It was a day for the Red Sox to start anew.
Last December, the team introduced Bobby Valentine as a manager in what it hoped would offer something of an antidote to the collapse at the end of Terry Francona’s eight-year run of success. But Valentine proved an exercise in throwing out the baby with the bathwater, a notion hammered home once again on Tuesday night. Valentine, in an appearance on "Costas Now," fanned the flames of controversy in his former organization, foremost with his suggestion that David Ortiz quit on the season.
Valentine’s interview offered a reminder of why the Red Sox had elected to go a different direction at the end of his one year in Boston, and why the team seemed so elated at the fulfillment of its 12-month quest to land John Farrell from the Blue Jays. In Farrell, the Sox have identified someone with a reputation as a leader yet also someone who has a demonstrated ability to work with virtually everyone in the Sox organization -- front-office members, owners, pitchers, position players.
Unlike Valentine, who generated tremendous suspicion at different levels of the organization, Farrell enters with pre-existing relationships that create trust.
“At this time, in these circumstances, he seemed a perfect fit,” said CEO/president Larry Lucchino.
There was a lot to digest from the day. The thumbnail takeaways:
WHY THE RED SOX VIEWED FARRELL AS THE RIGHT FIT
-- Ben Cherington said that his relationship with Farrell, which dates to 2002 when both were farm directors (Farrell with the Indians, Cherington with the Sox) will permit collaboration and a healthy exchange of ideas.
“It’s important that I have a relationship with a manager that’s strong to the point where you can disagree and be candid with one another and walk away knowing that that relationship is still intact,” Cherington said. “I have a better chance of making good decisions if that relationship allows for that kind of candid discussion and disagreement at times. I feel confident about that with John based on my existing relationship with him.”
-- Cherington and Lucchino viewed Farrell’s managerial experience in Toronto (despite a 154-170 record) as a positive, both because it gives him a foundation upon which to draw and because his familiarity with the AL East is extensive.
WHAT ABOUT STARTING FRESH WITH AN OUTSIDER?
-- While trying to resolve Farrell’s situation with the Blue Jays, the Sox faced the prospect of having to move forward without Farrell. There was debate within the organization about whether the Sox might benefit from an outsider (someone such as Brad Ausmus, Tim Wallach or Tony Pena) without prior organizational history to achieve change.
“There was that debate. There was that discussion. Some of the alternatives presented that, so we had it teed up that way right in front of us,” Lucchino said. “But we did like the familiarity, the continuity and the relationships in place.
“You were trying to turn the page from an unsuccessful season, so there's an opportunity to do that symbolically by literally turning the page to a new person. It's the whole fresh start mentality. [But] in our view, the question was always: What's going to make us a better team? Not how did it look or what was the symbolism attached to it, but what's going to make us a better team sooner.”
LEARNING IN TORONTO, LEAVING TORONTO
-- Farrell said that he learned from mistakes made in two years as Blue Jays manager, leaving him better prepared for the job with the Red Sox.
“Things might not have always worked out the way we intended, but there were a lot of firsts that I was able to experience there and I’ll forever be indebted to the Toronto Blue Jays,” Farrell said. “I can honestly tell you, it’s allowed me to be a lot more prepared standing here today than maybe would have been the case two years ago.”
-- Farrell offered a few specifics: 1) He said that he should have spoken “a little bit more passionately” with GM Alex Anthopoulos regarding his roster recommendations; 2) He acknowledged that his aggressive managerial approach may have gone “overboard” at times, leading to players running into outs; 3) He suggested he might have moved more rapidly to change closers.
-- As for his desire to come to the Sox, Farrell said that he told Blue Jays officials after last season that he’d be interested in the Red Sox managerial vacancy. At that time, the Jays did not grant him permission to talk to the Sox, instead changing team policy to prohibit lateral moves by employees. Farrell restated his desire to explore the Red Sox in a conversation after the conclusion of the season with Anthopoulos.
“I think Boston is in my mind -- and it may be debatable across the country -- this is the epicenter of the game,” said Farrell. “To come in and have at least four years experience previous to, not having sat in this seat, but close to it to see the demands of this position and the passion of this region, the energy that’s in this ballpark every single night. That energy and what people expect holds our players accountable for the effort they put out every single night.”
-- Farrell on whether the team’s struggles (and the corresponding chaos produced by them) deterred him from wanting the Red Sox job: “I [told the owners] that if things had been going smoothly, I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you. … I think at the same time there’s some realization on my part that there’s work to be done here. There’s a lot of quality players that are currently here and yet the won-loss record doesn’t reflect that. It’s my job and my intent, and I’m eager to get started, what took place and how do we best address it and correct it.”
