The question was one circulating through the minds of Red Sox followers since their team started hitting the skids: How much of the Red Sox' collapse was due to John Farrell leaving?
"I miss John Farrell," Josh Beckett said one day after making his first start as Dodger last week. "I like John Farrell as a person, and I missed him in several different ways."
The answer wasn't altogether shocking considering it was Beckett who told WEEI.com in spring training that Farrell was "so overqualified for [the Red Sox' pitching coach position] it was ridiculous."
But what the response offered was a reminder why we're still talking about Farrell in these parts.
He is the right fit for THIS job, that of manager for the Boston Red Sox.
Truth be told, the Sox had this one right all along. When team president Larry Lucchino first made overtures to his Blue Jays counterpart, Paul Beeston, early last offseason, his instincts were correct. And when Lucchino looped back later -- even after the Blue Jays changed their policy regarding lateral moves by their employees -- it was worth another try (even though the Jays set up another formidable road block in asking for Clay Buchholz as compensation).
The Red Sox tried twice and came up empty both times. Whether or not the third time is a charm, asking again should be the first order of business come early October.
Between now and the first day after this disaster of a season, there will be little to advance the story. That has been evidenced by comments like the ones made by Farrell to MLB.com Tuesday. "As I've said repeatedly when it's come up, my focus is clearly here with the Blue Jays," he said. "I'm under contract, obviously. I can understand there can be a natural connection, because I've worked there in the past, but my focus and my commitment has been here and is here, unequivocally."
And some will disregard any sort of desperation when it comes to Farrell's return, citing a managerial record of 60-75 this season, following a 2011 campaign in which the Jays finished at 81-81. Heck, there might even be those who point to the fact that the Red Sox still have a manager in Bobby Valentine, who has been told by ownership he will at least last the '12 season and is slated to be paid for '13.
But with signs strongly pointing to a second straight season of Red Sox managerial turnover, and somewhat of an opening perhaps forming for a Farrell exit out of Toronto, it is an important conversation to start digging into.
A "culture" change has been declared a priority by Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, and that should include the manager. Valentine could very well be an effective manager in some settings (winning a championship in Japan shouldn't be overlooked … it's still a championship). But the fit with the Red Sox hasn't been a good one. The Sox' instincts on this one -- going after Farrell -- were right all along.
FROM THE RED SOX' POINT OF VIEW
While some talk of Terry Francona returning to the Sox resurfaced Tuesday thanks to an online column, that isn't going to happen. The overall premise of the piece -- that the Red Sox need to creep back toward Francona's way of doing things -- had some teeth. But it should be understood that Farrell isn't Francona, and if he was exactly like the former Sox manager it wouldn't be as good a fit for this scenario.
Sure, Farrell follows in Francona's footsteps in some ways when living the life of a major league manager. For instance, he executes the practice of informing the catchers and bench players of their status the night before the next day's game. (As a quick aside, it's not as though Valentine had to duplicate this process to be like his predecessor, but he should have viewed it as one aspect of the job that was extremely effective in Boston.)
But Farrell is his own man. Close enough to Tito, but just far enough away.
For those still trying to grasp why a second-year manager should be so coveted, understand the biggest selling point -- respect.
The minute Farrell would walk through the managerial door, sure, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard would breathe a sigh of satisfaction due to their familiarity with their former pitching coach. But that wouldn't be the be-all, end-all. The fact is that those core players (both pitchers and position guys alike) who played with the Red Sox during the former pitching coach's time in Boston have a deep respect for the 50-year-old. Not just friendship. Not just fear. But a bunch of both, which makes for the best combination.
FROM THE BLUE JAYS' POINT OF VIEW
The policy against lateral moves was put in place to dissuade these sort of conversations from taking place prior to Farrell's contract running out at the end of the '13 season. It didn't even stop the Red Sox from circling back a few weeks later, and it most likely won't limit the debate, or drama, heading toward the forthcoming offseason.
The change was somewhat sudden, especially considering words uttered by Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos earlier in the offseason when assistant general manager Tony LaCava was interviewing for the vacant Orioles general manager position.
"If you have that philosophy, in the long run it will serve your organization well, you’ll continue to attract outstanding employees because they know they have the freedom, they have upwards mobility, they’re never going to be held down," Anthopoulos told Sportsnet.ca in mid-October. "Selfishly, I don’t want any of our guys to leave, but at the same time I hope all of our employees have opportunities to better themselves, whether it’s responsibilities, financial, whatever it might be.
"If things go the way we hope they’re going to go, a lot of people will be leaving because people will be looking to hire our employees."
But the Blue Jays don't figure to be altering their policy for a second straight year, leaving the only option for the Red Sox a potential trade. So, with that in mind, these are some key points regarding such a transaction:
1. The cost for the Red Sox most likely would be higher than similar scenarios. The White Sox received minor leaguers Jhan Marinez and Osvaldo Martinez from the Marlins for manager Ozzie Guillen. The 24-year-old Marinez pitched well in relief for Triple-A Charlotte this season, totaling a 2.86 ERA in 40 games, and appeared in one game for the White Sox. The 24-year-old Martinez, a shortstop, was dealt to the Dodgers midseason and did not hit at either of his Triple-A stops.
But this would be dealing with an inter-division foe, and one that the Blue Jays can't continue to seem second-fiddle to. For a point of reference, look at the comments made by Antholopoulos when the Red Sox were seemingly in the hunt for Roy Halladay. Anthopoulos stated that he would be open to a deal with an American League East foe, although the cost might be greater due to the competitive dynamic.
Deciphering values of players in trade talks can take weeks, and finding such common ground with managers might be an even more excruciating process (see Theo Epstein negotiations with Cubs). Without a change of policy, and the Blue Jays simply cutting Farrell loose, such a hang-up could impede the Red Sox from going down such a potentially lengthy road.
2. Now for the good news for those Red Sox fans coveting Farrell …
Tough conversations figure to be had for the Blue Jays and their manager following the season. The organization is happy with Farrell's performance thus far, but if there is no inclination for a commitment (from either side) past '13 then it would only make sense for the Jays to engage in talks with the Sox. It will be made even more plausible if Farrell makes it clear that his preference is to return to the place he had established as his home outside of Canada.
Anthopoulos was sympathetic to Farrell's thoughts when the Red Sox came calling last offseason before the organization's policy change. And there is always the chance that the manager pushes so hard for an answer, one way or another, that either the policy is once again altered, or trade scenarios (and the inter-division animosity that could come with them) are made palatable.
FROM JOHN FARRELL'S POINT OF VIEW
By most accounts, the Blue Jays manager likes his current team and organization. The feeling is a foundation is being built, one which was damaged in '12 due to a critical rash of injuries to key pitchers and position players.
But the prospects of jumping back into baseball in Boston, with decision-makers (Cherington and assistant general managers Mike Hazen and Brian O'Halloran) he has worked with, and won with, can't be ignored.
And even though Anthopoulos has helped build the Blue Jays into a team on the cusp of contention, the reality of Toronto's restrictions struck when replacements for the likes of Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchinson, Kyle Drabek, SergioSantos, Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie fell short.
Living life as a Red Sox after '12, however, might not be all that bad.
First off, it's always good to be the guy after the guy after the guy. Secondly, there's all the newly freed-up money to work with.
There are no certainties in any of the scenarios, but the conversations should, and most likely will, be had.
Farrell just fits with the Red Sox, and don't think they haven't noticed.