John Farrell’s contract runs through next season. Once this season is over, the Sox need to extend him for multiple years or fire him.
No in-between, Dave Dombrowski. Not if you want to avoid unnecessary drama for your club.
The last manager the Red Sox president of baseball operations personally installed, Brad Ausmus, is a free agent. Ausmus is finishing the last year of his deal in Detroit and the Tigers won’t bring him back.
This isn’t going where you think.
Oh, speculation the Sox could pursue Ausmus will crop up, whether founded or not. That’s what happens when there’s a connection between a lead executive and an available skipper.
But Ausmus stands as a strong example of what happens when a manager is left in the wind.
In 2015, when there were false reports Ausmus was fired with one year remaining on his deal, he was on the hot seat and the chatter never disappeared.
"Don't care at all,” Ausmus said two years ago, via ESPN. “Said it before, I'll say it right now. Players will respect you regardless of your contract status. They're gonna respect you because of who you are, not how much money you're making or how long your tenure is.”
In 2016, Ausmus played the year out with no certainty about his future. His 2017 option wasn't picked up until after the season.
“I understand I’m in the crosshairs,” Ausmus said last May, via the Detroit News. “That’s not gonna change the way I do anything . . . I’m not gonna make decisions based on whether I’m gonna get fired or not.”
And then, lo and behold, Ausmus was back in the same position again.
“I don’t worry about it,” Ausmus said in July, via the Free Press. “I don’t really ever worry about it. I guess I worry about it less now. My contract’s over at the end of the year anyway. I guess you think about it even less.”
The Sox don’t need this.
The Tigers were losing and are now headed for a rebuild. Farrell’s closing in on his second straight American League East title.
Let’s assume he gets it. That's an impressive feat. Enough to be rewarded. At the same time, if all the side dramas — the Baltimore incident, David Price’s lack of self-control, even the embarrassment of the sign-stealing saga — are enough that Dombrowski still feels unsure, he should act.
Dombrowski, great talent evaluator that he is, should have a fully formed opinion on Farrell by now.
Remember how silly everything looked last October when it came to Farrell's status?
Farrell spoke to the media at a Fenway Park press conference after the Sox were eliminated. Farrell was under contract through 2017 at that point, but had no answers about his job security, about whether he was coming back.
Farrell’s press conference wrapped, and in walked Dombrowski for his segment with the media. Dombrowski announced that he had just told Farrell he was coming back for 2017 — in a conversation with Farrell in between press conferences.
Uh, OK? The scene was bizarre, to say the least.
Then, it wasn’t until December that the Sox announced they picked up Farrell’s option through 2018.
The players and Farrell deserve a fuller answer this offseason. If Farrell is the guy, treat him like it and let the players know he’s the guy. Let a clubhouse that didn’t seem to have one band, one sound the whole year know who’s actually in charge.
And if Farrell is not the guy, move on.
What the Red Sox should not do is stand pat and leave Farrell’s contract, which runs through next season, as is. They shouldn’t leave him and the team (and the media that will ask questions of both) in a constant state of wonder, with a lurking sense that Farrell could be out the door. They shouldn't leave themselves open to speculation Farrell's moves could be influenced by his job security.
The Sox could add just one more year to Farrell's deal again, but that'd be far from a vote of confidence. Is it Dombrowski’s intention to have Farrell sit on the hot seat annually?
Maybe in Dombrowski’s mind, there’s a particular playoff round Farrell and the Sox need to advance to for Farrell to stick around. Maybe two straight division titles is all he needed to see. We don't know. Whatever the criteria proves to be, it will be scrutinized. But the firmness of the decision is significant as well.
There’s so much the Sox have to deal with every year. Legitimacy of the manager is one area where the Sox have some control over the volume. Uncertainty is a dangerous theme song.