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NICK CAFARDO | SUNDAY BASEBALL NOTES

Yes, John Farrell belongs in Manager of the Year conversation

(Gail Burton/Associated Press)

One reader recently asked, “Sweep the Yankees and then the O’s. Who is going to give the manager credit?”

Great point.

John Farrell has been the target of Twitter trolls, talk-show callers and hosts, you name it. Yet Farrell has the Red Sox comfortably in first place in the American League East, and thus is in the conversation for Manager of the Year, which will be an interesting competition, to say the least.

Dave Dombrowski and Sox ownership will soon have to decide whether to extend Farrell’s contract, which runs through 2017 with a club option for 2018. There’s surely no reason not to extend him; no manager who finishes first should be a lame duck the next season.

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Those who nip at Farrell for making what they perceive to be the wrong pitching move, or ridiculed him for using Steven Wright as a pinch runner — even though Wright was injured in the role — should rethink their position.

Every manager I’ve asked about Farrell’s pinch-running decision Aug. 7 at Dodger Stadium concurred that a starting pitcher had to be used. It was the sixth inning in a 6-5 game. He had already used three bench players, he needed to save Hanley Ramirez and Sandy Leon to hit for the pitcher, and he couldn’t use a relief pitcher to pinch run and shorten his bullpen.

One manager said, “People criticized him for that? Of course you use a starting pitcher to run. That’s not even an issue. The pitcher has to hit in the National League anyway. If he gets a hit, he has to run to first and then to second. Wright was up four times [three strikeouts and line out] just a couple of days before. Should we stop pitchers from hitting in interleague games?”

Farrell gets no credit for reshaping the bullpen, for the young players maturing into All-Stars, for Ramirez’s attitudinal and performance turnaround. He gets no credit for going worst to first. He gets no credit for Rick Porcello’s turnaround, for David Price turning it around after feeling uncomfortable early in his Red Sox career.

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He gets no credit for a team that hustles on every play. There are no dogs on the field. Even in its toughest times, the team hasn’t quit.

He gets no credit for wading through his catching situation and finally settling on Leon as his main backstop.

When the players perform well, the players get the credit. When they don’t perform well, Farrell gets the blame.

Such is life as a Red Sox manager.

But Farrell will get his share of Manager of the Year votes because the worst-to-first theme coupled with his returning from cancer is pretty compelling.

But the competition will be strong.

The expectations for the Orioles were not high, but Buck Showalter has done a nice job piecing together a horrible starting rotation and making it serviceable. The sluggers have slugged, but when they have slumped, the Orioles have had trouble scoring. With Baltimore fighting to make the playoffs, Showalter should receive consideration for top manager.

John Farrell has the Red Sox on track for another worst-to-first season.
John Farrell has the Red Sox on track for another worst-to-first season.(Patrick Semansky/AP)

John Gibbons never gets the credit he deserves in Toronto. He can be brash, combative, and stubborn, but the Blue Jays play hard and that’s a reflection of the fiery manager who has been thrown out of eight games this season, most in the majors.

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Joe Girardi has been praised for the way his Yankee team has contended after general manager Brian Cashman conducted a fire sale of veterans. Girardi did a fine job of getting his team to buy into the youth movement and it has been exciting to watch Gary Sanchez emerge into a superstar before our eyes.

Jeff Banister has been a steady hand for the Rangers, who have been a good team all season. He’s withstood injuries to his starting pitchers and survived, and even thrived. His lineup has been consistent and powerful, and the Rangers keep finding ways to stay atop the AL West despite some issues.

Scott Servais doesn’t get a lot of attention or credit. His Mariners were in, then they were out, and now they are in again, making a run at a wild-card berth.

Brad Ausmus has heard just as much talk about being fired in Detroit as Farrell has in Boston, yet the Tigers are contending for a wild-card spot. Ausmus has been so optimistic and patient, especially with Justin Upton, who seemed like a free agent bust but is now a solid contributor at the most opportune time. Ausmus has dealt with numerous injuries in his lineup.

Terry Francona had the best starting rotation in the league until he lost Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco this month. But Francona has done his usual outstanding job of taking a team that can be challenged offensively and getting the most out of his players and platoons. The Indians were expected to be a top team in preseason metrics, but Francona had Michael Brantley for just 11 games all year.

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A.J. Hinch has done a nice job of keeping the Astros in the mix for the playoffs. The Astros should be better than their record indicates, but pitching issues and injuries have kept them from challenging the Rangers in the West.

There may be no clear-cut choice for Manager of the Year, but Farrell belongs in the conversation.

