Before Torey Lovullo managed the Arizona Diamondbacks to a nice 93-69 season, he was the Red Sox’ bench coach and heir apparent to now-departed manager John Farrell. Now that Farrell is gone after his own 93-69 season, it’s understandable that some people might dream of luring Lovullo back to Boston to take over a team with which he is intimately familiar.
It’s also probably unnecessary. It’s also probably unnecessary to pry a more experienced manager away from another organization, a move Evan Drellich supports in his latest column:
As the Red Sox enter their managerial search, the braintrust needs to step back and remember something they may be oddly forgetting.
They have an opening to manage the Boston Red Sox.
This franchise has no trouble underscoring its national relevance, its sacred position in the sport, in any of its marketing devices. Have you heard Fenway Park is historic?
People want this job. People with other jobs right now want this job. They must. And even if they somehow don’t, it’s on the Red Sox to find out either way.
Brad Ausmus, Alex Cora or Ron Gardenhire could be excellent managers. But Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski must aim as high as possible. Dombo must conduct his due diligence on sitting managers who are currently under contract and may be interested to take the reins.
“Well, current managers are employed by other organizations, so you generally don't talk to them,” Dombrowski said Wednesday. “I wouldn't get into specifics on that, but generally you don't interview other peoples' managers, generally.”
Generally, folks. This isn’t a general opening, in a general town with a general franchise. It's the opposite.
I generally disagree with this particular strain of Red Sox exceptionalism, mostly because Boston’s manager is the person perhaps most exposed to exceptional bad side of Boston reporters and fans, but reasonable people can disagree on this. There is no question that the Red Sox are very good and the position offers the opportunity to potentially win a World Series as soon as next season if the cards fall in a certain way, and that is incredibly valuable.
To that end, Drellich throws out some intriguing names:
The Giants' Bruce Bochy’s got a losing team and all the credentials in the world. The Marlins' Don Mattingly can’t be excited about a rebuild, and he’s got big-market experience. The Astros' A.J. Hinch has been an excellent communicator with a progressive front office and played for Dave Dombrowski in Detroit. Kevin Cash is no stranger to Boston or a young roster. Maybe Mike Matheny is ready to move on from the mid-market life.
All of these people would make fine managers, and hiring Mattingly would be a troll move out of the collective galaxy brain, but with the exception of Bochy I think this set of names illustrates exactly why the Red Sox don’t need to pursue someone with ample experience because, frankly, they don’t have ample experience, or at least don’t have any more experience than they guy Dombo just canned. They certainly have fewer credentials than Farrell, which doesn’t make them bad candidates by any means, but is worth remembering when conducting this thought experiment.
Taking general cues from Farrell’s firing, my guess is that the Sox would be best served by going with someone less experienced but well-prepared, not unlike the D-Backs did with Lovullo because, really, how many more marginal wins is the Red Sox manager going to produce? My guess is: Few. This team could be still be playing this year under Farrell if they had one or two big bats, and you have to figure they will next season. If it’s true that Farrell could have won the World Series and still lost his job, as Dombrowski said, then managerial performance, in the classic sense, doesn’t seem to be at issue.
It’s my take that the manager job is about culture and communication more than it is about winning baseball games; if it was only the latter, Farrell would still be here. To that end, I think the idea that the Red Sox would be best served poaching an “experienced” manager is sort of missing the point of this culture change. Yes, the Sox have money to burn, but why burn real money if you don’t have to, other than to prove you can? Why hire someone from another team, perhaps at a cost, more or less simply to reinforce the idea that the Red Sox are a big, bad team?
All of this is to say that I’m very excited about the Alex Cora and Hensley Meulens rumors, Cora specifically, because, after watching Lovullo in Arizona, I see no reason he (or they) couldn’t walk into a clubhouse that added two big bats and lead the Sox to a title. As my friend Jake Devereaux correctly noted on a podcast we did Wednesday, just as the Sox went with the opposite of the showman Bobby Valentine in hiring Farrell, it stands to reason that the best fit for Boston might be a younger, more flexible, more culturally aware manager than the guy they just canned.
It’s not an accident that Cora and Meulens are both persons of color and my hopefuls for the job. If the Red Sox really want to change their culture, the team could do a lot worse than having a manager who can potentially communicate and empathize with the players on Boston’s roster, or that of any modern team, even if that change is purely symbolic, all other things being equal. I do not, by any means, expect it would be purely symbolic, but the Lovullo comparison holds nonetheless: One does not need experience to win games, as a manager, right out of the gate. Throw that axiom out and we’re once again left with culture and communication, and it’s hard to see how Cora (a Puerto Rico native working in the Astros organization) or Meulens (who hails from Curaçao and speaks five languages) fail that test.
The remaining argument against their lack of experience, using Lovullo as a model, is simple. One could argue Lovullo got lucky, and that in most cases — like that of Hinch, who himself managed the D-Backs for two undistinguished seasons in 2009 and 2010 before re-emerging as head of the Astros in 2015 — a failure at the outset of a managerial career can lead to success later. Whatever the merits of this argument, I don’t know how they apply to a 93-win team that has real room to improve, especially when we acknowledge that however good or bad a helmsman, he can only do so much.
The bottom line is that the Sox will be good next year no matter who’s in charge. By hiring a relative newcomer, Dombrowski could make the team better at a lower cost while enacting some real, overdue change in the clubhouse. It could lead to some problems, sure, but I think it would go a long way to solving some of the biggest ones. If we’re really gonna change this thing, we ought to do it right.