Peter Gammons: Moving on from the anticipated departure of John Farrell

Right after one of the network pregame shows Saturday, a current manager called. “I listened to Joe Girardi and John Farrell being bashed by talk show and ex-player guys,” he said, heatedly, “people who have never managed, don’t know about 30 second replay times, dealing with players and the media and they wonder why there are so few candidates for managing jobs. There aren’t many people who want these jobs today.

“I’m not sure John Farrell really wants to keep going,” he continued. “I’m not sure Joe wouldn’t rather be with his family. It’s a brutal job. Look what they did to Brad Ausmus in Detroit. (—) joke.”

Well, Farrell has been fired. Ausmus, too. If Girardi makes it to the ALCS, it may be a different story.

But in the world of twitter, the internet, talk radio and analytics that look back on move that could have had an 11.2% better chance at success, it is very different from the days when in New England, Eddie Andelman and Guy Mainella were the only platforms for whom Eddie from Everett could vent.

Look, Farrell’s firing was inevitable unless they beat the Astros, despite three division titles and a World Series in five years. We all get it. The job, maybe the stress having Dave Dombrowski with him nearly every day of the season, home or road, wore him out. He’s a cancer survivor. Late in the season, he felt as if no matter what he did, he would be second-guessed.

A lot of people from the ground to the upstairs boxes felt that he was tired, that there was a lack of energy around the team and the clubhouse. In his defense, this 2017 Red Sox team had holes; they were last in homers, their 4-5 spots in the order had the worst OPS in the major leagues, there were vital injuries to Dustin Pedroia and others, Hanley Ramirez included.

When they limped home for Game Three of the ALDS last weekend, they played their hearts out. David Price was brilliant in a four inning stint. Chris Sale, tired and on short rest, came out of the bullpen with the heart and soul of a Tiant in Game Three, Cincinnati, 1975, or Curt Schilling‘s bloody sock in 2004. They lost, but when it was over Monday, in the joyous visiting clubhouse George Springer, a lifetime Red Sox fan, said, “they played their asses off. Man, they are tough.”

Who takes the job. One of the Red Sox executives who was in on the interviews after the 2012 season, called Ausmus’ interview the best he’d ever seen; had Farrell not gotten free of Toronto, he’d have been the manager. Brad grew up in Cheshire, Ct. a Red Sox fan. His mother grew up less than a mile from, Fenway, between the homesteads where Sam Kennedy and Theo Epstein were raised. He was hired by Dombrowski and has a good relationship with him. He calls Gene Lamont “the best baseball mind I’ve ever been around,” and Lamont, his bench coach, goes back with Dombrowski to Jim Leyland days; when Larry Lucchino hired Bobby Valentine, Lamont was runner-up and planned to make Ausmus his bench coach. David Price thinks Ausmus is the best manager for whom he’s ever played. Brad and his parents have adjoining houses in Dennis. One daughter is at Dartmouth, the other will be in college in New York next fall. His minor league manager was Brian Butterfield, one of the most important persons they have.

Clayton Kershaw and A.J. Ellis credit Ausmus with changing the Dodger culture as he closed down his 18 year major league career in Los Angeles. He is very intelligent, loyal through his core, has a striking sense of humor.

But managing a dreadful Tiger team beat down Ausmus, as well as a local media that asked questions based on what was trending on Twitter and failed to mention that in September he had to use six pitchers in a game, only one of whom had an ERA under 6.00.

And would he want this market’s scrutiny? Terry Francona, A.J. Hinch, Girardi, Buck Showalter, Dusty Baker, Clint Hurdle all benefited from taking a year off.

Alex Cora’s name is going to be discussed. He, too, is exceptionally smart, and while he hasn’t got major league managerial experience, he has managed in winter ball and the World Baseball Classic and spent a season with Hinch, one of the brightest and best in the business. Cora brings energy, he brings a remarkable ability to help Hispanic players. He is very close to Pedroia. He seemingly is wired into everyone.

He loved being on that 2007 team, and the daily workout relationship he and Mike Lowell had driving Manny Ramirez.

