From the time that the Red Sox began the process of searching for Terry Francona’s replacement in 2011, they knew whom they wanted. The team wanted John Farrell, whose presence as a pitching coach from 2007-10 was viewed as a key component to some of the team’s foremost successes. His absence, team officials and players thought, had been palpable amidst the unraveling of Boston's season in September 2011.
Farrell is a man whose views on the game align well with those of the philosophies of the front office. Members of the Red Sox who played for whom hold him in high esteem, with pitchers like Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard, only half-kiddingly, having suggested that they were just a little bit scared of the 50-year-old.
A year ago, the Jays essentially waved off the Sox’ interest, creating a price for the manager that made it impossible to acquire him. And so, the Sox replaced Francona -- after a lengthy search that endured a dramatic change of directions -- with Bobby Valentine.
One disastrous year later, when the Red Sox needed a new new manager, nothing had changed about their regard for Farrell, and the sense that he would be a tremendous fit for the organization. This time, the Blue Jays -- coming off a 73-89 season that concluded with members of the organization questioning Farrell’s handling of the clubhouse -- were more receptive, ultimately dealing Farrell for a solid big leaguer in Mike Aviles; in order to complete the transaction, according to multiple industry sources, Toronto will send a low-profile member of its 40-man roster to the Sox. (For what it's worth, it will not be first baseman/DH Adam Lind.)
Farrell agreed to a three-year deal with the Red Sox that will replace the final year of his deal with Toronto. Already, the fact that he has a three-year commitment underscores the fact that the Sox are more comfortable with him than they ever were with Valentine, who received just a two-year deal.
We will learn more in the coming days about the motivations involved for Farrell, the Red Sox and the Blue Jays. But in the interim, based on the bare bones information about the framework of the trade, here are a few takeaways:
THE JAYS WERE READY TO MOVE ON, AND THE SOX GOT FARRELL AT A PALATABLE COST
A year ago, the asking price when the Red Sox inquired about Farrell was Clay Buchholz – a pitcher whose stuff, when healthy, ranked with that of anyone in the game, and who remained under team control for as many as six years (four guaranteed seasons and two option years).
This year, Toronto accepted Aviles, a player who was a solid everyday contributor in 2012 and exceeded all reasonable expectations, but who, at the end of the day, was as much a placeholder as a long-term solution at shortstop.
Aviles won’t be eligible for free agency for two more seasons. He’s a solid big league contributor. But he’s not nearly as rare a commodity as Buchholz.
Indeed, for the Sox, Aviles represented something of a redundant asset. The team also has Pedro Ciriaco as a capable right-handed hitter who, like Aviles, hits for average but with poor OBPs, and who can field well at multiple positions. Whereas Aviles had considerably more raw power than Ciricao, Ciriaco is the superior baserunner.
Meanwhile, with defensive dazzler Jose Iglesias close to major league ready (albeit perhaps not yet major league-ready, based on his dramatic struggles in his end-of-year call-up) and Xander Bogaerts not too far behind him, it seemed a matter of when not if the Sox moved on from him as an everyday player.
A compelling case can be made that, of the shortstops currently in the organization, Aviles represented the best everyday option for the start of 2013. However, even if true, the separation between him and the organization’s other shortstop options (Ciriaco, Iglesias) was not so significant that it would represent a deal-breaker.
THE SOX’ SHORTSTOP CAROUSEL? YUP, STILL SPINNING
In 2012, Aviles had the most homers (13) by a Sox shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra’s last year as the everyday anchor at that position in 2003. He played above-average defense -- a startling development given that he hadn’t played the position regularly since his rookie season in 2008.
But now, he’s gone, and the Sox are left once again with a question mark at a position where uncertainty has been an almost constant element since Garciaparra was traded in 2004. Aviles was the seventh player in the last eight years to accumulate 100 or more games at short for the Sox, and the 10th to play at least 50 games at the position in the last nine years. In all likelihood, another player will join that list in 2013.
