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John Farrell would manage fine with Sox

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  October 17, 2012 03:40 PM

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They're doing it right this time, I think.

I mean, no, I guess I wouldn't entirely put it past Larry Lucchino to decide he knows just the disciplinarian manager the Red Sox need, prompting him to dig out a Ouiji board to summon the ghost of Billy Martin while Tom Werner immediately green-lights "Billy From Beyond" for NESN.

Barring a late stampeding of the process by his misguided bosses, it appears as though Ben Cherington will hire the man destined to be The Red Sox' Best Manager Since Terry Francona, Which Kind of Goes Without Saying, Right? from an interesting, appealing list of candidates.

If Brad Ausmus is the choice, well, great. He's bright, was known to be tough and a good communicator as a player, and is open-minded toward sabermetrics while also valuing the game's human element. Tim Wallach's personality and approach draw comparisons to that of his former teammate Francona, and that's a good thing. The former big leaguer Dave Gallagher, whose opinion I greatly respect, raves about DeMarlo Hale, whose chance is already overdue. Tony Pena would bring energy and experience, though his old-school, hunches-and-instincts style probably leaves him as one of the runners-up. They don't need another Grady Little.

Of that crew, I lean toward Ausmus. But I still think that if the choice truly is Cherington's, that choice will be John Farrell, and provided the Blue Jays don't demand every prospect whose last name begins with the letter B as compensation, he should be the choice.

ausmusbradfinn.jpg.jpgThe decision between Farrell and Ausmus, if it does come to that, would be similar to the one Theo Epstein faced nine years ago, when he chose Francona (the experienced manager who failed elsewhere) over an intriguing but less-experienced candidate (I know I'm not the only one who wonders how different Red Sox history would be, for better or worse, had they hired Joe Maddon then).

While the details of Farrell's two seasons, 154 wins, 170 losses, and sporadic personnel brushfires in Toronto absolutely should be investigated thoroughly before he is hired, it does surprise me how quick some are around here to dismiss him as a viable first-rate candidate based primarily on his uninspiring record in Toronto. The Blue Jays won 81 games in Farrell's first season. The Phillies never won more than 77 from 1997 to 2000 -- Francona's four seasons in charge. Unless a team is very lucky, like the 2012 Orioles with their negative run-differential, or managed by an overmatched, out-of-touch, passive-aggressive narcissist (hint: the person I have in mind possibly left town via bicycle), generally a team will play to its talent level. That happened to Francona in Philly, and it's happening to Farrell in Toronto.

It can be a blessing to hire a manager who has made -- and learned from -- his mistakes elsewhere, whether that's picking the right moment to call a player out for dogging it or letting an honest mistake slide, or navigating the complex situational aspects of managing that were such a strong suit for Francona during most of his 7 1/2 years here.

That experience -- even with the blemishes -- makes Farrell a better managerial candidate now than when Toronto hired him, and even then he was the presumed heir to Francona here. I'm convinced he took the Blue Jays job only because he thought Francona would be in Boston as long as he wished.

Better yet, they know him, probably better than they do in Toronto. Farrell was here for four seasons as the pitching coach, succeeding in a job he'd never held before, though he was a talented pitcher before injuries derailed his career. He oversaw Clay Buchholz's development, coerced an 18-3 season out of Daisuke Matsuzaka, helped Jon Lester become one of the top pitcher in the American League, and kept Josh Beckett away from the Miller Lite and the Nutty Bars. There were pitchers who didn't succeed on his watch, Brad Penny and John Smoltz and so on, but overall he worked in sync with Francona and was damn good at his job ... a job, by the way, for which he was overqualified.

Before he came to the Red Sox from Cleveland before the 2006 season, he was on the fast track to becoming a general manager. He was the Indians' director of player development from 2001 to 2006, a period in which the franchise was twice named organization of the year by USA Today Sports Weekly and was named the best farm system by Baseball America in 2003.

Mark Shapiro, then the Indians' general manager, said this when Farrell left for Boston in October 2006. "He's an impact guy, a very special, unique guy because of his communication skills, presence, experience, and skill set. He's had an impact on every guy in the organization."

It did not take him long to make that impact in Boston. When the Pirates inquired about him as a potential managerial candidate just a year later, after the Red Sox had won their second championship in four years, owner John Henry sounded resigned to letting Farrell go:

"He has meant so much to this franchise and to the success of this organization. He's just stepped in in his first season and really helped our pitchers achieve their goals. He's a great communicator and teacher, and losing John would be very tough for us."

If Farrell is Cherington's top choice -- and the relative quietness surrounding his candidacy could be interpreted as a confirmation or, I suppose, a clue that the Jays' ransom is too high -- the Red Sox will be getting more than a manager.

They'll be hiring back someone who already made a great impression here, just as the Indians tried to do in October 2009 when Shapiro pursued him as the manager. "No one is better than John at confronting a problem head-on," Theo Epstein said at the time. Sound like someone who would fit here now?

They'll get a well-rounded baseball man who is already copacetic with the Red Sox' approach.

They'll get someone who has succeeded with pitchers who mostly have failed miserably since September 2011.

They'll get someone they know, and who knows them for what they were and should be, not what they've been for the past season and a month.

If Brad Ausmus is the choice, you'll get no beef here. But to me, he's Plan B, the backup catcher. The Red Sox' first choice shouldn't be the candidate who probably will succeed here. It should be the one who already has.


About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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