On Searching For A New Skipper

There was indeed fire burning underneath all of that smoke encircling the manager’s office at Fenway Park, as yesterday it was announced that John Farrell’s tenure in Boston is over. Farrell’s ousting is the latest example of how tenuous job security can be for a major league manager, as he won a World Series title, three division championships, and 53 percent of his games as the club’s bench boss, but he won’t get the chance to add to that resume in Boston. It was not all sunshine and rainbows under Farrell. There are the two last place finishes, romantic relations with media members, and then this year there was the Apple Watch use that he was oblivious to and then snarky about, and his reportedly losing the clubhouse in the early going.

With all that in mind, I think we should recognize that Farrell was generally pretty decent at his job, especially when compared to others. Not great, but simply good. Everything that went wrong this year and in previous years was not directly Farrell’s fault, and won’t necessarily be corrected by hiring a new manager. Thinking otherwise is not productive. While Red Sox fans (and perhaps even the players, coaches and front office members) hope the next manager is better than Farrell, he could easily be worse. Dave Dombrowski needs to tread carefully as he hires his first manager. All of the blame that Farrell has soaked up the last few years will start to trickle into Dombrowski’s suite if the next manager stumbles.

The discussion about possible candidates for the Red Sox’s managerial vacancy are in full swing. After all, Farrell was fired a whole 24-hours ago. Things move fast. I am sure you have seen lists of names that people feel should be considered. You can even wager your hard earned cash dollars on who it will be. Of course you can. Maybe we should be monitoring Dombrowski’s bookie. Jokes aside, and at the risk of repeating parts of your Twitter feed, here are the names I have seen/heard as suggestions for the Red Sox’s job opening (in no particular order):

Hensley Meulens

Joe Girardi

Gary DiSarcina

Manny Acta

Ruben Amaro Jr.

Brad Ausmus

Ron Gardenhire

Chili Davis

Alex Cora

Larry Bowa

Buck Showalter

Sandy Alomar Jr.

Mike Matheny

Gabe Kapler

Jason Varitek

Dave Martinez

That’s 16 names, and I probably missed a name or two that has been floated out there. Interestingly, there appears to be consensus on a few names. As an example, spend an hour on Twitter and it will seem as though Alex Cora already has this job. People (including credible ones) are suggesting Cora is a perfect fit. That is strong. Of course he could be, but it is not at all clear to me what evidence is being used to support this idea. There are certainly nice things being said about Cora, and it is assumed that he embraces the analytical  side of in-game tactics given his time in Houston, but he only has one year of big league coaching experience and hasn’t had to deal with the media. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to make a case against Cora – I think he would be a fine manager – nor am I saying that years of major league managing experience and media training are critical attributes. I am just surprised by how quickly and confidently people have jumped to fit Cora for a(nother) Red Sox uniform. If I recall correctly, five years ago, John Farrell seemed like a such a perfect fit that actual major league talent was traded away to acquire him. Now he can’t leave town soon enough.

Five years ago, John Farrell seemed like a such a perfect fit that actual major league talent was traded away to acquire him. Now he can’t leave town soon enough.

Any candidate is going to have a difficult job to do in Boston. An obligatory mention of the tough media market goes here. After getting past the media everyday, the clubhouse has three hard-headed veterans in Dustin Pedroia, David Price, and Chris Sale, and a group of young players (i.e., Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr.) who are expected to bounce back from underperformance on offense in 2017 and take on a more defined leadership role. The veterans can make life very hard for a new manager who does things in a way that goes against their preferences, and there is no way any more slippage in performance from the young core is going to be tolerated.

Of course, the young guys could bounce back for no other reason than natural regression, which might push them to be more vocal in the clubhouse and make the new manager look like a genius, so that is a perk. There is also the fact that the Red Sox are a team with money, being run by Dave Dombrowski. He will go get players he wants. Add a Jake Arrieta to the rotation, along with an extra helping of slugging to the lineup (e.g., J.D. Martinez, Carlos Santana, Joey Votto [swoooon]) and you have the makings of an upper-90s win total stew going, and a stronger chance at winning a postseason series or two – or three.

For me, the best candidate will be someone who is: (1) receptive to and implements analytically-driven strategies, (2) a strong and clear communicator, (3) able to work with and respects young players’ development, and (4) humble and admits mistakes. This set of characteristics likely rules out a few names from the table above (i.e., Ausmus, Matheny, Bowa, Gardenhire). But the reality is that none of us know much of anything about the managerial characteristics of most of the guys in the table above. We are just guessing and trying to convince ourselves that our personal preference will be better than Farrell. Chances are, barring another Bobby V-esque disaster, we will be going through a similar exercise again in three-to-five years.

Photo by Shanna Lockwood – USA TODAY Sports

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