Let’s cool off John Farrell’s hot seat for now
Are we getting ahead of ourselves a tad when we call for John Farrell to be fired?
The answer is yes. It’s wrong to think at this stage that a managerial change is in order after a .500 start. And why are the expectations high? This reporter picked the Red Sox to finish third, out of the playoffs — the point being that not everyone’s expectations were lofty.
The Red Sox are as flawed as every other team in the American League East. There’s no runaway here. So if your expectations are that high, it’s understandable that you think a change of manager would be in order. But if you thought going in they were fair-to-middlin’, then yes it’s premature.
Firing a manager at this time is certainly not unprecedented but it is unusual. The earliest one recently was Milwaukee canning Ron Roenicke on May 3, 2015, after a 7-18 start. The 1972 Padres fired Preston Gomez after 11 games. The Royals fired Trey Hillman on May 13, 2010, after a 12-23 start, right around that 40-game mark that Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski talks about as his first evaluation point.
The Marlins fired Mike Redmond on May 17, 2015. And Dombrowski himself fired Phil Garner six games into the season with the Tigers in 2002.
There’s also the matter of continuity. There’s less and less of it with the Red Sox. The players need to know their manager is their manager and that he’ll be there.
Granted, it’s an unusual situation in Boston for sure. Not every team has its interim manager for part of 2015 back as the bench coach for 2016 with a salary, we are told, that could be construed as that of a small-market manager. It’s awkward.
At the time Lovullo got that contract, Dombrowski had no way of knowing whether Farrell would be ready to manage after his bout with cancer. But Farrell was ready on Day One. Yet even he knows that the situation with Lovullo makes him an easy target for second-guessing.
The last time an in-season managerial change worked for the Red Sox was 1988, when Joe Morgan replaced John McNamara, who had the team in the dumps, and rattled off 12 straight wins in a stretch known as Morgan Magic, propelling the Red Sox into the playoffs.
So what has Farrell done wrong?
We hear that he played Chris Young against righthanders when Young is supposed to play against lefties. But the Red Sox didn’t face a lefthanded starter until J.A. Happ beat them in the 12th game of the season. Farrell was right to play Young against righthanders. It’s April, isn’t it? Is this a firable offense?
Is Pablo Sandoval Farrell’s fault as well?
Farrell can’t be blamed for Sandoval not missing a meal. Farrell also made the bold move to take his job away. Not sure a lot of managers would have exercised that power given Farrell’s standing, but he did it anyway.
Is it Farrell’s fault that Dombrowski’s two major acquisitions — David Price and Craig Kimbrel — have been just so-so? Is it Farrell’s fault that two starting pitchers — Eduardo Rodriguez and Joe Kelly — are missing from the rotation with injuries or that the other big Dombrowski acquisition, Carson Smith, has not thrown a pitch this season because of an injury?
There’s no denying that the younger players excelled when Lovullo was at the helm last year. But with fewer than 20 games played, can we really assess how much the young players have declined or advanced? The team made the choice of swapping Christian Vazquez for Blake Swihart behind the plate, and got an immediate jolt with Rick Porcello and Clay Buchholz performing better in their last couple of starts.
You can blame Farrell for pitchers underperforming, for not getting deep into games and thus running down the bullpen. The manager gets blamed for players not performing to their capabilities.
The other thing is, the players aren’t complaining about the manager. The fact he plays Young too much or Brock Holt too little isn’t a firable offense. Don’t forget, some of the moves are consensus decisions made with pitching coach Carl Willis or Lovullo, who has a lot of say in the in-game strategy.
If you think this team should be much better than it is, I’m not so sure of that.
What sticks out for the Red Sox are two consecutive last-place finishes. That’s why the angst.
But consider that the Red Sox now have a transitioning core of players, moving from the Ortiz/Pedroia era to the Betts/Bogaerts/Bradley/Vazquez era. Sometimes these transitions take time; with younger players, you can never know whether they’ll improve, stay the same, or decline. The Red Sox decided that Swihart had declined, or at least not advanced fast enough, and now he finds himself playing for Larry Lucchino’s Pawtucket Red Sox.
While Dombrowski did a great job in acquiring the best starting pitcher and the best closer, many of us questioned what was in between.
And now Farrell is caught in the fans’ crossfire. His decisions are under a microscope more than ever.
We’ll find out soon enough what management and ownership think.
IN THE MOMENT
Ross relishing his final season
David Ortiz may have a more celebrated farewell tour, but former Red Sox catcher David Ross also has announced this as his final season, and he is soaking it all in with the Cubs. On Thursday, he caught his first no-hitter, Jake Arrieta’s 16-0 win over the Reds.
