In 2013, can John Farrell be to the Red Sox what Terry Francona was to the team in 2004? The question is unfair to Farrell to be sure. Looking at the talent from Francona’s championship teams from 2004 and 2007, as well his six other teams in his time in Boston, it is evident that Farrell doesn’t have the pieces to comfortably challenge for the AL East in the coming season. As hard as it is to believe, Farrell might be inheriting a bigger mess than Francona did in 2004. That was a year that saw the Red Sox just months removed from blowing Game 7 of the ALCS to the Yankees in dramatic fashion.
If you skip the trainwreck that was the Bobby Valentine era, Farrell is essentially trying to replace the most successful manager in the history of the franchise. Anyone who is naïve or shortsighted enough to think otherwise simply can’t fathom what Francona meant to the team, the organization, and the city of Boston.
Yet, it was never Francona’s lineups, his management of the pitching staff, or rapport with ownership that him a success. Francona’s management of his team on a personal and structural level was the basis for his and the team’s success. If the past two years have taught us anything, it's that the Red Sox worst enemy is not the Yankees, the Rays or the Angels, but the Red Sox themselves. If John Farrell can manage the identity of this team for this season, he might just be able to succeed.
For the Red Sox, the past seasons have proved that baseball isn’t a sport that is simply played on the field. The combination of Bobby Valentine, General Manager Ben Cherrington, and owner John Henry was not a recipe for success. Cheringtown and the ownership had minor squabbles, but both seemed to agree on their mutual disdain for Valentine (who was hired by team president Larry Lucchino).
Unlike Valentine, and even Francona by the end of his tenure, Farrell — the former Red Sox pitching coach who until this year was the Blue Jays manager — seems to have the full support of both ownership and management. In Boston, unlike other organizations, management (Cherrington or Theo Epstien before him) and ownership (Lucchino/Henry) are two separate entities that have constantly clashed over the direction of the team.
Farrell however, is a choice that both sides seem to agree on. Whether that is a good thing remains to be seen. Francona often had to muscle his managerial choices through the front office’s clout. This is something that John Farrell must learn to master if he is going to have a long and more importantly, successful run with the team.
All of that being said, Farrell’s history with the organization coupled with his initial comfort level with the two-headed monster that comprises the Red Sox management should allow him the initial leeway to impose his own managerial style on the team.
The team he has inherited however, looks drastically different than the one he was familiar with as the team's pitching coach from 2006 to 2010. Gone are personalities such as Manny Ramirez, Josh Beckett, and Jonathan Papelbon — the anchors to the 2007 world championship team. Yet, their unpredictable, apathetic, and antagonistic nature forced their own departures. Add in the departures of clubhouse leaders Kevin Youkilis, Jason Varitek, and Mike Lowell, and Farrell is faced with perhaps the least-talented Red Sox Roster in ten years.
Yet, given the decline of both the Rays and the Yankees, it is not impossible for the Red Sox to end a three-year playoff drought. For Farrell, the management of his stars and leaders will be determining factor.
It is true that players such as Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and perhaps most of all, David Ortiz can be difficult to deal with. Whether it is their contracts, relationship with the media, or questions surrounding their effort, all three players have shown a capacity for animosity, both subtle and overt, towards their managers.
While Farrell has a slightly different style than a Francona or Valentine, he must still try and aim to earn the respect of players without trying to please anybody else. In reality, Farrell should try and find a type of balance and serenity between the ultra-passive Francona and the loud-mouthed Valentine.
The respect that Farrell must earn will in turn create a shield against the doubt of his players. Even in the best of times the manager of the Red Sox will always face criticism from fans, management, and media alike.
If this year's postseason proved anything, it’s that managing matters. Both Tigers mananger Jim Leyland and Giants skipper Bruce Bochy managed their pitching, lineups, and substitutions with skill. More importantly however, both managers inspired an aura of confidence that allowed each of their players to be in the best possible mental state to make it through the playoffs no matter what the circumstance.
Can John Farrell block out the media, the fans, and the front office while holding his team intact for 162 games? If he can, and find harmony with the attitudes of all of his players, Farrell might be able to bring an entire organization back from the depths of the abyss. It is true that Farrell’s managerial record in Toronto, as well as this ownership’s group to undermine the team’s results on the field seem to be continuously dubious detriments to the success of the Red Sox. Yet, as the team’s one-year transformation in 2004 taught us, anything is possible.
It’s time for Red Sox fans to believe in something again.