Jason Varitek’s name has come up, the ultimate player leader. But he has never managed, and while he is moving back to Boston, he has to decided whether he’d want to do the pre and postgame press conferences every day as well as be away from his wife Catherine and their young children.

Butterfield and Gary DiSarcina deserve serious interviews.

Sandy Alomar interviewed once, and probably will again, and deserves serious consideration. Don Mattingly may yet be available; he replaced Gary Dembo with the Yankees, and he was a Jeffrey Loria hire, although anticipated GM Jim Hendry would have no problem with Donnie Ballgame. Giants coaches Hensley Meulens and Ron Wotus have waited enough, when they were legitimate candidates years ago.

How the winning candidate resculps the energy—come on up, Carlos Febles—is vital.

This is an important decision. The window here closes soon, where the Yankee window is just opening. The good young Red Sox players are soon going to make big coin. According to MLBTraderumors.com, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Tyler Thornburg, Xander Bogaerts, Eduardo Rodriguez, Joe Kelly and Drew Pomeranz stand to make between $30-35M in arbitration this winter. If so, they will take the payroll within $20-25M of the luxury tax threshold. So forget Eric Hosmer. Maybe J.D. Martinez, who as a left fielder-DH, would necessitate trading a Bradley for the $6M he likely will make.

Then Sale and Craig Kimbrel are up after 2019 and 2020. They will need to start making baseball trades in lieu of shopping for free agents at Tiffany’s and draining the farm system, which they’re going to need in the next two years.

There is also the issue of the organizational culture. Theo Epstein built a business that was strung together from his office to the Dominican Summer League, developing bright young executives and empowering them. They have some very bright people left over, like Brian O’Halloran, Eddie Romero, Ben Crockett, Gus Quattlebaum and Mike Rikard.

But Dombrowski has long viewed his role not as trades and acquisitions, but organizational-building. His right hand man is Frank Wren. Familiarity and first hand experience with young players far outweighs two look judgments, and instead of having the longterm connection with a Travis Shaw or listening to the coaches who saw Shaw developing from his benching and predicted last September that he was their 2017 breakout player.

So restoring or rebuilding the organizational culture is vital, as John Henry and Tom Werner ask why Mike Hazen wasn’t made the GM. Up and down the organizational ladder they know they have to get back to developing and empowering the brightest and the best, which Epstein and the Mark Shapiro-Chris Antonetti tree has done better than any organization.

There are tough calls for the new manager.

–Is Pedroia healthy enough to play 135 games? Monday in the Houston clubhouse, three different Astros players said, “I hate to see their season end with Pedey fighting off pitch after pitch fighting for his team’s life.”

–Can Bogaerts regain his game. There is no question he and Farrell had a connection problem down the stretch. I told Ben Cherington in 2014 that Bogaerts is overly-accountable, beats himself up, needs constant positive reinforcement. Both Meulens and Didi Gregorius say kids from Aruba and Curacao play so few games growing up, it takes them awhile to get where they are now. Ask Jonathan Schoop.

–Can Price get comfortable in Boston? His playoff performance began his restoration, and remember, when he came up in 2008 and broke-in out of the bullpen, the next spring he went into the rotation and began an eight year run of outstanding starting pitching.

–Can Blake Swihart be healthy and utilized. Four different members of their baseball operations this week think that healthy—and he privately admits the ankles bothered him up close to Labor Day, which is a question unto itself—Swihart is an offensive force who could catch and be used at first, third, left and DH. “Swihart can be a huge part of this team,” said one executive. At the minimum salary.

–Can Butterfield help Rafael Devers become an average major league defender at third?

–Can they restart the building of a bullpen bridge to Craig Kimbrel for his final year in Boston? Start with Tyler Thornburg’s comeback from Tommy John Surgery.

–What will they get from Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright, Brian Johnson and Jalen Beeks?

–Is Matt Barnes going to work out in Boston? Some in-house fear he’ll move on and become a premier power setup man elsewhere, like Chad Green.

–Given the opportunity, just how good a hitter can Sam Travis become?

