This time last year Terry Francona was on ice. The World Series winning manager had been unceremoniously booted out the door following the September collapse. Shortly thereafter Theo Epstein decamped to Chicago, and the turmoil was on. What followed was a baseball season authored by Lemony Snicket, a series of unfortunate events that seemingly sent us all in a circle back to the previous year, the exact last place any of us wanted to go. The good thing about this circle though is we can climb off it, and on Monday the Red Sox did so by hiring John Farrell to come back to Boston and manage the Red Sox.
As has been discussed here ad nauseum, Farrell may not have been the best of the perspectives the Red Sox interviewed. Arguably, that wouldn't be the first time that happened in recent history either. (Joe Maddon sends his wishes.) To the extent that hiring Brad Ausmus or Tim Wallach represents a lost opportunity, well, maybe it does. There are virtues to going out on a bit of a limb by hiring someone who hasn't managed a major league team before. You might end up with the next genius. But there are also virtues in a known commodity. The man the Red Sox gave the job to may not have the whatever-it-is that Ausmus has and likely we'll get some kind of answer to that question in the next few seasons if Ausmus gets his shot.
In this instance however, the Red Sox didn't need to take any risks. They already blew a full season to the walking, talking, biking risk that was Bobby Valentine. GM Ben Cherington may not have made that hire, but he was still GM. There's only so much capital a GM gets, even one with as much built up trust and obvious competence as Cherington. With that in mind, getting this hire right was imperative. Generally speaking, giving away major league players for managers isn't a sound practice, but here, in this instance, it makes sense. Cherington payed one Aviles for the security of knowing the man he'll be working with more intimately than most GMs get to before hitting that "hire!" button. In that sense it was worth the cost.
Farrell may bunt too much, he may take unnecessary risks on the base-paths, but those decisions are both products of his roster in Toronto and easily correctable. During his press conference, Farrell talked relentlessly about how he wanted the Red Sox to be aggressive on his watch. That's fine, and can fit in certain specified situations, but if it's bad percentage baseball, the only thing keeping the Red Sox from losing those situations more often than not is the relationship between the front office and the manager's office. Do you think if Cherington went down to Valentine's office to discuss his bullpen moves or odd lineup construction he'd have been met with open arms? Maybe, but probably not with an open mind.
Farrell wasn't hired because he knows the right time to bunt or the right time to try to steal third base. Which is good because his record indicates pretty clearly he doesn't. He was hired because he's a good communicator, a steady presence, a hard worker, and has a working knowledge of the Red Sox organization. Those first three could be claimed by Ausmus, Wallach, Hale, and the like as well, but then that's the difference isn't it? "Can be claimed" is different than being certain it's there because you saw it and experienced it with your own eyes.
That last one, the knowledge of the Red Sox organization, is also a key distinction between Farrell and the other interviewees, but then again it's also a key distinction between Farrell and Bobby Valentine, too. Here at OTM we know all too well how bad the 2012 Red Sox were. There's lots of work to be done. There's no way that knowing the organization like Farrell does doesn't help. (How much it helps is another issue, but I'll leave that be for now.)
More and more this hire reminds me of when the Red Sox brought in Terry Francona. The knock on Francona was his teams in Philadelphia stank. They did stink and as far as that goes, it was a fair knock. Managers are ultimately responsible for how their players perform on the field, but that doesn't mean they have much control over it. Hiring Francona in Boston wasn't the first move to recognize that fact. Plenty of previously "bad" managers were hired by good teams who played well and in the process turned those managers into good managers. Joe Torre was called "Clueless Joe" by the New York media, and that was when he was hired. He hadn't even had a chance to screw up yet. Francona received a warmer welcome, but the Philadelphia question still hung in the air. In the end though, the success or failure (mostly failure) of the
late-aughts late-nineties Phillies had little to do with the mid 2000's Red Sox winning a lot of baseball games.
For Farrell, Toronto was learning on the job. The same goes for Francona in Philadelphia. I suspect that if the Blue Jays and Yankees had made an April 1st trade, New York sending its entire 40 man roster to Toronto for the Blue Jays' 40 man in return, Farrell might have been a much better manager this past season.
That's all by way of saying what Farrell himself joked upon taking the podium from Cherington. He'll be as good a manager as the talent on the roster says he is. A manager who can maximize the talent on the roster has tons of value, especially when considering where we were six months ago.
It took them two tries to get it right, but finally, the Red Sox have a manager who should, for the most part, observe the old doctor's maxim, first do no harm. That's already a big improvement over last year's squad and the off season hasn't even begun yet.