So where do the Sox go from here? They could commit to Iglesias’ glove and hope that his bat progresses against the challenge of big league competition. (For what it’s worth, by the end of the year, he was making better contact than his .118/.200/.191/.391 line would suggest.) They could send Iglesias down to Triple-A at the start of next year to put the finishing touches on his development and use Ciriaco at the position.
They could explore a woefully thin free-agent class of shortstops, perhaps going after a player like Stephen Drew on a short-term deal, trying to convince the Scott Boras client of the value of going to Fenway to re-establish his offensive credentials after the 29-year-old hit just .223/.309/.348/.657 in 79 games for the Diamondbacks and A’s in 2012.
Or they could kick the tires on the trade market and see if they can convince the Rangers to part with a player like Elvis Andrus.
One thing worth noting: As much as it’s easy to cast a critical glance at the unsettled nature of the Sox at shortstop in the post-Nomar era, it’s worth noting that the Cardinals are on the cusp of advancing to the World Series for the third time in seven years with their third different occupant of that position. In 2006, they had David Eckstein; in 2011, they started the year with Ryan Theriot and finished it with Rafael Furcal; in 2012, they started it with Furcal and finished it with Pete Kozma.
THE SOX TIMED THIS NEGOTIATION WELL
The Sox could have pursued Farrell at the start of the offseason, perhaps as early as the day that they fired Bobby Valentine. They did not.
Instead, the team commenced its managerial search and engaged four first-round candidates (Dodgers third-base coach Tim Wallach, Yankees bench coach Tony Pena, Padres special assistant to the GM Brad Ausmus and Orioles third-base coach DeMarlo Hale).
The Sox had credible alternatives to Farrell, and they had arrived at a point where they could call Toronto and either proceed with Farrell for an acceptable cost of acquisition or, if his sticker price was unreasonable, they could hire someone else. The Jays could not necessarily say the same; they arguably needed resolution more immediately than the Red Sox on Farrell’s status so that, if necessary, they could conduct a search for his replacement.
THE COST OF FARRELL WAS IN LINE WITH THAT OF OTHER RECENT TRADES FOR NON-PLAYERS
When the Marlins acquired Ozzie Guillen from the White Sox last year, they received Jhan Marinez and Osvaldo Martinez. Marinez is a big-armed right-hander with the ceiling of a middle reliever. Martinez projected as a likely – but not certain – big league utility player. Aviles, an established big leaguer, is a better prospect than either of them, explaining why he was the lone player being sent to Toronto.
Aviles, an everyday position player last year, is also likely a more valuable player than right-hander Chris Carpenter, who was sent to the Sox (along with right-hander Aaron Kurcz) by the Cubs as compensation for GM Theo Epstein in March. However, Carpenter had all six of his years of service time remaining, while Aviles has two seasons until he is eligible for free agency.
The inclusion of Aviles is more in keeping with the model followed by the Mariners and Rays after the 2002 season, when Seattle received Randy Winn as compensation for Lou Piniella taking over as the Tampa Bay manager. Winn was coming off an All-Star season for the Devil Rays, though that status was largely a reflection of the Rays’ poor roster. Prior to 2002, he’d been something of a fourth outfielder for the Rays.
Still, Winn was a solid potential everyday player on a good Seattle team, someone with a solid all-around skill set though not a centerpiece. He had two years before he would be eligible for free agency. In other words, he profiled, in some respects, as a player who was fairly similar to Aviles -- a valuable player for the Blue Jays who may well serve as an everyday second baseman.
The price for Farrell, in other words, wasn’t outrageously divorced from other deals involving compensation for non-players. Obviously, Aviles has a more established big league track record than the players involved in the Guillen and Epstein deals, but as a player whose skill set aligned closely with Ciriaco and Ivan DeJesus Jr., he’s replaceable.
THE SOX WON’T BE DISTRACTED THIS OFFSEASON
In concluding an agreement with Farrell late on Saturday night, the Sox now can dedicate their full attention (or nearly all of it -- there’s still the matter of the coaching staff) to roster questions. That’s important, given that the team has a lot of work ahead of it in trying to reload after the disaster of 2012.