There are probably two more seasons before the window starts closing, not enough time for the players they’ve drafted the last two years the players their skilled International staff have signed in that time. They need to look at Cleveland, see their pro scouting (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, (Mike Clevinger, et al), and copy. They need to continually deal for undervalued 40 man roster players.

Whichever manager gets a hall pass for four or five months. He is not the solution per se, but he can change the climate, recharge the energy. Dombrowski was sincerely distraught at announcing the Farrell firing—no matter what their relationship—and will want him to succeed as his hiring. Sam Kennedy can tie all things Red Sox together as one of the sport’s strongest emerging leaders. Henry and Werner really want this to work.

This is not the time to look back at what did and did not work with Farrell, even the World Championship. It’s time for the vision to understand what the Red Sox organization should be from 4 Yawkey (or Taylor?) Way down to the Dominican Summer League.

There is a lot here, starting with Mookie Betts, Sale. Kimbrel, Devers, Benintendi and Vazquez. But when we hear “I don’t love this team,” it is because despite all the extra innings wins and comebacks and the Sunday response to singing along to Tom Petty’s “I won’t Back Down,” they often seemed as if they were playing in ¾’s time.

That wasn’t all John Farrell’s doing. Bringing back the feel of winning three World Series in a decade is going to require more than a managerial search, it requires a long, hard look at every part of what the Boston Red Sox have become.

Comments

  1. Peter, this is why I long for the Sunday morning Globe….you still got it!

  2. ralph bertolucci says:

    Tony Pena!!!

  3. Edward Sullivan says:

    I miss Gammons.

  4. Brian Saitz says:

    “Swihart is an offensive force who could catch and be used at first, third, left and DH.”
    How is this true? Swihart has 7 years in pro ball and has done nothing to show he’s an offensive force.

  5. Hi Peter,
    Great article. After arbitration, I don’t see the Sox having $25m to spend. It is more like $5m. The Sox will be way over the salary tax threshold in 2018.

  6. Excellent analysis. Here is one little nitpick I don’t get, but I see it all the time from Boston writers and even the Sox organization:
    “Swihart is an offensive force…”
    He is? Based on what, his 5 home runs in 355 Red Sox ABs? His .270 BA in 3 abbreviated MLB seasons?
    I don’t get what all the love’s about. His defense is subpar and his offense…well, see the above.

  7. Franklin Jonath says:

    Nobody gets it like Mr. Gammons. He never
    let’s the sky-is-falling nut job fans influence
    his rational approach to what’s ailing the sox.

    He’s first and foremost a true baseball journalist in an age of TV blow hards.

  8. george beilby says:

    pedroia’s actions in baltimore: please exlain

  9. Bob Warja says:

    Why won’t Davey Martinez ever get an opportunity Peter? You’re connected, what do you hear? I’m guessing he doesn’t interview well.

  10. Tama Zimmerman says:

    Well said…….as expected

  11. Tama Zimmerman says:

    Gammon rocks

  12. I thought the trade with Milwaukee showed that DD didn’t listen to his coaches and scouts (retrospectively), but was convinced that Shaw was expendable and that Ramirez and Moreland could suffice to replace Ortiz. Big mistake. Feel the minor-league system has fallen significantly talent-wise, and do not think that DD has real appreciation of the need for constant development for replacement players not just trade pieces. Scouting is now questionable. Need talented FO, something I’m not sure he can create. Feel he is too oriented to short-term solutions rather than a continuum of excellence. Long-term outlook for Boston is not good. Feel I’ve seen last championship for the team in my lifetime.

  13. Alex Cora.
    Sox hiring their first Latin manager for a team that not only has a starting catcher from Puerto Rico (like Cora) but has a large group of Dominicans and other Latin players. Cora with a experienced bench coach can infuse this Team with ENERGY.
    Add JD Martinez and then work on figuring out WHICH players get long term deals as they mature.

  14. John TYler says:

    Youre a cutthroat surgeon, Peter, a cutthroat surgeon. I dont necessarily believe in a two-year window for these Sox. This team has quite a long run of postseason appearances and expectations, but I agree with you that building will come with scouting and trades and not free agents like Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado.

