SEATTLE — John Farrell was the Red Sox’ top choice to manage after they fired Terry Francona last October, and every indication this reporter has received from team and major league sources is that he will be their first choice to replace Bobby Valentine.
The Red Sox, however, could run into the same buzzsaw they ran into last fall: compensation. It’s not easy to work out a deal for a manager at any time, but it’s particularly tough with a team in your own division. If he’s the manager you want, do you overcompensate to get him? It’s a different sport, but the Patriots overcompensated the New York Jets in order to get Bill Belichick.
Is Farrell, who will come to town this weekend with the Blue Jays for a battle for last place in the AL East, the Red Sox version of Belichick?
According to a major league source, there were “informal” conversations about Farrell last season at the general manager level — Theo Epstein-Alex Anthopoulos — and after Epstein left to become president of baseball operations with the Cubs, Sox ownership and Ben Cherington made a formal attempt to see if Toronto would allow Farrell to leave.
Toronto was willing to listen, but the sides never could agree on compensation. The Blue Jays, obviously, wanted a lot to allow their manager to leave for a division rival. Farrell confirmed for the first time to Toronto media that he is signed through the 2013 season, so the same obstacle will be there this time.
After Farrell’s two seasons on the job, the Blue Jays may feel he is not the kind of “to-die-for” manager they need to hold on to. After all, this season has been a nightmare for the Jays. Injuries and a lack of moves to augment the team have turned a hopeful fan base sour again.
While Farrell has exhibited better communication skills than Valentine, a major league official who is familiar with the Blue Jays situation believes that Farrell “would be what they need [in Boston] to get through to the players, but I’m not big on his strategic moves.”
Obviously, Farrell has strong links to some Red Sox players, particularly pitchers. The keys would be whether Farrell could turn Jon Lester into an ace, get Clay Buchholz more consistent as the co-ace, and help Felix Doubront get over the hump and into the next phase of his career.
Farrell seems to have more future talent to work with in Toronto than he would in Boston. The Jays have not dealt away any top prospects; in fact, they should filter into the team over the next couple of years.
According to people who know Farrell, he and his family love Boston and would welcome the opportunity to return. His time in Toronto afforded Farrell the chance to get his feet wet as a manager — and the experience has been bumpy, to say the least.
It’s interesting, too, that Sox ownership would welcome someone so closely tied to Francona.
So, how could this deal happen?
It would, again, have to start at the ownership level, much as it did with the salary dump the Sox orchestrated with the Dodgers. Larry Lucchino and John Henry were the key figures in that deal, and they would have to be again.
One of Lucchino’s best friends is Toronto president/CEO Paul Beeston. That friendship did not yield the desired result in the Sox’ first attempt to get Farrell.
The other factor could be Farrell himself. While some believe he would jump at the chance to come back to Boston, he would have to make it clear to the Blue Jays that he wants out of his contract.
After the Sox’ interest in Farrell leaked out last fall, the Jays adopted a new policy that prevents employees from jumping to other organizations in sideways moves.
There are ways around everything, of course, and if the Jays get the right compensation, we could see a loophole in that policy.
Speaking to reporters after the Blue Jays lost to Baltimore, 12-0, Tuesday, Farrell said, “My focus is clearly here with the Blue Jays, I’m under contract, obviously.
“I can understand that there can be a natural connection [to Boston] because I’ve worked there in the past, but my focus and my commitment has been and is here, unequivocally.”
It’s interesting that in the Dodgers deal, the Red Sox had to accept two “players to be named” in hard-throwing Rubby De La Rosa and outfielder Jerry Sands. De La Rosa had been claimed on waivers by the Jays and pulled back by the Dodgers; once a player is pulled back, he can’t be traded until the offseason.
The Jays would love to have someone like De La Rosa as compensation. But the Red Sox see him as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter and likely would not part with him as compensation.
If the Red Sox can’t get their top managerial choice after trying for two straight seasons, would they wait for him?
If not, whomever they get to replace Valentine — if that is their intention — would not be their top choice. Is that the perception they want out there? Would they fire managers in consecutive years and still not get the guy they want?
And would they pay top dollar to two managers at the same time? They would owe Valentine $2 million-plus and have Farrell under a similarly sizable contract.
Farrell likely will be besieged with questions upon his arrival here. He has done a good job deflecting them so far. He also needs to be careful how he words things, with Valentine still in the chair on the other side. Managers do not like being disrespectful of one another.
But it’s sure going to be an odd scene at Fenway this weekend. Valentine on one side, Farrell on the other.Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@Globe.com. Follow him on twitter @nickcafardo