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The flip-side to the John Farrell defense

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Even this Farrell defender will admit that an unsuccessful 2016 would be reason enough to move in a different direction.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For those of you who are not here by way of random Google search, you may know me as one of John Farrell's biggest defenders. As the cries for his head have intensified over the past three years, there's been whole dozens of us standing against the tide and suggesting that maybe replacing the man on top of this twice-sunk and presently leaking ship is not so much the answer.

In 2014 and 2015, the argument was pretty simple: the talent wasn't here, and John Farrell can hardly help that. Farrell isn't to blame for father time catching up with Boston's 2013 signings in 2014, or the failures of Sandoval, Ramirez, and the rotation in 2015 (assuming you accept that Ramirez in left field was less his choice than organizational mandate). Did the team see a sudden surge in success under Torey Lovullo? Sure. They also added red-hot hitters in Travis Shaw and Jackie Bradley Jr. while removing two of the season's worst players from the lineup in the process.

In 2016, the argument has also been simple: the Red Sox are winning. This is a team that's spent a decent amount of time in and around first place, and only over the last week or two have they even briefly fallen out of the two wild card spots. Given that removing a manager is generally a shake-up move, going for a shake-up where none is warranted makes little sense.

The problem is that they haven't actually been winning for a while. We're out of the realm of a slump or a simple rough stretch at this point. The Red Sox are 31-33 over their last 64 games, and that's without the sort of roster excuses that they've had in years past. Have there been injuries to deal with? Sure, especially in the outfield. But on the whole what we've seen in recent months has been the Red Sox' record trending towards mediocrity even as the biggest actual flaw of the team (the rotation) has been ironed out.

This is not a reason to fire John Farrell immediately, mind. The Red Sox still have not yet failed, and attempting to insert a new manager while guys like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are showing no panic is a good way to take that leaking ship and capsize it entirely. If there's a strategic advantage to be gained from trading Farrell for manager A, B, or C, it's hard to imagine that outweighs the risks of leaving the roster disgruntled.

However, the defense of John Farrell is a bit fragile in that it's less about John Farrell being particularly good at his job and more about him not being particularly bad at it. Really, the argument in Farrell's favor boils down to "most managers are bad," at least when it comes to the things most are judged by (relief choices, pinch-hitters, lineups), with most fans not getting enough of a look at the other teams' guys to develop much of an opinion. John Farrell? He might be bad, but he is at least not disastrously so, with the Red Sox thus far having gone 1-0 in seasons they had the talent to contend and 0-2 in those they did not. There's something to be said for that.

This year? This year is different. The Red Sox have some of the game's best players, and relatively few excuses for not succeeding with them. If, indeed, that is what happens--October comes and they are not a part of it--then we've got a legitimate underachiever on our hands.

If the 2016 Red Sox are to fail and the 2017 Red Sox to succeed, replacing Farrell with someone else isn't going to make the difference. It might not even make any difference. But the defense of him does die out. The last three years just have not produced a real fireable offense.This Red Sox team failing to make October, and seeing their place in the standings steadily drop even as their rotation rounds into form and their run differential grows could fulfill a sort of habeas corpus to at least justify the move to the players, and suggest that removing Farrell isn't going to hurt* even if it doesn't particularly help.

That's not to say that firing Farrell would come without risk. Significant risk, at that. If the Red Sox are going to bring in someone new, they have to be damn sure they can find someone who is both sane (see: not Bobby Valentine) and not completely fundamentally unsound in the way John Farrell is not. If the Red Sox are suddenly a team that's bunting with abandon and converting stolen base attempts at a rate like the Phillies, we're all going to find ourselves missing John Farrell in a hurry.

But if John Farrell's Red Sox don't manage to get back on the horse, start stringing together some wins, and ultimately make their way into the playoffs, then there really will be no affirmative defense left for John Farrell. And whether he is to blame for that hypothetical fall or not, it will be hard to complain if the Sox choose to remove him.

*It bears mentioning that I applied this same line of reasoning to the now fairly popular Chili Davis in 2015.