  15. John TYler says:

    Again, the Red Sox manager’s position is the hydrant to Red Sox’s Nation’s dog.

    Such do or die intensity, microscopic analysis and debate; thousands of fans as drones hovering over each single pitch, umpire’s call, catch probability stat, and field decision unlike any other market in professional sports.

    How many of us diehards can remember the days of the Red Sox country club teams of skipper Mike Higgens, players like Dick Stuart, Dennis Bennett, and Gene Conley, when the players didn’t care, and the day of the game you could buy a .75 cent bleacher ticket and relocate yourself behind the Red Sox dugout by the top of the 2nd? The paucity of ushers didn’t seem to care.

    Because the place was empty, and I for one remember being able to come home from the game with at least 3 foul balls I got with no competition, from the roof top. Because no one cared.

    I certainly applaud the team’s turnaround and success since the 1967 Impossible Dream franchise turnaround year.

    But folks, since none of us will get out of this world alive, why not better we maintain a reasonable set of Red Sox baseball values?

    Go enjoy your life, John Farrell.

    Next?

  16. Arthur Hebert says:

    One former player who is running under the radar in this managerial speculation is Mike Lowell. He deserves consideration. He would be ahell of a choice.

  17. What about Eric Wedge, Tony Pena or Tim Naehring?

  18. No more over-Priced long term signings, Please!

  19. Hugh Stevens says:

    Peter, You write (and think) as well as ever. I hope we can get you back to Chapel Hill sometime soon.

  20. Dr. Peter Nanos says:

    Don’t know what happened above but I wrote the article above that begins with the hydrant reference.
    It was attributed to John Tyler and he graciously indicated above that he didn’t write it.

    You got class, John Tyler!

    Either way, hope these readers enjoyed it,

    Peter Nanos

  21. 6two&even says:

    Just love to read your stuff.
    Im afraid they ruined Swihart.
    Don’t trust DD, he left the Tigers in shambles….and there window is bolted.

  22. John lawton says:

    What’s with the Detroit media bashing and the Twitter reference? Unnecessary, unwarranted, and unsubstantiated. I get that you like Brad. I gather that you do, too, since you’re burnishing his credentials because of where he was born and where his family is from. I’m a Tiger fan and I think he did a decent job, especially given the disaster of a roster that Dombrowski (whose Detroit tenure has to be labeled a failure) burdened him with. Brad wasn’t treated badly at all in Detroit. Fake news, I’m afraid.

    • MBrantley says:

      Hi John, Enjoyed your comments.
      Like you, I thought Ausmus tenure in Detroit was, “Meh.” When he had a team to work with, he was out managed by Showalter in the playoffs in 2014. Although he was a little conservative, his basic game management improved from ’14 to ’17. Truth be told, I don’t think he ever mastered substitutions or was able to coach up a bad base-running team. Not talking about steals, either. Tigers runners regularly got picked off, slid off bases, couldn’t locate the ball, and ran into outs on the base paths in every conceivable way. Ausmus was average, but now has 4 years of managing experience that he DIDN’T have when DD hired him. Hiring a completely inexperienced manager was a mistake on Dave Dombrowski’s part which shortened their playoff run in 2014 and overall window of opportunity. Sadly. It’s on Dave; not Brad.

  23. M. Brantley - Lansing, MI says:

    Just to add some perspective, I think the problem Tigers fans had with Ausmus was his hiring…Why hire someone with virtually NO managing experience at all at any level to guide a team which, at that point, was still winning divisions and contending for the WS?

    In terms of Ausmus’ actual managing, he seemed average–players liked him. Meanwhile, Ausmus showed weaknesses as a game manager. He had trouble with player substitutions, and a strange point of view on matchups. In his defense, he did improve over the four years…but oddly, the Tigers were a poor base running team (runners got picked off, didn’t know when to advance, often didn’t locate the ball, etc.) when he started and remained so at the end of four years. He’s ok. Seems a little conservative…but ok. If a team wanted to hire Ausmus now that he has 4 years of experience…that seems logical. When Dombrowski took a flyer on him in 2014, not so much.