ORLANDO — The Red Sox’ John Farrell was as surely the American League Manager of the Year as the sky is blue.
You could make a case for Farrell’s old boss Terry Francona, the former Red Sox manager, coming in second place because he did a nice job of managing an Indians team that has a payroll about $90 million less than Boston’s and he led them from 94 losses to 92 wins. Like Farrell, he also incorporated new players in with the old. He didn’t have quite the same talent on the roster.
But that Francona won the award over Farrell? That was a bit backward.
Now understand that the voting applies only to the regular season. If the voting had been done after the World Series, we assume Farrell would have won. But even with it being based on regular season, how could Farrell have finished second with a 97-win season after inheriting a 69-win team?
Think about what Farrell did.
He managed to mesh about half of the team of new faces with the holdover core players and led them to a runaway in the American League East. He managed the season without a hitch. He dealt with every crisis to perfection — including losing two closers, quickly trying Junichi Tazawa before determining that wasn’t going to work, then giving Koji Uehara the job. His team never lost more than three games in a row. He survived an injury to his most talented pitcher — Clay Buchholz — and didn’t miss a beat.
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America got this wrong.
Two voters — ESPN.com’s Christina Kahrl and Asuka Iinuma Brown of Jiji Press, based in Seattle, did not have Farrell in their top three. Kahrl had Francona, Oakland manager Bob Melvin, and Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon. Brown had Melvin, Maddon, and Buck Showalter. No Francona or Farrell on that ballot.
We’re sure both writers had good reasons for their votes, but really, when a team wins 97 games and leads the league in wins after a 69-win season, it’s awfully tough for him not to earn one of three spots isn’t it?
Now we all love Showalter, and he does a great job with the Orioles, but did his Orioles, who missed the playoffs, really warrant a vote over both Farrell and Francona? It’s a free country. You can vote as you wish, but it doesn’t appear the magnitude of what Farrell did resonated with those two writers.
Farrell couldn’t have managed a better season. There were a couple of moves he’d love to have back, particularly in Game 3 of the World Series, but that doesn’t count. Farrell also dominated Francona in head-to-head competition during the season.
Farrell used his lineups wisely. He managed players’ injuries, such as those to Shane Victorino and Stephen Drew and David Ortiz early in the season. He introduced younger players such as Jose Iglesias and Brandon Workman into the mix. He managed the only player who never fit in — Alfredo Aceves — into making three very good spot starts while Buchholz was out with an injury.
Farrell oversaw the return of John Lackey to prominence after Tommy John surgery. He also believed very strongly in the ability of Drew, who was a steady defensive force throughout the season despite struggling at the plate at times. Farrell managed days off of regular players well, and also seemed to have the right touch with the platoons involving Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava, and Mike Carp. He accentuated every player’s best attributes.
On a larger scale, he brought a toughness but a tranquility to the clubhouse. Players rallied around his leadership. As Ortiz pointed out on many occasions, “He had our backs.”
But he also dealt with disappointment of players also.
When Jarrod Saltalamacchia lost his starting job to David Ross in the World Series Saltalamacchia was certainly upset, but Farrell said, “I expected that he would be upset about that, but at the time I did what was best for the team.”
And Francona did the same types of things in Cleveland.
There are voters who believe that a manager who does good work with a smaller payroll gets the benefit of the doubt over the manager who has the big-payroll team. Francona never got a first place vote in either 2004 or 2007 because of the perception that he had a high-payroll team and he was expected to win. That was surely the case then, but this was a completely different scenario.
Francona inherited an excellent team from 2003 and during his tenure the Red Sox had extreme talent. Farrell didn’t have a lot of superstars, but he had good professional players he molded into good role players, forging an understanding of what each player’s role was.
Oh, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Ortiz could be considered superstars, but the remainder of the team was just a bunch of hard-working lunch-pail type guys.
Farrell also accumulated the 97 wins playing in the AL East against tough teams like Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and New York. Cleveland had to contend with Detroit, but beyond that the Indians had cupcake teams like the White Sox and Twins they had to beat. And they did so.
Farrell, who was asked to go to a Cleveland-area TV studio to stand by in case he won the award (he has a home in the Cleveland area), said all of the right things afterward. He mentioned “how humbled I am to be mentioned for the American League Manager of the Year award.”
He texted congratulations to his friend and mentor, Francona.
Earlier in the day, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, who had won the Executive of the Year award the night before, as voted by his peers, said, “We were not honestly expecting the news [about the executive award], but we fully expect the news today [about Farrell winning], and in my mind it shouldn’t go any other way. He did a terrific job this year. I’m proud of what he did. Maybe I’ve said it too many times and maybe it sounds easy now, but to come into a place that’s struggled and say you’re going to do something and actually pull it off, and do it the way he did it, requires a lot of work and a lot of leadership and it takes a lot of communication, and a lot of skill.
“Take the outcome of the World Series out of it, because once you get into the postseason even good teams don’t win enough sometimes to advance. But the body of work over several months, starting in the winter, through spring training and the regular season, he did exactly what he said he was going to do.”
Yes, it was quite a performance. Farrell couldn’t have managed a more perfect season, and it should have been rewarded — if not for an imperfect vote.