Mike Hazen

Don't look for Swihart behind the plate in Arizona either

Don't look for Swihart behind the plate in Arizona either

At least part of the reason the Red Sox parted ways with Blake Swihart was said to be their lack of faith in his catching ability.

It sounds as if Swihart's new team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, doesn't plan on using him a lot at catcher, either. Dbacks GM Mike Hazen, the former Red Sox GM was in Boston's front office when Swihart was a first-round pick in 2011. He told the Arizona Republic he sees the versatile Swihart moving among several positions.

“We really like his bat and think he has a chance to hit,” Hazen said. “If he ended up in a spot where he got to play every day and did what we felt like he could do with the bat, we wouldn’t have had a chance to acquire him.”  

Look for Swihart to fill in at both corner outfield spots, first, third and even second base, Hazen said. Swihart, 27, appeared in one game at second and three at third in his Red Sox career. Hazen said doesn't see him displacing any of the three catchers on Arizona's roster.

When asked where he envisioned Swihart playing, Hazen said, “It could be behind the plate. It could be at a different position.”

A stint in left for the Red Sox ended disastrously for Swihart in 2016 when he injured his ankle colliding with the side wall in left field at Fenway Park. He was limited to only six games the following season before bouncing back last year to appear in 82 games (catching in 28). He hit .229. 

Swihart was designated for assignment earlier this week before the Sox worked out a trade with Arizona on Friday. They also sent $500,000 in international bonus pool money to the Dbacks in exchange for minor league outfielder Marcus Wilson, 22, ranked Arizona's No. 20 prospect by Baseball America. He was hitting .235 with a .879 OPS and two homers in 12 games for Double-A Jackson. Last year, he hit .235 with a .678 OPS, 10 homers and 26 doubles with Class A Visalia. 

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Red Sox West? Lovullo and Hazen have Diamondbacks among N.L.'s best

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Red Sox West? Lovullo and Hazen have Diamondbacks among N.L.'s best

BOSTON — Even as the Red Sox hit their stride with a five-game winning streak and Dustin Pedroia plays caroms with sorcery, the Sox have a worse record than the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Sox look better now than they have at any time this season. At 48-35, they’re three games up in the American League East. It’s an incredibly talented team.

But the D-backs (52-31) have been better. At .627, they’re one of three teams in the majors with a .600 or better winning percentage.

It’s amazing, considering the Diamondbacks won just 69 games a year ago. But it wouldn’t be the first time Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo, who are in Year One running the show after leaving Boston, helped turn around a 69-win team. 

The 2012 Red Sox won that number of games ahead of winning the 2013 World Series.

Boston West is thriving. Amiel Sawdaye and Jared Porter, assistant GMs in Arizona, were previously front-office forces for the Sox as well. Porter had a stopover with the world champion Cubs first, and there are Indians and Pirates influences at play under Hazen too.

“That was the narrative early: how are you going to bring Boston west?” Lovullo said recently. “But what we really wanted to do... let’s take things that we know work, that we saw work inside of that environment in Boston and bring 'em here and do it, because that’s all we know. Watch it work, because that’s what we expect. And then perfect certain things that we want to put our own special touch on.”

Lovullo, the beloved bench coach in Boston from 2013-16 who was briefly the Sox’ manager when John Farrell was ill in 2015, did not see success coming quite this fast. No one reasonably could have.

“I had zero expectations coming in,” Lovullo said, which is not to say he had low expectations. “I knew that there was a group of guys that cared about one another and I just kept telling them that if we care about one another and rely on one another, something pretty powerful could happen.”

Lovullo went to great lengths to reach out to his players ahead of spring training. What he found was a group that had come up together and already had a bond, something that could be fostered.

But not everything has come easy for Hazen and Lovullo, nor could it have. 

Hazen spent 11 seasons with the Sox, from the Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington years to the start of the Dave Dombrowski era.

“It’s harder than I thought it was going to be,” Hazen said of being the top baseball operations executive for the first time. “Having the people that I worked for prepared me as probably as [well as could be] — I’m indebted to those guys forever. But it’s harder than that. 

“You take responsibility for everything that happens. You take responsibility for every decision that’s made. You’re responsible for the minor league system to the draft to everything else. And I think that is something that makes it more challenging. 

“At some point, you got to ride a bike without the training wheels. ... It’s every single day, it’s every single minute of every single day. But it’s fun. And being with Jared Porter and Amiel makes it awesome.”

Time management is key when so many different people need you. Lovullo will want to talk to a player sometimes, for example, but then something will come up with the medical staff and he has to play catch up the rest of the day.

Managing in the tougher National League, Lovullo wishes he pulled the trigger on some decisions quicker.

“It really is very unsettling, because you can’t let your guard down. I think I was prepared on a certain level, but managing in the National League took me a little while to get in the flow of it,” Lovullo said. “I made some mistakes, no doubt about it.

“Maybe the pitcher’s coming up, and I'm not quite sure enough what direction I want to go. And I got to send the pitcher up on deck, and I still haven’t made up my mind — I got to call him back last minute.”

Hazen and Lovullo didn’t clean house when they got to Arizona. Perhaps what’s most impressive about the regime is how they’ve been able to institute change without wiping out what was in place. 

The first year for new GMs is often an evaluation year and Hazen acknowledged there’s some accuracy to that. But he emphasizes listening to what was already working well. A straight replication of the Red Sox model just wouldn’t work.

“There are pieces to every organization that are really, really good. Every single organization,” Hazen said. “And we’ve tried to identify those things and tried to build on those. ... And then there have been parts of the process that we felt like, I think, some of the things we had learned in other places, we felt like may have been done better.”

Like?