FADED PHILLIE

Howard’s run close to finish

Ryan Howard is batting .194 this season.
Ryan Howard is batting .194 this season.(Chris Szagola/AP)

Ryan Howard’s time in Philadelphia is winding down. The team will decline his $25 million option and send him off with a $10 million buyout.

It was a significant career, but one that declined quickly after Howard tore his Achilles’ while making the final out of the NLDS against St. Louis in 2011.

He required surgery and missed the start of 2012. He suffered knee injuries as well and nothing seemed the same.

Basically, Howard has been on scholarship the last few years. He’s hit 23 homers in each of the last three seasons, but his average has sunk to .195 this year and he continues to strike out a ton.

The Phillies tried endlessly to move him, but it never worked out. The team plans to honor him next Sunday in what should be an awkward moment in some respects. Howard is basically being pushed out, and there’s no guarantee his career will resume elsewhere.

Perhaps an AL team will offer him a minor league deal with an invitation to major league camp. But even that is questionable.

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“I know he wants to keep playing in the American League as a DH,” Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa said. “I know this, he still has power. He has to get off his legs because playing the field all the time is not good for him. He needs to be a DH.”

A decade-plus in Philly
A look at Howard's production over the years.
Year BA OBP SLG HR RBI BB SO
2004 .282 .333 .564 2 5 2 13
2005 .288 .356 .567 22 63 33 100
2006 .313 .425 .659 58 149 108 181
2007 .268 .392 .584 47 136 107 199
2008 .251 .339 .543 48 146 81 199
2009 .279 .360 .571 45 141 75 186
2010 .276 .353 .505 31 108 59 157
2011 .253 .346 .488 33 116 75 172
2012 .219 .295 .423 14 56 25 99
2013 .266 .319 .465 11 43 23 95
2014 .223 .310 .380 23 95 67 190
2015 .229 .277 .443 23 77 27 138
2016 .194 .256 .445 23 52 26 106
Career .259 .344 .515 380 1,187 708 1,835
Source: baseball-reference.com

Howard is certainly the best first baseman in Phillies history. Once upon a time, he was a devastating lefthanded power hitter and projected to be part of that 500-600-homer club and win a couple of MVPs.

He won Rookie of the Year in 2005 and MVP in 2006, when he smacked 58 homers and knocked in 149 runs. He hit 47 homers in ’07, 48 in ’08, and 45 in ’09.

He was as dangerous a hitter as there was, and so popular in Philadelphia. Then his career dulled big time and he was never able to regain that ferocious offense.

With Howard as the centerpiece, the Phillies won five consecutive NL East titles and one World Series.

It wasn’t solely the injuries that messed up Howard’s career. It was, according to those who were around him, his stubbornness in making adjustments. He just wouldn’t do it.

Howard entered Friday with 380 homers, 1,187 RBIs, and a career OPS of .859.

Apropos of nothing

1. It’s great that Tony La Russa said if Diamondabacks ownership makes him fire Dave Stewart as GM, he will quit. Ownership needs a more patient approach rather than changing its management team every couple of years. There’s no continuity. The Diamondbacks suffered terrible injuries to key players early this season. There were mistakes for sure, but a knee-jerk reaction would be alarming.

(Patrick Semansky/AP)

2. Adam Jones spoke out against the poor crowds at Camden Yards for the Red Sox series. Jones is right — for a team that has fought as hard as the Orioles have, to have slightly over 20,000 fans per game for a Red Sox series was pretty weak.

3. Ryan Hanigan owns a horse farm in Kentucky.

4. Great seeing Al Bumbry at Camden Yards last week. In addition to being a popular Orioles player, he was a popular Red Sox coach.

5. There really are no collective bargaining issues that would cause the players to strike. By all accounts, the talks are progressing and an agreement should be reached by the December deadline, if not sooner.

6. Except for the donations to his foundation, some of the other “gifts” given by teams to David Ortiz have been rather cheesy. He didn’t react well to receiving from the Orioles the dugout phone that he destroyed in 2013.

7. Stolen bases aren’t what they used to be, but 35-year-old Indians outfielder Rajai Davis could become the oldest player to lead the league in steals since Rickey Henderson set the record with 68 steals in 1998 at age 39.

8. New Orleans Zephyrs owner Lou Schwechheimer issued a strong endorsement of the job former Red Sox first base coach Arnie Beyeler did in managing the Marlins’ Triple A affiliate. Beyeler previously worked for Schwechheimer in Pawtucket, where Schwechheimer was the GM and part owner for many years. “Arnie has done an amazing job in New Orleans keeping the team at the .500 mark despite the many player moves keeping the Miami Marlins in the NL wild-card hunt. Players just won’t quit on Arnie,” Schwechheimer said.

