NEW YORK — Numerous reasons have been given for the good standing of both the Red Sox and Yankees this season, but one that you seldom see mentioned is the strong performance of the managers.
Managers in big markets such as New York and Boston often get overlooked, because they’re supposed to win with high payrolls. Therefore, the reasoning is, “How much impact do they really have?”
For example, Joe Girardi and Terry Francona never won Manager of the Year awards while with New York and Boston, respectively, though Girardi was named National League Manager of the Year in 2006, his only season with Florida.
In some seasons, the premise has merit. But not this year.
Girardi and John Farrell would be the leading candidates for AL Manager of the Year if the season ended right now. Girardi has been adept at fitting new players into the spots vacated by icons Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter — neither of whom have played an inning this season — as well as All-Stars Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Kevin Youkilis.
“He’s really done the kind of job he’s always done for us,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman said of Girardi, who took over in 2008. “He gets his players ready. They’re very prepared. He’s had to deal with unusual circumstances and come out of it terrific.”
Farrell has brought together a relatively new roster — albeit with a few core holdovers such as Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz — and turned it into a first-place team. Farrell has changed the culture of the brief-but-tempestuous Bobby Valentine regime into a positive, defining roles in the bullpen and bench, while navigating through a tricky closer situation when Joel Hanrahan was injured very early in the season.
Farrell has been a much better manager than advertised. In Toronto, his ability to communicate was questioned and some players, such as Adam Lind, accused him of micromanaging.
Those charges seemed to baffle Farrell because his main lieutenants in Toronto were Torey Lovullo and Brian Butterfield and they are serving the same roles with the Red Sox.
Farrell contends he’s run the Red Sox no different than he did the Blue Jays, except the results and the reception has been better.
If the Red Sox brought him in for no other reason than to correct the pitching issues, he’s executed that task to near perfection. Farrell has, in turn, praised the work done by pitching coach Juan Nieves, who has brought with him the same principles of pitching that he learned under the White Sox’ Don Cooper. The staff has welcomed the concepts, which emphasize tempo and delivery. The simple message of, “Get the ball and throw it,” has increased confidence. Both Lester and Buchholz are again pitching up to their capabilities.
Farrell was also criticized in Toronto for his in-game managing, and for having runners take too many chances on the base paths. That hasn’t reared its head much with the Sox.
There has been a clear thought process for in-game moves, whether it be running for Ortiz or making sure the right defense is out there. Farrell even moved Jonny Gomes to the shorter field in right at Yankee Stadium Friday night and used Daniel Nava, the better outfielder, in the larger area in left, where he remained Saturday.
Farrell has employed some very effective shifts on major hitters, which have worked in Boston’s favor.
If he’s made a mistake, he’s openly admitted it, such as leaving Ryan Dempster in a game too long (127 pitches) simply to put the veteran in position to get the win. As it turned out, Dempster couldn’t finish the fifth inning and received no decision.
For the most part, Farrell has been patient with struggling players. He was probably a day or two away from making a decision to pull Ellsbury from the leadoff spot, and then Shane Victorino got hurt.
He has stuck with Stephen Drew, even with a superior defensive player, Jose Iglesias, now playing third. Drew has had good production in a few games, but his .211 batting average going into Saturday remains a sore spot.
Farrell, like Girardi, has had to deal with major injuries and has managed to overcome them. He didn’t have Ortiz or Drew to start the season. He lost Andrew Bailey and Hanrahan and had to appoint Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara as closers. He’s lost Victorino and Will Middlebrooks to the DL and has navigated through Gomes’s poor start.
Besides all of the replacement everyday players Girardi has had to use, he’s had to manage the pitching staff through some injuries. Phil Hughes was down early with a bulging disk. Joba Chamberlain has been injured. Andy Pettitte has had back and groin issues. Girardi’s had to incorporate guys such as Vidal Nuno and David Phelps into the rotation. He’s had to juggle his catchers with Francisco Cervelli (broken hand) out of the lineup, forcing him to use Chris Stewart and Austin Romine and both have handled the staff well.
Now Girardi’s transitioning back to the “A” team, as Cashman calls it, with Youkilis and Teixeira in the lineup again. Now the players who excelled for him while the team was banged-up — such as Lyle Overbay, Travis Hafner, and Vernon Wells — are probably going to see more time on the bench. It’ll be yet another challenge to see how Girardi can keep the players who got him here to remain productive and content with their new roles.
Girardi’s contract is up after this season and it would appear the Yankees would rush to tack on an extension. But when asked if there are any contract talks going on at this time, Cashman answered, “None.”
Expect that to change.
Girardi and Farrell deserve as much credit as any other reason for the success of both teams. They have been leaders, they have managed, and they should both take a bow.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.