“There are things that we brought into, say, the draft from an analytics standpoint,” Hazen said. “[Director of amateur scouting Deric Ladnier] was awesome. We have a lot of really good scouts...And those guys embrace that stuff.

“It never overrode the quality scouting, and I think that’s important because that’s how we did it in Boston too...We’re trying to bring more information into all of our decision-making models. And so that can be, that impacts medical, that impacts analytics, that impacts scouting process. That impacts everything. And so we’re trying to really build that up.”

That, of course, means the use of something like Carmine — the database system the Red Sox are now phasing out in place of something meaner and leaner, Beacon.

“We do [have one], from a systems standpoint,” Hazen said. “But again, that’s something that we’re continuously trying to build and improve and develop, so they already had a system that we’re using and we’re, I think all 30 clubs probably have that now. 

“It’s not something that I feel like we’re — I hate to say it, it’s so cliche, but reinventing the wheel here.”

Corner infielders Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb have led the way offensively. But it’s the success of the D-backs rotation that’s been most notable. Zack Greinke has a 3.05 ERA and Robbie Ray 3.06. Hazen picked up Taijuan Walker from the Mariners as one of his first moves. He has a 3.30 ERA.

Hazen gave credit to the prior D-backs administration, to Dave Stewart, and to Tony LaRussa. The latter remains in the organization. 

“That’s the majority of the club that’s out there on the field,” Hazen said.

Both Lovullo and Hazen miss Boston. Arizona is a much different market, but Hazen isn’t necessarily enjoying being away from the fishbowl.

“I don’t feel differently in that regard,” Hazen said. “I can’t speak apples to apples because I wasn’t in the same position. But I think the pressure that you feel is, it’s an internal pressure...I mean, I personally don’t know if I could have felt worse about you know, some things [in Boston]."

The outlook for 2017 in Arizona has changed, Hazen said, because of how well the team has done. But the general plan is unaltered.

“One of the things we talk about more than anything else was ensuring that the process was going to remain a process no matter what,” Hazen said. “Torey and I have tough conversations. About things that have gone on during a game and I think what we’ve tried to, what we want to, establish is a commitment to really playing really good baseball every night. That’s going to take time. We’re a young team. That takes a lot of really good coaching.”

They’ve had that. There was certainly a contingency of fans in Boston that thought Lovullo should have taken over for Farrell. There’s a contingency that dislikes Farrell no matter what he does. 

Lovullo knows the criticism his former mentor faces.

“I just would like people to remember about the people that he’s touched and the branch of people that have fallen off of John Farrell,” Lovullo said, motioning in the dugout to Hazen, who was nearby. “This guy’s one of 'em right? He hired Mike Hazen. No one knew who Mike Hazen was. He’s also won a world championship and he’s won an AL East title in four years. He’s done some really special things, and I'm grateful for my relationships with him. I’m grateful for what he’s taught me. And I'm thankful for all that because I wouldn’t be here without him today.”

Here, today, the Diamondbacks have a better record than the Red Sox, a surprising and excellent way for Hazen, Lovullo, Sawdaye and Porter to begin their next chapters, no matter how the season finishes.
 

Red Sox bench coach Lovullo to become Diamondbacks manager

Red Sox bench coach Lovullo to become Diamondbacks manager

For a time, it seemed as though Torey Lovullo was the manager in waiting for the Red Sox.
    
As it turns out, he'll be getting his opportunity elsewhere. Lovullo was hired Friday to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks, a baseball source  confirmed, where he'll work under general manager Mike Hazen.
    
Lovullo was expected to be the leading candidate once Hazen, with whom he had a long working relationship, was hired by the Diamondbacks last month.
    
Lovullo spent the past four years as the Red Sox' bench coach. He also served as interim manager for the Sox in 2015 for approximately seven weeks when John Farrell took a medical leave to get treatment for lymphoma.
    
Under Lovullo's watch, the Red Sox played their best baseball of the season, going 28-20. At the end of the season, uncertain of Farrell's health going forward, the Red Sox extended Lovullo's contract with a substantial raise with the provision that he not interview for managerial openings elsewhere for a year.
    
Lovullo remained effectively on retainer for the Sox in 2016,  continuing to serve as bench coach for the remainder of the season while providing the Sox with a trusted internal option in the event the team failed and Farrell was fired.
    
Once the 2016 season ended and Farrell was informed he would return for 2017 - the team has an option for 2018, too -- Lovullo's window closed.
    
The hiring of Hazen, however, offered him an opportunity elsewhere. The two first worked together in the Cleveland Indians organization -- for whom Lovullo managed at Single A, Double A and Triple A. When Hazen was put in charge of the Red Sox minor league system as director of player development, he hired Lovullo to manage Triple A Pawtucket in 2010.
    
After one season at McCoy Stadium, Lovullo went to Toronto in 2011 when Farrell was hired to manage the Blue Jays, serving as first base coach.
    
In turn, when Farrell returned to manage the Red Sox, he brought Lovullo back with him to serve as his bench coach.
    
Hazen's hiring by the Diamondbacks last month was a clear signal that Lovullo would be a leading candidate. The Diamondbacks also considered Triple A manager Phil Nevin and others, but Lovullo was the final choice by Hazen.
    
His departure leaves an opening on the Red Sox coaching staff.
    
It's possible that current third base coach and infield instructor Brian Butterfield - who has also been part of Farrell's coaching staff, either in Toronto or Boston for the past six years -- could be promoted. He served two seasons in Toronto in 2008-2009 as the Jays bench coach.
    
It's also possible that his reputation as one of the game's best teachers could mean the Sox and Farrell would prefer Butterfield to remain where he is.
    
An announcement is unlikely until next week, when Farrell returns from a trip to the Red Sox' Dominican Republic training facility.
    
News of Lovullo's hiring was first reported by Jon Heyman of FanRag.com