Updates on nine

Jeremy Hellickson has a 3.57 ERA this season.
Jeremy Hellickson has a 3.57 ERA this season.(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

1. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Phillies — The Phillies would like to get Hellickson signed before he hits free agency. That’s one of the reasons they didn’t trade him at the non-waiver deadline. Hellickson (12-9, 3.57 ERA, 1.142 WHIP in 181⅓ innings) is also showing signs he’d like to stay in Philadelphia, but with a dearth of starting pitching in free agency, Hellickson may want to see what’s out there before committing quickly.

2. Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees — Why should Sanchez be the AL Rookie of the Year? Because he’s compacted the equivalent of a good rookie season into two months. Is it quantity voters are looking for, or quality? Some would argue that voting for Sanchez would be a slap in the face to rookies who have been in the majors all season. But Sanchez’s stats are better than anyone who’s been around all year. In 168 at-bats entering Friday, Sanchez was hitting .333 with 19 homers and 38 RBIs and a 1.150 OPS. In 370 at-bats, Twins outfielder Max Kepler had 16 homers and 60 RBIs but also a .232 batting average. Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin was hitting .301 with 14 homers, 42 RBIs, and a .911 OPS, but that’s in 299 at-bats. Tigers starter Michael Fulmer is 10-7 with a 3.03 ERA in 24 starts and could be the front-runner for the award if the Sanchez support doesn’t take. But Sanchez has been special and special should win.

3. Matt Wieters, C, Orioles — All signs point to the Orioles cutting ties with the backstop. Wieters accepted a qualifying offer last offseason but the Orioles won’t be as generous this time. Scott Boras and his staff were in Baltimore recently and met with GM Dan Duquette, but nothing was resolved in terms of Wieters or Pedro Alvarez, another free agent client of Boras’s. Boras also represents Cy Young candidate Zach Britton. There will be a lot of catching available in free agency and the Orioles may opt for someone cheaper than the switch-hitting Wieters. The Braves and Rays could be good fits for Wieters.

4. Ben Cherington, VP of baseball operations, Blue Jays — Why Cherington and others such as Alex Anthopoulos have turned down the Twins’ president of baseball operations opening is anyone’s guess. One theory is the Twins won’t pay more than what Cherington and Anthopoulos earn from the Jays and Dodgers, respectively, without the stress of being the top dog. The Twins also operate with a strict budget. Anthopoulos moved his family to Los Angeles from Toronto and doesn’t want to uproot them again. Jason McLeod could emerge as the choice in Minnesota if he’s willing to leave Theo Epstein and the Cubs.

5. Josh Reddick, RF, Dodgers — Reddick was lining up for a big payday in his free agent year, but injuries and a subpar season could land him in the bargain bin. “It just didn’t click for him all season. It’s not that he isn’t a good player, because he is, but giving him $18 million to $20 million a year? I just don’t see it,” said a special assistant to the GM of a West Coast team.

6. Jose Bautista, RF, Blue Jays — Injuries may also cost Bautista in free agency. It’ll be interesting to see if the Jays make him a qualifying offer. If they do, Bautista may take the $16.7 million and try to reestablish his market. It’s not that Bautista won’t get a three-year offer somewhere, but it may not be for north of $20 million per, which he may have gotten had he had a better season. The Orioles could be a fit.

7. Torey Lovullo, bench coach, Red Sox — Lovullo could get some consideration for the Braves’ managerial job given that he has a history with John Hart, Atlanta’s president of baseball operations. Jon Heyman reports that Bud Black is also under consideration.

8. Dan Duquette, GM, Orioles — In the five years Duquette has been GM, the Orioles have had five seasons at .500 or better. That’s a pretty good run for any GM. Considering budget restraints that don’t allow him to compete with the Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays for the biggest names, Duquette has built a consistent winner for a franchise that was downtrodden for more than a dozen years.

9. Steve Clevenger, C, Mariners — Duquette traded him to Seattle for Mark Trumbo, and he’s probably glad he did for more than the lopsided nature of the deal. Clevenger was suspended by the Mariners for the rest of the season without pay for his offensive tweets on the rioting in Charlotte. Clevenger apologized for his remarks, but the Mariners organization was appalled and acted quickly to suspend him.

Extra innings

From Bill Arnold’s bag of goodies: “Through Wednesday, Giants relievers had blown eight saves this month; in their World Series championship seasons of 2010, 2012, and 2014, the club had a combined total of four blown saves in September.” . . . Happy birthday, Lars Anderson (29), Rocco Baldelli (35), Joel Pineiro (38), Reggie Jefferson (48), and Eric Hetzel (53).


Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.