Rumors began swirling mid-week, and Saturday the Red Sox confirmed that they had reached an agreement with John Farrell to extend his contract through 2017 with a team option for 2018. In essence, Boston added two more years onto the deal that was already in place for the manager who won the World Series in his first year at the helm in 2013, only to find the team at the very bottom of the standings in 2014. That being said, I’m still trying to figure out why?
After the less than amicable departure of Terry Francona, and the complete debacle that the Bobby Valentine era was, Red Sox nation clamored for the return of the former Boston pitching coach turned Blue Jays manager. They needed someone in charge that could be a calming, strong leader who would both listen to players yet not be afraid to enforce discipline in the clubhouse, and someone who had an understanding of what managing in the passionate city of Boston was all about.
It’s tough to argue with a World Series in the first year of his tenure, but when you take a look at the overall picture, it hasn’t exactly been all cakes and balloons for Farrell. Toronto grabbed fourth place in the AL East in 2011 and 2012 under his lead, finishing 81-81 and 73-89 respectively. After the Red Sox were able to pry him away from the Blue Jays, they rebuilt and came out of nowhere to win the AL East with a 97-65 record that would end with a championship. The front office went with a younger roster in 2014, had some key players miss significant time due to injury and were plagued with a World Series hangover that eventually led to the team “blowing it up” and sputtering to dead last at 71-91. So to recap, John Farrell has a losing record overall as a manager (322-326) and has one winning season in his short career. That doesn’t scream EXTENSION to me.
It’s obvious that Boston was leery of having a lame duck manager, especially after the way the Terry Francona tenure ended, but Farrell wasn’t a lame duck. Boston had a team option in place for next year, and all they had to do was pick that option up in order to send the message that they support Farrell and to give him the security that is all important in that strenuous position. That’s precisely what team options are for – why else was it written into the contract in the first place? It gives the team an extra season to assess the job he has done, while letting the manager know they still have his back. The Red Sox threw that in the trash for absolutely no reason at all.
I’m a Farrell supporter, but I think it’s clear that the jury is still out on his style and approach to the everyday decisions and in-game strategy that comes with the job. He knows how to deal with the media, how to take pressure off the players and put it on himself and runs a no-nonsense atmosphere in the clubhouse, but what about winning games? We still don’t know if he can consistently win games, and isn’t that the bottom line? There was literally no pressure on the 2013 edition of the Boston Red Sox after finishing last under the maniacal despot that was Bobby Valentine – just seeing anyone other than Bobby V would have been considered a success by the fans. It was great to see the team come together and win the World Series, but we need to see what Farrell can do when they are expected to win games.
Time and time again, Farrell has been lauded for his pitching prowess; however the results aren’t necessarily showing themselves. For two years, analysts have predicted that he would remedy the issues that Clay Buchholz seems to be having on the mound, and yet those issues are still present. It also looks as though he may have a difficult time bringing along young talent and instilling confidence in prospects as evidenced by the play of Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, Jr. He even pushed for the return of Stephen Drew last season, forcing Bogaerts to play out of position at third and virtually ruining the confidence of the young, budding shortstop. That ended with Drew being traded to the rival Yankees.
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So now I continue to ask myself why the Red Sox would make the decision to extend Farrell when they clearly didn’t have to. What pushed their hand? Is it a mea culpa for handing him a less than stellar roster in 2014 and totally botching the Jon Lester negotiations which led to the departure of his ace and friend? Is it simply a comfort factor and knowing that Farrell can handle the media, the clubhouse and is a great figure head and face of the organization? Were there rumblings of other organizations having interest in Farrell if his contract came to an end? I have heard no such rumors, but it wouldn’t have mattered if the 2016 option was picked up anyway.
Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald quotes Ben Cherington:
“This was going to happen at some point. We felt it was important for John and for the team and what we’re trying to accomplish just to settle that before we got into spring training and what would have been the final year of the original three-year deal he signed. It was much more about that and our belief in John being the guy we want here than anything about last year.” (https://www.bostonherald.com/sports/red_sox_mlb/clubhouse_insider/2015/02/red_sox_extend_john_farrells_contract_through_at_least)
But it wasn’t the final year Ben! Again, do the Red Sox understand the value of a team option? Also, “settle” what exactly? Were players or Farrell himself actually questioning the direction of the club? If so, this hasn’t been a big storyline heading into the 2015 season.
I understand that some fans will say it’s not a big deal – if it doesn’t work, the Sox cut bait and eat the final couple years of the deal. “It’s not our money anyway.” However, missteps like extending a deal before it’s necessary can certainly come back to haunt an organization and could have ripple effects for years to come. John Henry does have an actual budget after all is said and done.
I just think that a wait and see approach would have been the way to go for the team. I fully understand picking up the option to ease Farrell’s mind and the minds of the players, since they don’t need any added pressure while they try to regroup for the failings of 2014 (although I think there is something to the argument that playing for their manager can galvanize and motivate a team as well). It just doesn’t make sense to me and worries me that the decisions that are being made have more to do with off-the-field endeavors than winning games and in-game moves. I hope that I am wrong, that Farrell and the Sox go on to great success in 2015 and beyond and that my concerns are for naught … but someone still needs to explain to me why the team option wasn’t utilized.