NEW YORK — The many baseball scouts, special assistants, advisers, etc. who have followed the Red Sox the past six weeks have noticed that Torey Lovullo isn’t your ordinary bench-coach turned interim manager.
Lovullo has led the young Red Sox from last place to third in the American League East. They have won six straight after Wednesday night’s 9-5 win at Yankee Stadium.
And while none of it matters if you don’t make the playoffs, it does matter to Lovullo and the team.
The feeling around the club has gone from negative to upbeat.
Lovullo has been a huge part of the turnaround and representatives of other teams have noticed.
But where do the Red Sox go from here with their managerial future?
John Farrell has gone through quite a health ordeal. You should never lose your job because you got sick and in the end, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski likely will allow Farrell to resume his job and Lovullo will go back to being bench coach if that’s what Farrell wants.
But baseball people have noticed the job Lovullo has done, and it creates more interest, more awareness that Lovullo might be the hot manager-in-waiting.
“If he’s out there,” said a scout from an American League team, “he’s got to be the best candidate out there. He’s taken an adverse situation and made it better. That’s what teams want to see when they’re hiring a manager — can this guy make us play better?”
He would restore some order in Washington, where Matt Williams has been a disaster. While general manager Mike Rizzo probably doesn’t want to oust his friend, ownership may make him do it. And if you’re looking around for someone who resonates with players and creates enthusiasm, why wouldn’t you choose Lovullo?
If you’re president Mike Dee in San Diego, doesn’t Lovullo make sense with that team? They need energy and a new face. Lovullo provides that.
If ever there was a case of someone you don’t want to lose, Lovullo is the guy.
Before being named interim manager, Lovullo was just one of a mix of bench coaches who had the same level of experience. They were minor league managers who found the right major league manager to hook on with. Lovullo had Cleveland ties with Farrell and they became a team in Toronto and then in Boston. But while he did a good job as a minor league manager, you just never knew whether he would be a good major league manager. Fact is, you don’t know that about most managers until they prove themselves.
Brad Ausmus, who will continue as Tiger manager next season after much speculation he would not be back, has struggled. Jeff Banister, who was Pirates manager Clint Hurdle’s guy for many years, has flourished in his first rodeo with the Texas Rangers. Banister beat out Lovullo for the Texas job. Texas president Jon Daniels has commented how tremendous Lovullo interviewed.
What we still don’t know is how effective Lovullo will be under pressure.
He has executed the wishes of Ben Cherington and Dombrowski at a time when the pressure was turned off for the team. It wasn’t turned off for Lovullo.
He created an aura around the team in which the young guys got ramped up about performing well and providing goals, such as getting out of last place, playing the spoiler, and beating up on the playoff teams (Blue Jays, Mets, and Yankees). They’ve done that.
The young guys have let it all hang out. They wanted to impress Lovullo. They wanted to impress the new boss, Dombrowski. And they accomplished that, creating hope. But the issue remains, is all of this real or just September hyperbole?
Lovullo has executed the game plan of the front office. Younger players have continued to blossom. And Lovullo, who has managed more than 1,200 games from minors to majors, seemed ready for the challenge.
“Personally speaking, it’s been a great experience for me. I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons. I came to appreciate John [Farrell] because I didn’t know how demanding this position was. He made it look very easy,” Lovullo said.
He has learned the difference between managing in the majors and the minors.
“Every decision matters and every decision is going to be evaluated,’’ he said. “A lot of people are watching and everything is being evaluated. I’ve been managing the game behind John, with John, for John when he gets thrown out, for the past three years. We all have the same thoughts during the game.
“I have the final say now. That’s different than it used to be. But the 1,200 games gave me a foundation to feel comfortable about running the ins and outs of it.”
The season will end for Lovullo after Sunday’s game in Cleveland. The presumption is he returns to being a bench coach, but he’s likely to receive opportunities to interview and this time he might land a job.
“I’ll probably return to California and decompress,” Lovullo said. “I’ll celebrate a wedding anniversary and then see where it goes from there. I know there’ll be organizational meetings that I’ll be attending but immediately after, everyone goes home and gets squared away. We come out of our shells slowly and then we get into the offseason.”
Overall, he said, “It’s been a tough situation for all of us. You’re never prepared for the news you get when somebody I’m very close to says he has Stage 1 lymphoma. It’s nothing you expect to hear. As a group we made a commitment to all of our concepts and outlined our expectations of winning as many games as possible.
“That’s something I said to the team right away. They were going to be evaluated and looked at for now and down the road. All of our key concepts were going to be understood and nothing was going to change. The guys really seemed to gravitate toward that and played good baseball,” Lovullo said.
So if you’re Dave Dombrowski and seen what you have seen, how do you let a talent go to another team?
How would Lovullo react if Dombrowski did want to keep him as manager? And would Lovullo even accept a job under those circumstances?
Common sense says Farrell keeps his job if he wants it. If he doesn’t, Lovullo could step in.
But suffice to say, Lovullo has a lot of respect around baseball now.
If you’re hiring a manager, Lovullo is now atop your list.