“I think I spend more time just enjoying every moment,” Ross said from his hotel in Cincinnati Friday. “When you’re playing and caught in the moment, it’s hard to do that.
“But now I watch the fans and how much they’re into it at Wrigley. I watch every time they’re standing on their feet waiting for the no-hitter Jake pitched or just sensing the end of the game. It’s so much like Fenway that way.
“The whole experience I’ve had here with the Cubs is similar to what I had with the Red Sox with Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer] here. The atmosphere they’ve created with our team is similar to the one they created with the Red Sox. It’s that family-first kind of feel.
“I’m the luckiest man to have finished my career with two organizations like this. What we’re doing here as a team, as a young team, has been so much fun, and I’m completely committed to making sure that we get where we want to go.
“I’d love to end my career as a World Series champion. I mean, 2013 in Boston was such a blast.”
Ross said he keeps in touch with Ortiz through texts and feels great that Ortiz will be honored.
“He’s so deserving of a farewell tour for the caliber of career he’s had but also for the caliber of person he is,” Ross said. “I’ll always text him when he does something big and he’ll text me back.
“He’s one of the most humble teammates for someone of that caliber that I’ve ever been around. He really cares about his teammates and takes care of everybody. He’s someone I’ll always remember very fondly in my thoughts.”
Ross probably can do anything he wants after this year. He wants to spend more time with his children, but he likely will have coaching, managerial, and TV opportunities awaiting him.
“I know I want to stay in baseball in some role,” Ross said. “Right now I just want to enjoy this year. My family has made a lot of sacrifices for me and allowed me to play this great game for a long time. And now I need to give back to them.
“You never know what you’re going to do until you’re offered something, but I kidded with Theo and Jed after the no-hitter that if they give me a qualifying offer, I’m taking it.”
Ross said Jon Lester “looks a lot more comfortable” this year. “I think having [John] Lackey there is big for him. They’re best friends. That’s really helped. I wish we could get Jon more run support. We scored 16 runs for Jake and we needed to save some for Jon.”
Apropos of nothing
1. NESN’s Tom Caron makes a good point: Why would the NFL schedule a Patriots-Bills game at 1 p.m at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 2 — the same day of David Ortiz’s farewell game at Fenway Park? One wonders if this will change when the Kraft family realizes that it takes away from Ortiz’s last day with the Red Sox (unless they make the playoffs).
2. Major League Baseball put out some interesting home run numbers last week. As of Thursday, there had been 438 home runs hit this season, and 29.7 percent of them (130) were hit by players 25 or younger. That would be the highest percentage for a season since 1975, when 29.9 percent (808 of 2,698) were hit by players 25 or younger.
In addition, players 25 or younger were leading the majors or sharing the lead in the following categories: hits, home runs, RBIs, walks, stolen bases, slugging percentage, OPS, total bases, and extra-base hits.
Three of the top five home run hitters were 24 or younger (Trevor Story, Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado). The top four players in slugging percentage were 25 or younger (Harper, Manny Machado, Story, Tyler White). Five of the top seven in total bases were 25 or younger (Story, Machado, Harper, Jose Altuve, Arenado). There had been 25 multi-homer games, including 10 by players age 25 or younger.
3. No doubt there’s a love affair in the media for Christian Vazquez’s defensive prowess. He was credited last week for helping Rick Porcello allow just three runs over seven innings and for Clay Buchholz throwing 6⅔ scoreless innings.
But when David Price coughed up eight runs in 3⅔ innings, there was not one word about Vazquez’s role in that. It just goes to show, the pitcher should always be assigned credit or blame. He throws the baseball.
Vazquez is fun to watch, but when we start comparing him to Pudge Rodriguez and Yadier Molina, you have to look at the offensive output of those future Hall of Fame catchers. Right now there is no comparison.
4. Yes, the entertainer Prince was the inspiration for the Fielders in naming their son. Prince Fielder told Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, “My parents liked him, so I kind of liked him. It’s kind of weird when an icon dies, but I never really felt more of a connection to him. I like him and I listen to him, but not like every day.”
5. The Braves are trying hard to get a new spring training facility in Collier County, Fla., which would get them very close to the two Fort Myers facilities housing the Twins and Red Sox. Naples is the preferred destination, though a site the Braves were eyeing was rejected by officials last week.
Lee County seems to be tapped out stadium-wise, and while Naples has always held out (the Cubs tried to move there), Braves president John Schuerholz has a lot of influence there (he owns a home there). The economic benefit is undeniable, but the problem, as usual, is public funding. The Braves could look for another site in Naples, but right now they’re exploring other areas. Their Disney lease expires after next season.
