The Red Sox’ famously frantic fans can be forgiven for wishing that the news that greeted them late Saturday night had happened on October 20, 2011 and not October 20, 2012. For if John Farrell had been lured away from the Blue Jays one year ago — as had reportedly been the plan — perhaps they never would have endured a season that, with its 93 losses on the field and non-stop drama off-it, recalled their Cursed days of yore.
For thinking that if Farrell, the team’s former pitching coach, been in place, Jon Lester might not have endured the worst season of his career. That Clay Buchholz might not have taken until the second half to return to form. That, perhaps, even Josh Beckett would still be in the organization, instead of 3,000 miles away as a member of the Dodgers.
In fact, had the pitching been good enough and the team been in contention in late August, maybe that blockbuster trade that sent not just Beckett but fellow high-priced stars Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to Los Angeles would never have happened at all.
Of course, all that did happen, and the Red Sox wasted very little time trying to forget that it had, first by firing Bobby Valentine as manager almost as soon as the last out on their rotten season was over, and then, according to multiple reports, by hiring Farrell as their new manager on Saturday. Compensation still has to be worked out between the two teams but it’s clear now that the Red Sox were willing to do what was necessary to get the man they wanted all along a year ago.
The news of Farerll’s hiring says as much about what went wrong last offseason as it does with what the team hopes will go right in the seasons to come. Farrell was the man who was supposed to be the perfect fit, both for the respect he commanded as a former coach and the skill he’d had at working with the Red Sox’ pitchers. Instead, Boston went with the mismatched Valentine and the result was the team’s worst record in 47 years and a season full of bad headlines in which the manager could never seem to get out of his own way.
Now, to borrow the infamous phrase of one of the team’s most popular players, they have someone who knows how they do things there. That, as Dustin Pedroia pointed out during the Kevin Youkilis affair, the first of what became many off-field distractions for the Red Sox in 2012, was not the case with Valentine. It is the case with Farrell, who is familiar with the ethos that prevailed in Boston during the calmer, and far more successful, period of 2007-10, when he served as pitching coach for Terry Francona and helped the Red Sox win one World Series and reach the postseason two other times.
Though there was no way of knowing it at the time, 2012 became a lost season almost before the calendar year itself even started when the Red Sox could not reach a deal to pry Farrell out of Toronto. Instead, the club settled on Valentine, who had not managed in the major leagues in a decade and quickly looked like it. He picked an unnecessary fight with one of the team’s most respected players in April by questioning Youkilis’ dedication and had questionable in-game strategy that made him seem rusty. By July there was a reported meeting requested by players with ownership to vent about their manager. Later in the summer, during a radio interview, Valentine made what he later termed a “joke” that he wanted to punch a radio host. Then there was his end-of-season assertion that he had been undermined throughout the season by his own coaches.
The real measuring stick for Farrell will not be how well he handles the media or the players — neither of which should be especially challenging for someone familiar with both in Boston — but whether or not he is able to help end the team’s three-year postseason drought. Despite all of Valentine’s missteps what really did him in were injuries to, well, just about everybody, and underperformances from those who managed to stay healthy (like Lester, whose 4.82 ERA was more than a run higher than his career mark coming into the season).
No manager can do much to keep his players healthy, but Farrell should be able to identify and correct whatever it was that caused Lester and Buchholz to drop off so noticeably (assuming that neither is headed to Toronto in this trade), and may even be able to squeeze some positive performances out of John Lackey, who struggled terribly in 2011 and missed all of 2012 with Tommy John surgery.
Even if the pitching staff stabilizes, there are other issues to address. Youkilis (traded to the White Sox in June), Crawford and Gonzalez, who were supposed to be part of one of the majors’ deepest lineups for years to come, now have new homes. Star designated hitter and franchise icon David Ortiz, who was having a resurgent season before getting hurt and missing almost the entire second half, is a free agent. So are outfielder Cody Ross and first baseman James Loney, who was acquired in the deal with the Dodgers. Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is coming off another injury-plagued season.
Those are matters the Boston front office of owner John Henry, team president Larry Lucchino and general manager Ben Cherington can focus on now that they have settled the managerial question. Indeed, the goal for the Red Sox’ organization for the year ahead is to make sure that come next October 20, they aren’t looking for another new manager but instead making sure that they are still watching the one they just hired guide their team toward a championship.