Red Sox

New manager will shape Sox' -- and Dombrowski's -- future

New manager will shape Sox' -- and Dombrowski's -- future

BOSTON -- An executive who has yet to prove he knows what it takes to navigate Boston is now charged with hiring someone to face its media and fans every day, for a managerial job that Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski noted brings even more second-guessing than his own.

“It’s just like a general manager’s spot that they’re open for questions and debates and second-guessing, and even more so than a general manager,” Dombrowski said Wednesday. “Because they’re making moves when you can bunt, or hit and run, or steal.”

Both men better hope the fit is right. What the next manager of the Red Sox will prove is whether Dombrowski himself was really the right hire. Whether Dombrowski actually understands what it takes in this city, and whether he understands the psychology of the players he has asked ownership and fans alike to pay millions for.

THE FIRING OF JOHN FARRELL

In the search for John Farrell’s replacement, Dombrowksi noted the importance of media savvy. One figures that to mean Dombrowski will value how well his hire handles the Boston market on a whole: all its potential pitfalls, not just the media.

“Probably here, I think your ability to deal with the media probably weighs more than I would say in Detroit,” Dombrowski said. “That's probably an important part, maybe more so than it would have been in Detroit and some other markets.”

The problem is this: What evidence do we have that Dombrowski himself understands the market, the media, the fans?  The signing of $217 million David Price screams the opposite. The deterioration of Farrell’s time with the Sox is owed in part to the presence and antics of Price, after all. 

On Sept. 30, the day the Sox clinched the division, Dombrowski not only twice said Farrell had done a “great job,” but expressed some surprise at how much heat he receives. 

Surprising little town for newcomers, indeed.

“Managing is a tough job, period,” Dombrowski said during the champagne celebration. “I think it’s a tougher job here than maybe anywhere else. The scrutiny you receive. Being in the game as long as I’ve been in the game, I’m amazed somewhat the scrutiny aspect of it. And then when I look at the names behind his desk, the number of pictures and how few guys have stayed a long time. It just shows you it’s a tough job. He’s done a great job. He’s a tough guy.”

Well, that was some empty talk about a “great job” now wasn’t it?

Back in August, Dombrowski was asked about a pair of assertions: that he misjudged Boston himself, and that in turn his lack of understanding led to an unhappy pairing with Price. 

I don’t know I would get into that type of discussion from a public perspective,” Dombrowski said. “I think David Price is a tremendous pitcher. He’s had a difficult year when it comes to injuries. For him starting in spring training, sometimes injuries put you in a position where, just overall from a player perspective, it can knock you off kilter a little bit. He's a very intelligent individual. He’s hard working. So I think my personal feelings on that type of situation will be kept to myself.”

Dombrowski loves keeping things to himself, as Wednesday reinforced. A basic explanation of Farrell’s dismissal became privileged information.

That choice was poor. Continued speculation around Farrell will create more questions for his players and others in the organization, chatter that won’t help the organization or the players move on. Dombrowski had an opportunity to set a basic narrative, and could have done so delicately. He need not drag Farrell through the mud to provide a framework.

Perhaps that type of finesse eludes Dombrowski. He’s a power guy: big trades, big signings. Well, not big enough bats. 

Dombrowski acknowledged on Wednesday that the Sox' offensive shortcomings in 2017 were his own. What he did not dive into is the fact you can tie those shortcomings at the plate to his choice not to add significant offense while staying under the luxury tax threshold this year. To an inability to be creative with that luxury tax threshold — or at least, a lack of foresight to do so.

He needs the foresight now. He needs to be able to tell which way the wind is blowing in his locker room.

The next manager of the Red Sox could be someone who has pre-existing relationships with some players, like bench coach Alex Cora does with Dustin Pedroia. It could be someone cut from a more traditional cloth, like Diamondbacks bench coach Ron Gardenhire.

The room itself needs change beyond the manager, likely, as well.

“I think we can get better as a team," Dombrowski said. “We'll see what happens in that regard. I'm not ready to get into all that. I think it's a situation where we went through a transition. We did win the division. You can always get better. We look to get better. I think young players' growth will make a difference in that regard. A new manager coming in will provide just an overall different dynamic, a change. And we'll see what happens in that regard.”

In August, Dombrowski was asked whether today’s managers are players’ managers rather than disciplinarians. If you’re looking for clues Gardenhire or someone like him might be the guy, read into this what you will.

