dodgers in August that purged more than a quarter of a billion dollars in future salaries for high priced and disappointing veterans. Simply put, nostalgia has no place with the 2013 Red Sox.

A major factor in the courtship of Farrell is his deal with Toronto, which runs through 2013. If the Red Sox want him to be their next manager they are going to have to pay to get him, and it won’t be cheap. By allowing their interest to play out in the media they have only driven up the price on themselves. Compensation to acquire non-players is risky business in any situation, and downright lunacy in the case of someone of Farrell’s caliber. There are few managers who are worth young prospects, and he certainly isn’t one of them. Sending out compensation would diminish a rebuilding farm system and place immediate expectations on the manager; something that obviously didn’t work well this year.

The past 13 months have been so tumultuous and divisive for the Red Sox, that their managerial search is one of the most important events in recent team history. John Farrell might be the easy choice; the nostalgic choice; the comfortable choice, but he is not the right choice. The team already struck out with Valentine, who arrived swathed in red flags and scrutiny, and don’t need to go down that road again. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and by all accounts the Red Sox received quite a lesson this past season, which fans will not gladly suffer again. With patience, due diligence, and perhaps some ingenuity, a new manager will be found. What should be clear right now is that John Farrell is not that person.

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