By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
If you’re a casual Red Sox fan (nothing wrong with that), this article probably won’t resonate with you. If you’re a hardcore fan, perhaps you share my agony, or will at least look at things from a different light by the end of this article.
In August of 2015, when John Farrell stepped down as manager to focus on his stage one cancer treatments, Torey Lovullo was handed the reigns as interim Red Sox Manager. As Lovullo took over, I thought to myself, “Why is this idiot getting an opportunity like this? He’s interviewed with a handful of teams for managerial openings and never gets hired!” It turned out the only idiot during that entire line of thinking was myself. It also turned out that although the 2015 Red Sox were a lost cause by the time Lovullo took over, I personally felt that even to this day, it was the most entertaining and invigorating two months of baseball we have seen since the 2013 World Series.
When it comes to John Farrell, we as fans are used to a perpetual state of problems not being solved. In 2016, Farrell somehow managed to go through an entire season never of trusting a single solitary reliever to regularly pitch in the 8th inning in a setup role to Craig Kimbrel. The second half of the season, Brad Ziegler was the obvious setup man, but was completely disregarded by Farrell. Ziegler had a 1.54 ERA and only gave up only five earned runs during his entire tenure with Boston. Despite Ziegler being a proven bona fide late inning reliever, Farrell inexplicably turned to Junichi Tazawa instead of Ziegler in critical eighth inning relief appearances not once, but TWICE. Each time Tazawa went on to blow both leads. One game was lost, the other was stressfully forced into extra innings, eventually resulting in a win. 29 other managers in MLB would have turned to Ziegler both times with absolutely no hesitation whatsoever. However, Farrell’s struggle for the solution was real.
With Torey Lovullo, it seemed as though he managed the 2015 team with an unwavering trust and faith. Joe Kelly was unstoppable, winning eight straight games. Jackie Bradley Jr had his first career breakout. Blake Swihart was a hitting machine, hell on the base paths, and not too shabby of a defender either. Now ask yourself what those three have done since that season? Not a whole lot. Lovullo’s leadership was different, and his hand was steady. He effectively got every ounce of talent from his young players. The fact that he believed in them, they in turn believed in themselves. On paper Lovullo had so much less talent than Farrell did in 2015 vs. 2016, yet got so much more production out of his team.
Enter Dave Dombrowski. The fact he acquired Chris Sale has kept him in the good graces of most Red Sox fans. It makes any criticism of him very difficult to dole out. It makes people forget how he spent $231M on a pitcher (Price) who couldn’t pitch in the post season, only for him to come to Boston and STILL not be able to pitch in the post season. It didn’t take long to people to question whether perhaps the Price contract was a bad one. After all, Dombrowski left Detroit with multiple unsustainable contracts, a weak farm system, and multiple failed bids at a World Series. All despite being given carte blanche by owner Mike Ilich (rest his soul) to build a Championship team by any means necessary, at literally any cost. Many people see Dombrowski as a hero who has a knack for pulling off blockbuster trades. I see Dombrowski as an overrated baseball executive who lacks a complete understanding of overall team balance. Specifically bullpens.
Lets not overlook the trust factor. This week Dombrowski was a guest on WEEI’s Kirk and Callahan show and described John Farrell as a “good in-game manager.” Casual fans can innocently take that statement at face value. But us hardcore observers can recall how hopelessly bewildered and perplexed Farrell and his pitching coach Carl Willis were last June in regards to the pitching staff. The ERA for Boston’s starting rotation was so high, Dombrowski had to enlist the help of his Director of Pitching Analysis and Development, Brian Bannister. Bannister had to actually drop his office work, don a uniform, and join Farrell and Willis on the field during practice and workouts to help right the ship. Dombrowski also on WEEI praised Farrell’s ability to work his bullpen. Yet when he was forced to make a trade for Brad Ziegler, Farrell had no idea what to do with him. And while we’re at it, perhaps their was no bigger lie than how Pablo Sandoval was at “17% body fat.” A fourth grader could have come up with a more persuasive scenario
Finally, what this all boils down to, is that Dombrowski needs this intense and often volatile fan base to hate somebody else more than him. A fall guy. Clearly that person is Farrell. He views Farrell as an “insurance policy” or a “get out of jail free card.” If the sky does fall, and this team that is “too big to fail” actually does fail, he knows he can fire Farrell and hit the reset button, as a mulligan of sorts. His other option was to make team leadership a higher priority, finally rid Boston of Farrell, and anoint Torey Lovullo as the new manager of the Boston Red Sox. Dombrowski had several opportunities to make that exact move, but instead chose to put his own interests ahead of his team’s interests, and renewed his “insurance policy.” Even at the cost of losing one of his most proven coach (Lovullo) to another team.
So when Dombrowski praises Farrell’s ability to effectively manage a baseball team, he’s completely full of shit. WEEI’s Kirk Minihane asked John Farrell point blank if Farrell himself thinks he’s a “good in-game manager?” Farrell responded, “the great thing about our game is there’s two sides (of every opinion) and that it’s debatable.” Even when Dombrowski make’s it easy for him, Farrell still fucks it up.