"That’s a very difficult and lengthy answer, I think, because I think that the reality is that the game has changed,” Dombrowski said. “But you still have to be a disciplinarian . . . It depends on how you describe discipline. If players came out and nobody was on time and people didn’t stretch and you needed ‘em to stretch and they didn’t listen to their signs that you’re supposed to do, well, you can’t accept that type of behavior. But I was with Jim Leyland, jeez, 30 years ago and we often discussed it. He said the way he deals with players late in his career was a lot different than he did early in his career. 

“Because if he handled them the same way later in his career that he did earlier, he would have lost his players. Because, and, I think it’s the present generation. You just have to be aware of what motivates today’s young people. My son is different than -- what my parents did for me is a lot different than what my son did. It’s really, it's a lot different because when you talk about youngsters, and today is a lot different. You don’t see coaches at other levels just yelling and screaming at people. Or, when I played football coaches pounding in your helmet and hitting those things, you don’t see that anymore.”

“I still think discipline is important,” Dombrowski continued. “And I think also what’s very difficult is for people [from the outside] to evaluate situations. Which, there’s a lot of privacy that’s involved. People from outside are never going to know really what we do behind closed doors. So you don’t know how we approach topics and what topics we discuss and how we discuss them. But I can assure you, I don’t ever remember a topic that since I've been here, that we haven’t approached from a discipline perspective or a thought process on how we want to see things handled.”

Privacy is Dombrowski’s preferred route, then and now. It may be wise at times, but not universally. He needs to be more consistently nimble with his words, just as he need be better distinguishing in his personnel choices.

You don't get to hire a lot of managers before you yourself are fired.

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Drellich: Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez control Blake Swihart's future

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Drellich: Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez control Blake Swihart's future

If the Red Sox really believed in Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon long term, would Blake Swihart still be here? 

Swihart is static. There’s an idea of what he can be someday, but he’s not presently growing as a bench player. Whether his future lies with the Red Sox, then, appears to depend entirely on others: Leon and Vazquez. At some point, one of the trio needs to be moved, be it during the season or in the winter at latest.

Less than a month into 2018, Swihart is getting even fewer opportunities than anticipated. Manager Alex Cora didn’t use Swihart in the field during blowouts to start the road trip: not behind the plate, not at third base, not in left field. Some at-bats at DH were Swihart’s pittance as the Red Sox trounced the Angels.

Cora’s going out of his way to get most everyone playing time, but Swihart’s mostly spectating.

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“We’re in such a good groove on the mound, and you don't want to break the rhythm,” Cora said in Anaheim. “It’s a tough one. It’s one I’m fighting on a daily basis, and I’m trying to keep the communication there. But as a player, as a utility guy back in the day, sometimes I had great days. Some days I didn't want to see the manager. I know that. If there's a day I look and he doesn’t want to talk to me, I understand. I’ve been in his shoes before.”

Now, Cora doesn’t control the roster, Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski does. And the roster overall is doing just fine with Swihart in limited use. But there must be some sort of plan if Swihart’s going to continue in this non-role for an entire season. There has to be a pay-off for the Red Sox, considering Swihart’s trade value isn’t getting any better. What else could the Sox be thinking about, aside from uncertainty in Vazquez and Leon? (Simply hoping and praying for a better trade offer for Swihart doesn't sound reasonable.)

“I’m fighting the situation, but it’s not like we’re feeling sorry,” Cora said. “He’s part of this group and he’s important. There’s more that comes into the equation and he knows that, the way the game goes he has to be ready. A pinch-hit appearance, to run. … He has to stay sharp. He’s playing for the Boston Red Sox and he’s a part of this team.”

For now. Another five months this way sounds crazy. But maybe that’s what the Sox need to make up their minds.

Again, the evaluation at this point isn’t about Swihart. You can’t evaluate a player who is not playing. But the Sox know he has upside. The choice centers on Leon and Vazquez, whose receiving skills are lauded and appreciated by the pitching staff, but whose bats may be too weak to justify their tandem beyond this year. Or for even the length of this year. 

The Sox’ .439 OPS from their backstops was the worst in the majors entering Wednesday. They were hitting a combined .179.

Cora on WEEI’s Dale and Keefe on Wednesday that the Sox are not considering Swihart behind the plate, as of now. The Sox offense may be able to power them through 2018 without Leon or Vazquez hitting well. Perhaps with Craig Kimbrel and Drew Pomeranz looking at free agency (and at least the potential for David Price to opt out), the Sox feel 2019 is a time they could more easily work in Swihart and live with presumed growing pains behind the plate.

Cora says Swihart has handled everything well.

“Excellent,” Cora said. “Some guys, there are guys who can suck the air out of the clubhouse because of their situation, but he's the other way around. He’s catching bullpens and taking ground balls at second. … He’s showing up early. You have to give him credit, because it’s not easy.”

