Boston Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski announced Wednesday morning that manager John Farrell would not be returning for the 2018 season. In a statement on Twitter, the Red Sox said a search for a new manager would begin immediately. Farrell was 432-378 in five seasons as the Red Sox manager, led Boston to the 2013 World Series Championship, and won three division titles during his tenure.
The decision to let Farrell go was made by Dombrowski, who informed team owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and president Sam Kennedy of his decision via phone call. Ownership was not a part of the decision-making process, but ultimately trusted Dombrowski’s belief that it was time for a change. An interesting note: players were not consulted in the firing of Farrell, who is known as a players’ manager, but had a rocky relationship with $217 million man David Price.
The question is, will the managerial move really be the change the Red Sox need? In short, no. There were times this season when Farrell’s management came into question, particularly his handling of the bullpen in late game situations. But in the end, the Sox pen was second in Major League Baseball during the regular reason with a 3.15 ERA. Farrell managed the bullpen well-enough to go a remarkable 15-3 in extra-inning games, not to mention his masterful use of David Price out of the pen in the postseason. Were there bumps along the way? Sure. But Farrell’s management of the team is not the reason he lost the job.
In Boston, like many major sports markets, expectations rule actions. Farrell’s firing is case-and-point. With the offseason acquisition of Chris Sale, the promising debut of Andrew Benintendi at the end of 2016, and an uber-talented roster, the Red Sox were a popular preseason World Series pick. Tack on last year’s playoff sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians and Farrell had to have a pretty good idea entering this season it was World Series or bust.
The firing of Farrell feels eerily similar to that of Terry Francona in 2011. Farrell, like Francona, was a players’ manager who had success in past seasons but took the fall for his team not meeting lofty expectations. As is often the case in professional sports, the coaches get blamed for the losses, while the players get credit for the wins.
Truth is, Farrell’s players let him down this season, and it all starts with pitching. Sale was a Cy Young candidate during the regular season, but struggled down the stretch and threw a dud in Game 1 of the ALDS. Drew Pomeranz returned to All-Star form this season, but couldn’t get the job done in Game 2. David Price was shaky until an injury left him sidelined, and eventually sent him to the bullpen. The rest of the rotation – Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Doug Fister – were wildly inconsistent and unreliable. The bullpen posted gaudy numbers, but never felt like a shutdown unit, and was ultimately failed by closer Craig Kimbrel in Game 4.
The batting lineup came up short this year as well. The Sox suffered from down seasons out of Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, and Xander Bogaerts, mediocre seasons from Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mitch Moreland, and pitiful third base play for the first four months of the season. This led to an offense ranked tenth in runs, 13th in average, and 22nd in OPS. That kind of offense will simply not get a team to the World Series.
Bottom line, the Red Sox will need to make a lot more changes than just replacing the manager if they hope to compete for a World Series next season.