Updates on nine
1. Chris Colabello, 1B/OF, Blue Jays — His 80-game suspension for testing positive for a steroid is one of the sadder stories in baseball. The Massachusetts native languished in the CanAm League for seven years before being signed by the Twins. He had his breakout year last season when he hit .321 with 15 homers and 54 RBIs in 360 plate appearances for the Blue Jays. In some ways, you understand why he did it. It was a chance to get over the hump. The downside was getting caught, and now he’ll have to pay the price with his reputation tarnished. Apparently his disclosure of the suspension to teammates was very emotional. Colabello says he doesn’t know how he tested positive.
2. Miguel Sano, RF, Twins — You can’t yet term it a disaster, but the fears about Sano playing right field in spring training have manifested themselves in the regular season. You can use all the fancy measurements of defense, some of which aren’t completely in line with the naked eye. His defensive runs saved are at minus-4 right now, but the Twins, who started out 0-9, have needed offense and are sacrificing defense to get it. They were hoping Sano could be an adequate outfielder and an above-average offensive player. They’ll have to swallow hard.
3. Mat Latos, RHP, White Sox — Those of us who were really down on Latos are wiping egg off our faces after his 3-0 start with a 0.49 ERA. Latos, who has been considered a tough guy to manage over the years, is still just 28 years old, and his stuff has been electric. He won 14 games once with the Padres and twice with the Reds. He owns a 67-55 career mark with a 3.46 ERA, but his last two years with the Marlins, Dodgers, and Angels weren’t very good. He credits his current success to getting his slider over for strikes and having fastball command.
4. Jake Arrieta, RHP, Cubs — David Ross, who catches Arrieta and Jon Lester, said the transformation Arrieta has made since his Baltimore days is amazing. “He moved to the third base side of the rubber once he got here, and that has allowed him to throw across his body and really hide the ball,” said Ross. “It almost looks to the hitter that he’s throwing behind you. He also has one of the best breaking balls I’ve seen.”
5. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas — Before Rangers GM Jon Daniels gave Beltre a two-year, $36 million extension, he studied the history of third baseman 37 and older. Mainly, he looked at Wade Boggs, Chipper Jones, Cal Ripken Jr., and Brooks Robinson. He also looked at how long third basemen played after 37. The list was: Graig Nettles, five years; Lave Cross, four; Gary Gaetti, three; Jones, two; Ripken, two; Boggs, two; Robinson, two.
6. Yovani Gallardo, RHP, Orioles — There’s always a bit of apprehension when a pitcher drops 3 miles per hour on his fastball from one year to the next. That’s what happened to Gallardo, who went from 90.4 to 87.4. The Orioles felt Gallardo just hadn’t gotten loose yet but then they placed him on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis.
7. James Shields, RHP, Padres — Shields, 34, is someone we monitor closely since he will likely be a big name at the trading deadline or earlier. He’s 0-3 with a 4.15 ERA, but has pitched better than his numbers. Shields has gone seven innings twice, six innings the other two times, and has received six runs of support in the four starts. Unfortunately for teams seeking pitching help, Shields’s teammate Tyson Ross will likely be unavailable after shoulder inflammation was detected; it may keep him inactive for a few weeks.
8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Tigers — Since James McCann went down with a right ankle sprain April 12, Salty has thrived as the No. 1 catcher. He had a 1.175 OPS entering the weekend, with five homers and 14 RBIs, all on the road. He had not had a hit in seven at-bats at home. He also hadn’t had a passed ball and had thrown out 3 of 11 base runners trying to steal. Salty, who will turn 31 on May 2, seems to have found a home in Detroit. McCann, by the way, is getting closer to returning.
9. David Murphy, OF, Rochester — Don’t expect Murphy to stay down in Triple A for long. He is basically getting the rust off and then should be up with the Twins, who need some revamping with their outfield defense. Murphy has only three hits in 25 at-bats, but as soon as the 34-year-old veteran picks it up, it shouldn’t be long before he is up.
Through Thursday, Bryce Harper had eight homers and seven strikeouts. This ratio isn’t something we expect to continue, but it’s fascinating nonetheless. In 2004, Barry Bonds hit 45 homers and struck out only 41 times. In 2002, he hit 46 home runs and struck out 47 times. Harper may be the closest thing we’ve seen to Bonds . . . Happy birthday (on Monday) to Ken Tatum (72) and Lew Krausse (73).
Good starting point
Jake Arrieta is about as sure a thing as there is in baseball. The reigning National League Cy Young winner no-hit the Reds in a 16-0 win Thursday, Chicago’s 17th straight win in starts by Arrieta (he’s got 15 wins during the streak). That’s the most among active pitchers, and there are only nine pitchers with longer streaks. At Wrigley Field, he’s pretty impressive, too. He hasn’t allowed a run in 48„ innings, dating to last July, covering six- plus starts. A look at Arrieta’s dominance: