You hear it constantly in Red Sox Nation: “Why did they let Torey Lovullo escape? We wish he were the Red Sox manager. Look at what he’s done in Arizona.” True. True. True.
But Lovullo knows that’s just the nature of the Boston market. He would have been Public Enemy No. 1 with the first unpopular move he made. And Lovullo is fiercely loyal to John Farrell, who made Lovullo his right-hand man both in Toronto and Boston.
But as far as first-time managerial experiences go, Lovullo hit the jackpot in Arizona.
Lovullo’s managerial stock jumped when Farrell handpicked him to run the Red Sox when Farrell underwent his cancer treatments in August 2015. Farrell leaned on Lovullo for all types of duties, from dealing with players to sorting out the analytics of each game, which influenced in-game decisions.
Lovullo took that young team and really got the most out of it, though the pressure was off as the Red Sox were heading toward their second consecutive last-place finish.
When Red Sox general manager Mike Hazen took the GM job in Arizona, breaking away from Dave Dombrowski to run his own organization, it was a no-brainer as to whom he would choose to manage.
While Lovullo took parts of what he learned under Farrell in Toronto and Boston, he wanted to bring his own philosophy and style to the Diamondbacks.
“I wasn’t afraid to talk about the word ‘love,’ ” Lovullo said before the NL wild-card game on Wednesday. “You know, in baseball and sports we’re very macho people. We’re afraid to talk about it. So you’ve heard me say the word ‘love.’ I think that the guys use the word ‘love,’ and I think that we’ve developed a really special bond. So that was the first thing that I set out to do through my own actions and my own relationships, and I think that the guys caught on. I’m proud of that, and I’m honored by that.
“And I think that they felt that it fit for what we were walking through day by day. And then the players played pretty good. So it was a perfect storm of delivering the message to try and change the culture, and then the players went out and executed every single day. They did that on their own. They performed. They grew. They cared about one another. And you could see where that landed us.”
Lovullo benefitted from players who had been injured or were nonfactors in 2016 but rebounded in 2017, such as Zack Greinke and A.J. Pollock. Hazen made a significant deal July 18 when he acquired slugger J.D. Martinez from the Tigers, giving up minimal talent. Martinez hit 29 of his 45 home runs this year with Arizona, and posted a 1.107 OPS after the trade.
“He is as good a hitter on and off the field that I’ve been around,” Lovullo said. “He obviously can walk up to the plate prepared and execute, which is a very impressive thing, but the thing that people don’t see is what he does behind the scenes. There’s notes in a notebook. There’s video and studying. There’s tendencies and habits. There’s constant practice and perfection of the swing. And it translates.
“What I also want to add is he’s a tremendous teammate and a part of this family we developed here. He came here midseason, and it’s hard for players to walk into that environment. He immersed himself into this culture, and he’s become one of us.
“The first couple days [after the trade], I know his world was spinning upside down, and he was probably worried about getting clothes from one day to the next and moving into an apartment, but as soon as he got grounded here in Arizona, he became part of this family.”
Lovullo orchestrated a 24-win improvement for the Diamondbacks from 2016.
“I think it was a complete buying in to a change of the culture,” Lovullo said. “I know that we’re reluctant to release our secrets or what’s going on behind the walls of our clubhouse and front office, but I do know that guys are working tirelessly to give us any type of advantage every single day. And it’s statistical analysis. It’s projection analysis. It’s watching video and paying attention. It’s getting the TrackMan and watching swing planes. A lot of things that we laid out for these players was so foreign to them.
“I had some anxiety walking into spring training because I felt like some of them could shake their head at us and go, ‘Are you crazy? I’m out of here. You guys have no idea what you’re talking about.’ But the players bought in. They bought in quickly, and it started to translate. So when certain things would happen out of nowhere, and you guys were like, hey, I wonder why that happened, you start to realize there’s a strategy for why that happened.
“There’s a very powerful group that’s put together up there that cares about the minutia of every detail, and it’s translated, and there’s been a total buy in by the whole group.”
Win or lose against Dave Roberts’s Dodgers in the NLDS, Lovullo has made his mark and gotten his team’s attention. The D-Backs are a force. Year 1 couldn’t have gone any better.
Managerial talk about to heat up
Managerial hirings are coming for the Mets, Tigers, and Phillies, and there may be more changes ahead.
The Mets will consider their former bench coach and A’s manager Bob Geren, Astros bench coach Alex Cora, former Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale, and Brad Ausmus, who parted with the Tigers. Geren is a favorite of GM Sandy Alderson. He’s now Dave Roberts’s bench coach in LA. He left the Mets last year because he needed to be closer to his family on the West Coast, but apparently his family situation is now manageable and he would be interested in the Mets job.
Cora is a hot commodity. He’s received a high profile for his work with the Astros, but has been hurt by the Astros’ policy of not allowing coaches to speak to the media. Cora would be an interesting choice for a team that has a big Latino presence. Cora will also draw interest from the Phillies and Tigers.
Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway has also forged a following of support.
Ausmus is an interesting possibility. About jumping back into managing again so quickly, he said, “I’d have to study the situation and see if it was the right fit for me.” Ausmus also said he would not have returned to the Tigers “even if they had offered me a three-year deal.” He said he believed the Tigers needed a change, especially with a rebuild ahead.
Ausmus traveled to New York Friday, but not to talk to the Mets. “Just bringing my daughter to NYU for a college visit,” Ausmus said. He’s also been linked with the Phillies.
Many believe that the Phillies had someone in mind when they booted Pete Mackanin to the front office in a surprising move. There was speculation that the Phillies wanted Buck Showalter, but Showalter has another year left on his contract with Baltimore and Orioles owner Peter Angelos doesn’t let anyone out of their contract.
GM Dan Duquette wanted to leave to take the president of baseball operations job in Toronto two years ago, but Angelos wouldn’t let him. Both Phillies president Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak have ties to Showalter from their time with the Orioles.
Other candidates believed to be in consideration for the Phillies include Dusty Wathan, manager of the franchise’s Triple A Lehigh Valley team; Larry Bowa, Philadelphia’s bench coach and the conscience of the organization; Red Sox first base coach Ruben Amaro Jr., the former Phillies GM who acquired some of the team’s top young players; Eric Wedge, who was MacPhail’s choice for the Orioles job ahead of Showalter; and Charlie Montoyo, who was recently promoted by the Rays to bench coach.
Apropos of nothing
1. From the time Adrian Gonzalez rejoined the Dodgers Aug. 18 to when he was shut down Sept. 26 with a back injury, the Dodgers went 15-23. Before that, the Dodgers were 86-34. Purely coincidental, right?
2. Wow. The average duration of a Red Sox game this year was 3 hours 20 minutes, up eight minutes from last season and the longest average game time in the majors.
3. According to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Paul Molitor has finally received an offer to continue as Twins manager. Team management pretty much gave up at the trade deadline, dealing closer Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals and starter Jaime Garcia to the Yankees, and that angered the players. But to their credit, rather than quit, they made the playoffs. Molitor had to deal with the fallout. “I think some guys were a little more upset than others, but they’ve responded,” he said. “Whatever your motivation is, that’s fine. But I think the biggest thing is that we understood that that was the direction we took in making those decisions, and for whatever reason, we played some of our best baseball since that time.”
4. A definite sign of fade: Jackie Bradley Jr. hit just .204 from Aug. 1 to the end of the season. In the same time frame last season he hit .216.
5. Jason Varitek is with the Red Sox during the playoffs. Is he the manager-in-waiting?
6. Tim Bogar was relieved as bench coach in Seattle last week. Bogar was once on a fast track to manage, but a few issues have prevented him from taking the next step, including being accused by Bobby Valentine of stabbing him in the back as Red Sox bench coach in 2012.
