Drellich: Firing Farrell alone won't fix Red Sox clubhouse problems
The Boston Red Sox announced Tuesday morning that manager John Farrell will not return for the 2018 season, so the search begins to find his replacement. Here are things to consider with the team's decision to move on from Farrell...
1. You have to have a good, attainable replacement in mind.
There’s only one Terry Francona. The alternative for Farrell absolutely matters. There a couple other managerial openings — Mets, Phillies — and maybe others come open. But hopefull the Red Sox have someone in mind to replace him, and the field is hard to evaluate. Could the Sox go out and lure someone who’s with another team? That’s how they got Farrell, after all. Bottom line: you can do worse. You really can.
2. The optics are off on a basic level.
Optics don’t drive the bus, or at least, they shouldn’t. Something that people perceive as strange can be the right decision. But simplistically speaking, firing a manager who had back-to-back 93-win seasons with division titles, the first time that's been done in franchise history, does appear a little odd.
3. Farrell deserved consideration for manager of the year.
Seriously. And he also could be considered one of the worst this year. Why? Because of all the public drama the Red Sox went through. Farrell can lose points for the fact those dramas ever occurred, and for how he handled them — the David Price-Dennis Eckersley saga, for example. The sign-stealing matter is on the list, but the Orioles beanball war was a bad tone-setter. But the flipside is this: the Sox won 93 games despite all those theatrics. Did Farrell help bring the Sox out of trouble? Or did he make it worse, or bring it on in the first place? Or did he do too little to prevent it?
4. He absorbs shots relatively well.
Give Farrell credit for, by and large, not lashing out. He stared down WEEI’s Rich Keefe in a rather entertaining moment this season. He’ll have his angry answers throughout a season, as most managers will. But he did seem to find a way to take all the heat in stride. One can imagine a lot grumpier.
5. A new voice could better reach the room.
The evidence here grew this year, loudly. One player agent on Monday spoke of Farrell’s perceived shortcomings in grooming young leaders. It's safe to say at this point that Farrell does not have the room fully behind him. Even the greatest conflict manager may not have been able to reach Price regarding the Eckersley dust-up. But maybe someone else needs to try, because Price isn't going anywhere. And for as well as Price pitched at the end of the year, he seems to bring a lot of negativity at other points — or at the very least, unnecessary drama. Don’t think unnecessary drama matters? Consider how Farrell talked about Chris Sale before this ALDS began. “I think this [first playoff start] somewhat compares to the way he came into Boston following the trade. He has handled it without distraction, he's handled it with I think a consistency to his routine and being true to himself.” There’s the keyword: distraction.
6. The room itself has too many cracks, and needs to change.
WEEI’s Rob Bradford explained this dynamic well. “This has not been a bad clubhouse. They like each other. But the cut-the-crap quotient seems low, and that would seem to be a problem. This is where a manager can't always be the solution.”
Some players will tell you the players govern themselves. Others in the game will say that the tone for everything really does start with the manager. Let’s assume it’s both. But the Sox’ room has two clearly emotional personalities who are considered leaders: Dustin Pedroia and David Price. How do you balance them out? It's a question for Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. Look at Pedroia’s tantrum in Game 4 when he went down looking with the bases loaded. Hanley Ramirez is something of an act: goofy if you’re being kind, grating if you’re in the middle, or just checked out if you’re on the negative side. Pedroia’s building a checkered reputation for himself, though. He played through pain, and no one would question his dedication. But “It’s not me, it’s them,” is a hard look to shake. He doesn’t readily enjoy a lot of media interactions. If you have Price and Pedroia trying to fight the world together, any manager may be at their mercy. Pedroia on Monday was asked if he thought Farrell should return next year. Pedroia, no dummy, did not say, “Yes, I do.” He did give a positive, albeit generic answer, but didn't directly answer the question. “I thought John did a great job. We won the division,” Pedroia said. "There was never any quit in this team. I'm proud of everybody in here. We dealt with a lot and our fight continued every single day. I know we didn't achieve our goals, but I'm proud of how everybody went about their business and showed up for everybody and played to win."
7. Game management
Yeah, maybe. Joe Girardi had a playoff gaffe this year. So did Buck Showalter last year. Joe Maddon might have screwed up Aroldis Chapman in last year's World Series Farrell did better this year than probably any other year before it. The Red Sox lost Game 4 of the ALDS with their two best pitchers, Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel, taking the ball. Sale, though, should have been done after four innings. Sale also could have started the game, considering how many pitches he wound up throwing. Not putting Price into the rotation to begin with, and trying to build him up, stands out as a potential missed opportunity. But the second-guess game won’t ever stop, even with a new manager in the seat. Craig Kimbrel's regular-season ninth inning, save situation adherence was ridiculous.
8. The postseason performance means someone's head needed to roll
Somebody has to fall on the sword, right? Farrell’s not the reason the Sox starting pitching was atrocious in this year’s Division Series, or last, or the reason the hitting didn’t show up at all last year. The Sox were more competitive this year, at least in the final two games of the Division Series. It’s a short series, but if two straight 93-win teams don’t get it done, you arrive at some classic, albeit flawed thinking: shake it up.
9. Based on Farrell's personality and background, he looked handcuffed
They say you have to be a player’s manager these days. But Farrell comes from a no-nonsense background. He also comes from a prior generation of ballplayers. He knows, in short, stupidity when he sees it. He must. He knows — he must — how useless the Price-Eckersley thing was. But he couldn't always do something about it. Maybe in a different environment, he could better be himself.