Credit is nice. An opportunity is what he needs. Swihart cannot earn one on his own unless one of the two catchers in front of him gets hurt or squanders his own.

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Granderson's 10th-inning homer lifts Blue Jays over Red Sox, 4-3

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Granderson's 10th-inning homer lifts Blue Jays over Red Sox, 4-3

TORONTO -- With one big throw, and an even bigger swing, Curtis Granderson gave a somber city reason to smile.

Granderson threw out the potential go-ahead run at the plate in the top of the ninth inning, then hit a walk-off homer in the 10th to give the Toronto Blue Jays a 4-3 win over Boston on Tuesday night and hand the Red Sox their season-worst third straight defeat.

It was the first game for the Blue Jays following Monday's deadly van attack in Toronto that killed 10 people and injured 14.

"The city's hurting," left-hander J.A. Happ said. "This was a meaningful win."

Boston (17-5) still owns the best record in the majors.

Granderon's his third home run of the season came on a 2-0 pitch from Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel (0-1), a towering solo blast off the facing of the third deck in right field. Granderson went 3 for 5 with three RBIs.

"Trying to just do anything I can to help the team win," said Granderson, who entered 0 for 5 with three strikeouts in his career against Kimbrel.

Kimbrel allowed his first earned run of the season and suffered his first blown save since Aug. 1, 2017, against Cleveland. The loss was Kimbrel's first since Oct. 1, 2016, against Toronto.

"You fall behind anybody, it's no good," Kimbrel said. "I threw a ball in there to get back in the count and it was game over."

Tyler Clippard (3-0) worked a scoreless 10th for the win as Toronto snapped a seven-game home losing streak against the Red Sox.

Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna was handed a 3-1 lead in the ninth but allowed the Red Sox to tie it, his first blown save in seven chances.

"It's a big game for us," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "If you don't win that one, that's a kick in the teeth."

Hanley Ramirez singled to begin the ninth, went to third on a one-out hit by Rafael Devers and scored on Eduardo Nunez's single to right. It was the first run off Osuna this season.

Jackie Bradley Jr. struck out and Nunez stole second before Christian Vazquez walked to load the bases for Brock Holt, who scored Devers with an RBI single to left. Left fielder Granderson threw out Nunez at the plate to prevent Boston from taking the lead.

"You have to challenge Granderson," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "You've been challenging Granderson for more than five years. He made a perfect throw and threw him out."

Happ struck out a season-high 10 over seven innings. He walked none and allowed four hits and one run in his longest outing of the season.

Boston's Rick Porcello allowed three runs and three hits in seven innings. Porcello walked three, two more than he'd walked in his previous four starts combined, and struck out a season-high nine, including five straight in the third and fourth.

"Those two guys, that was a pitching clinic," Cora said. "Happ was tremendous."

Porcello extended his scoreless innings streak to 14 by pitching around a one-out walk in the first but couldn't escape the second. One run scored on Kevin Pillar's fielder's choice, and Granderson added a two-run single that bounced off Devers' glove and rolled into shallow left field.

Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and is 0 for 11 with eight strikeouts over his past three games.

Boston finished with a season-worst 14 strikeouts. The Red Sox have fanned 10 or more times in three straight.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: SS Xander Bogaerts (left ankle) went 2 for 3 with an RBI in a six-inning stint with Triple-A Pawtucket, and remains on track to rejoin the Red Sox on Friday.

Blue Jays: 3B Josh Donaldson (right shoulder) could begin a minor league rehab assignment later this week, Gibbons said.

TORONTO STRONG

Before the game, the Blue Jays honored the victims of Monday's deadly attack and some of the first responders who rushed to the scene. Players from both teams stood in front of the dugouts as four Toronto police officers and two paramedics stood between second base and the pitcher's mound and were introduced to cheering fans. Following a video message and a moment of silence, a group of high school students sang the national anthems.

Blue Jays pitcher Marco Estrada greeted the first responders as they left the field

A blue banner reading "(hash)TORONTOSTRONG" was hung from the second deck in center field, and similar signs were hung on the wall behind home plate. The same message was also printed in white on the back of the mound.

CATCH OF THE DAY

Two-time Gold Glove winner Mookie Betts made a diving, backhanded catch to retire Teoscar Hernandez in the fifth.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (2-0, 3.45) is 1-3 with a 5.67 ERA in eight career games against Toronto.

Blue Jays: RHP Aaron Sanchez (1-2, 3.86) will face his fourth AL East opponent in five starts when he takes the mound Wednesday. Sanchez has faced New York twice and Baltimore once.

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