7. Not a good beginning for starting pitchers in the playoffs. The Yankees’ Luis Severino was rocked for two homers, four hits, and three runs in one-third of an inning vs. the Twins in the AL wild-card game; the Twins’ Ervin Santana allowed four runs, three hits, and two homers in two innings vs. the Yankees; Zack Greinke’s four runs and six hits in 3⅔ innings for Arizona vs. Colorado in the NL wild-card game; Jon Gray’s seven hits and four runs in 1⅓ innings for the Rockies vs. the D-Backs; Chris Sale’s seven runs, nine hits, and three homers allowed in five-plus innings vs. the Astros. And the list will grow.
Updates on nine
1. Dayton Moore, GM, Royals — There’s no chance Moore would go to Atlanta if John Hart remains president of baseball operations. Moore would need complete control to leave Kansas City, according to people close to him. Hart, it appears, would like to stay on and he’s eyeing Nationals assistant GM Doug Harris and special assistant Dan Jennings for the job. Ben Cherington has also been mentioned. This is all a result of GM John Coppolella being forced to resign over international signing violations. The Braves appear to be going for a more traditional candidate rather than a young, analytics type.
2. J.D. Martinez, OF, Diamondbacks — Will Martinez re-sign with Arizona? He wants to, but can the D-Backs offer him the kind of money he’s seeking? Martinez picked the right time for free agency, a year before the Bryce Harper/Manny Machado class. He’s probably going to seek a five-year deal worth at least $100 million. The Red Sox would appear to be in this hunt. They need power, and don’t forget who signed Martinez as a free agent in 2014 after the Astros made the blunder of releasing him — Dave Dombrowski. It’s one of the greatest pickups ever.
3. Carlos Santana, 1B, Indians — The 31-year-old switch-hitter is entering free agency and there’s no telling whether there’s mutual interest in Santana staying put. He will get interest from teams like Boston and Seattle after hitting 23 homers with 79 RBIs and an .818 OPS.
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Marlins — We mention a lot of teams as possible landing spots for the slugger — primarily the Yankees, Giants, Phillies, and Red Sox — but keep your eye on the Cubs. Theo Epstein has an arsenal of players the Marlins would love to get.
5. Buck Showalter, manager, Orioles — Did Showalter lose control of his clubhouse? It’s a sentiment you’re hearing more and more among baseball insiders, and players have told their agents that was the case.
6. Jim Hickey, former Rays pitching coach — After 10 years, you’d never believe Hickey would leave the Rays after the great work he did with their young pitchers, including David Price. Hickey should have no problem getting another job. You can start with the Mets, who need a strong coach to get through to a talented but difficult group of personalities. The Rays’ new pitching coach is former Red Sox righty Kyle Snyder.
7. Derek Jeter, CEO, Marlins — Jeter acknowledged his mistake of firing Marlins ambassadors Andre Dawson, Tony Perez, Jack McKeon, and Jeff Conine and offering them other roles in the organization. Jeter apparently wanted to clear out the advisers from the old regime and bring in his own, such as ex-teammates Andy Pettitte, Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera.
8. Brian Cashman, GM, Yankees — Great time to grab one the of best GMs in baseball? Cashman’s contract is expiring. While we believe Randy Levine and Hal Steinbrenner will re-up Cashman and make him the highest-paid GM in the game (yes, even more than Epstein’s $10 million per year), there’s an opportunity for a team (hello, Marlins and Braves) to step in and create a little competition.
9. Miles Mikolas, RHP, Yomiuri Giants — If Mikolas exercises an opt-out in his contract, he’s free to join a major league team. Fourteen MLB teams scouted his last few starts and the feeling is he could be a No. 3 or 4 starter in the majors. The 29-year-old righthander had a 2.25 ERA over 27 starts this season. Mikolas appeared in 37 games for San Diego and Texas from 2012-14.
From the Bill Chuck files — “The Dodgers’ starting pitchers allowed 763 hits, the fewest in baseball. The Giants’ starters allowed 1,029 hits, the most in baseball. The Red Sox’ starters allowed 942 hits, the most of all postseason teams.” . . . Also, “There were 133 grand slams hit in 2017. The Reds and Dodgers led the majors with eight apiece, while the Red Sox were the only team not to hit one.” . . . Happy birthday, Sandy Martinez (47), Jerry Reed (62), and Bill Landis (75).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.