-- Lucchino said that he was concerned at stages of the negotiations with the Blue Jays that Toronto would not permit Farrell to join the Sox. Had that occurred, according to several Red Sox officials, the team was prepared to move forward with one of the other four candidates who interviewed for the job. However, in the words of Lucchino, “sweet reasonableness … somehow reared its lovely head in the middle of the process,” through which the Sox and Jays agreed upon Mike Aviles as adequate compensation to release Farrell from the final year of his contract.
WHAT LIES AHEAD: FIXING THE RED SOX ROSTER
-- Farrell said that he believes that the Red Sox can contend in 2013, but doing so will require that players who underperformed their career track records in 2012 return to form, while the team must also make the right acquisitions in the offseason.
"With the roster that's there now, there's a core group there that you can build around," Farrell said. "I think a couple of things will need to happen [to contend in 2013]. Certain players return to the form and the performance that they’ve established for themselves, and not just a one-year situation -- guys who have estabilished a career path and a career recod of being above average and get the guys back who were taken out because of injury, to get them back fully healthy and then whatever additions are brought forward into this group, I think this has got an opportunity to be a fairly quick turnaournd and get to the point of contending next year."
-- Specifically, Farrell was asked about his ability to help restore (in concert with whomever he selects as pitching coach) Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz to top-of-the-rotation status.
“You can't underemphasize the importance of a starting rotation,” he said. “From a pitching standpoint there were some very obvious things with Jon that he and I have already talked about that you saw with his delivery that he kind of drifted into that might have affected his overall consistency.”
Lucchino acknowledged that the hiring of Farrell did, at least in part, reflect upon the fact that the team recognizes its pitching performance as a critical contributor to the team’s struggles since September 2011.
“His history is focused on pitching, obviously one of the malfunctioning parts of our organization,” Lucchino said.
-- Farrell said that he’s reached out to Daniel Bard: “We've exchanged a couple of text messages and voice mails. Before getting a chance to talk with him in depth, I couldn't begin to say what the steps to adjustments might be. But I think we all recognize, it wasn't too long ago that this might've been the best eighth-inning reliever in baseball. He's not injured. That gives you every reason to believe that he might regain that performance ability.
-- With the Sox having traded Mike Aviles to Toronto as compensation for Farrell, the question of who will play short remains open. Cherington said it’s premature to think that Jose Iglesias will be the shortstop next year.
“We believe Jose is ready to be a major league shortstop, but we're not ready to commit to that,” Cherington said. “We'll look for ways to improve the team, and shortstop could be one of those areas. We'll see what opportunities exist. If there are ways to improve the team in other ways, we'll do that, too. He can help a major league team, particularly if the rest of the roster is set up right.”
-- Farrell said that he has traded texts with Cody Ross, underscoring the desire on the part of the Red Sox to bring back the outfielder. He also met with David Ortiz in Fenway Park on Tuesday.
ON HIS MANAGERIAL STYLE
-- Farrell suggested that, while he will make allowances for his roster, he wants to implement an “up-tempo, aggressive style of play.” At the same time, he acknowledged that such an approach can go too far, and so he might rein in some of the younger players when it comes to the determination’s of when to be aggressive.
-- He suggested that players will not be permitted lapses in effort. “For the fans that will watch this team take the field, that’s, in some ways, a non negotiable as far as I look at it. Our effort is controlled every night. It’s something we can control. And to give forth our best effort is a minimum.”
-- The Red Sox were not ready to discuss the coaching staff, though multiple industry sources said that Torey Lovullo will be the bench coach next year. The team has given all of its holdover coaches permission to negotiate with other teams, though Farrell will touch base with those coaches in the coming days to determine if there is a fit that would make a return to the team in 2013 sensible.
-- Farrell said it was critical to work with the coaches to avoid any confusion of message. “When we go out, we will be on the same page and working on one voice and I think that’s something that’s important to the overall approach of a club.”
-- Farrell said that while he possesses familiarity with members of the pitching staff, he will not create a workaround regarding instruction for his arms.
“It will be no different than a former catcher managing a club and talking to a hitting instructor or positional coach there. I see that dynamic being very comparable,” he said. “The one thing I will be very clear with the pitchers here prior is that it becomes an open line of communication, and not to bypass that passing coach. There can be no confusion in message. The player is ultimately the one who loses out in that and then we ultimately lose out, because there's the potential for confusion.”