By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
Earlier last week, as the Red Sox limped home from getting their lunch money taken by a then last place A’s team in Oakland, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal penned a piece stating that the long spoken about noose around manager John Farrell’s extraordinarily lucky neck, was once again tightening.
The club was sitting just a game above .500 at 22-21, and seemingly parked in 3rd place in a relatively weak American League East. Despite injuries to starters David Price, Steven Wright, as well as relievers Tyler Thornburg and the still recovering from Tommy John surgery Carson Smith – ok, we will include third baseman Pablo Sandoval as well, although anyone in their right mind didn’t expect anything from him starting the season – team president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski’s team was still underperforming.
Given this situation, and the fact that Dombrowski had gone all in in the off-season, acquiring Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox for highly touted prospect Yoan Moncada, and dealing Sandoval’s replacement at third last year – Travis Shaw – for the now damaged Thornburg; many thought that Farrell was managing for his future during this six game home stand against a middling Texas Rangers team, and a moribund Seattle Mariners club.
And much like the underachieving Boston Bruins teams did for their now former head coach Claude Julien, who had overstayed his effectiveness, the Sox rallied to sweep the Rangers series; in spite of, not because of, the influence of their manager.
The comparison between Farrell and Julien is not exactly fair. While it is true both have won a championship in their respective sports during their time in Boston – Farrell due in large part to serendipity, and the swing and miss change up of Koji Uehara; and Julien due to the otherworldly performance of netminder Tim Thomas over a two-month period – there is one thing that sets them apart.
While many will point to the team’s recent turn around – as brief as it has been, up until this latest four game win streak, Farrell’s club hadn’t put more than two wins in a row together since the middle of April – as a reprieve for the oft-sullied skipper; instead, it should shine a light on the weakness that existing within the four walls of the manager’s office.
Earlier this month, the aforementioned Shaw did a podcast with Barstool Sports Jared Carrabis. During that informal broadcast, he revealed that the communication skills of the Sox skip weren’t exactly top notch. And while he often mentioned that he wished he had done some things different regarding his decaying relationship with his then manager, he stated that then bench coach Torey Lovullo “basically kept him sane” when things went south with Farrell.
When asked if he was the only young guy who had communication issues with the Red Sox manager, he said there were others who experienced the same type of problems, but refused to go into specifics.
Julien, as well, struggled with his relationships with younger players; just ask Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin, and to a lesser extent, Ryan Spooner. Farrell seems to suffer the same disconnect with putting trust into anyone but his veterans – that aren’t named Mookie Betts, of course.
The irony of all this lies in Dombrowski’s now famous, “I do not feel in-game strategy is the biggest thing as a manager,” quote in November of last year, regarding Farrell. It is well known that the Sox skipper struggles with decisions while “balls are in flight” during a game. For crying out loud, he screwed up so bad in the 2013 World Series in St. Louis against the Cardinals, that he had Brandon Workman hit late in the game because he didn’t understand the double switch.
An American League rookie relief pitcher forced to hit in the ninth inning of game three of the World Series because his blockhead manager doesn’t know the rules well enough, really? This is a guy you want leading the team that you put your professional reputation on the line for?
During that same diatribe, Dombrowski added this gem to his defense of Farrell. “To me, the most important thing for a manager is that their club plays up to their capabilities day-in, day-out, which means, they’re communicating with their players and getting everything they can,” said the Sox de facto GM.
Does Shaw’s comments, Dustin Pedroia’s actions in the dugout after Manny Machado was thrown at in Baltimore in April, or Pomeranz’s punk move challenging his manager after stinking the joint out over four innings earlier this week, say that there is currently good communication going on in the Sox clubhouse?
What is going on right now with the Red Sox is very much akin to what was going on with the Bruins the last couple of years. New management – in the B’s case, general manager Don Sweeney; in the Sox case baseball czar Dombrowski – has altered the course of their respective teams to follow their plan for success, and have yet to see the results that they likely told team ownership that they would deliver.
In both cases, the only thing that stands/stood between them and full accountability, is their manager/head coach.
In Sweeney’s case, he rode Julien as a safety blanket, as long as he could; until it looked like he was inevitably on a collision course with owner Jeremy Jacob’s third rail – a second season under him, and a third overall of not qualifying for the NHL playoffs.
In Dombrowski’s case, he still has time. With the AL East being what it is – and the prospect of getting an at least 80% Price back, and shoring up the back of his bullpen with Smith’s return – he has not yet hit ground zero.
However, in both cases – Farrell’s and Julien’s – both deserve/deserved to be show the door. A manager/head coach – unless your name is Bill Belichick – has a shelf life. Professional sports has proven this for more than a century.
Of all his, so far, seemingly failed moves since taking over in Boston – Smith, Thornburg, Price, Drew Pomeranz, and putting faith in Pablo – perhaps the biggest regret Dombrowski will have this season is letting go of Lovullo this winter. Based on the way, this season has played out so far, at some point Dombrowski will likely have to sacrifice his body armor in Farrell this season.
And now that Lovullo is flourishing with the Diamondback in Arizona this season due to his decision to keep Farrell as his manager over his once consensus successor, it just might be Dombrowski, who finds his seat getting warm this summer.