After another ALDS elimination, Red Sox cut John Farrell loose
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is one of the few executives at his level who still attends nearly every game.
Others designate subordinates to travel with the team or even occasionally skip home games to go watch minor league affiliates play. But with only a few exceptions, Dombrowski is on the field for batting practice and in the clubhouse after every game.
When the Sox clinched the American League East last month, Dombrowski joined in the champagne celebration while wearing the same goggles the players did.
But even with that success, Dombrowski had concerns about the direction of the team under manager John Farrell based on his observations.
He acted on that Wednesday, firing Farrell during a morning meeting at Fenway Park.
“I thought it was the time to make a change for the betterment of the organization to move forward,” Dombrowski said. “You weigh a lot of different things that come into play. You watch day in day out, over a season, and you come up with a decision based upon that.”
Other than repeating that change was needed, Dombrowski refused to get into why Farrell was fired after consecutive 93-win seasons and back-to-back AL East championships.
“I’m not going to share facts,” Dombrowski said. “Those are things that I keep to myself. Basically everything is what you weigh in making a decision like this. It’s a major decision. Those are things that you keep to yourself. I’m not going to get into particular situations.”
A major league source said Dombrowski and Farrell vehemently disagreed with how the team handled an incident in April when Baltimore’s Manny Machado injured Dustin Pedroia with an aggressive slide.
Sox pitchers initially did not retaliate. Then Matt Barnes threw a fastball dangerously close to Machado’s head two days later, which Pedroia criticized.
That the players were not unified in how to respond reflected poorly on Farrell’s leadership.
When David Price took it upon himself to criticize broadcaster Dennis Eckersley on a team flight in June, it was another example of fractured communication lines between the manager and the clubhouse.
Farrell also claimed no knowledge of a scheme to transmit information on stolen signs from the clubhouse to the dugout via an electronic device. The Sox were caught by the Yankees and fined by Major League Baseball.
One player, who requested anonymity, said the loss of bench coach Torey Lovullo had a detrimental effect on the clubhouse.
Lovullo was a conduit between Farrell and the players before leaving to become the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks a year ago. New bench coach Gary DiSarcina did not fill that role as easily.
On Monday, after the Houston Astros eliminated the Red Sox from the postseason, Pedroia, Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, and other players were asked if they wanted Farrell to return. All praised his work but none said directly that they did.
For the Red Sox, this is not new. Their next manager will be the fourth in eight seasons, and like Terry Francona and Bobby Valentine before him, Farrell was ultimately fired because of deteriorating relations with the players.
Dombrowski joined the Sox late in the 2015 season and had little choice but to keep Farrell on as manager given that he was fighting cancer at the time and on leave.
Farrell returned healthy in 2016 and won two division titles. But ownership did not oppose his ouster.
“Dave came to a conclusion and recommended a change,” team chairman Tom Werner said. “It was a baseball decision. I think John was a remarkable manager for the Red Sox; his record speaks for itself.”
Dombrowski was asked if any number of wins this season or postseason success would have changed his mind about wanting to make a change.
“No,” he said.
Farrell, 55, was 432-378 in five seasons with the Red Sox and is the only manager in team history to win three division championships. He is sixth in team history in wins, and in the last half-century, only Francona has more.
In Farrell’s tenure, the Sox were sixth in the majors in wins, and only the Los Angeles Dodgers, with five, made more playoff appearances.
“Despite an end to this season that we all wanted to be different, I am proud of this ball club and the resiliency shown,” Farrell said in a statement released by the team. “I have enjoyed every moment of this job — its peaks and its valleys.”
Farrell thanked the ownership group, the players, his coaches, and the fans who “keep a manager on his toes.”
Former team captain Jason Varitek, a special assistant to Dombrowski, would be a popular choice among fans to replace Farrell. But Dombrowski made it clear he prefers candidates with experience as a manager or major league coach.
“Being in a dugout during a game and seeing what the manager encounters is probably helpful,” Dombrowski said. “I do think it would be difficult for a person more so [in Boston] than in some other places to walk directly onto the field without some on-field managerial experience at some level or big league coaching.”
Astros bench coach Alex Cora, a former Sox player, would be an attractive candidate. The last manager Dombrowski hired, Brad Ausmus, was fired by the Detroit Tigers last month and could emerge as a possibility, along with Arizona bench coach Ron Gardenhire.
The Sox have a ready-to-win roster that may be more appealing to hot candidates than the Mets, Phillies, and Tigers, who are also looking for managers.
Dombrowski said his goal would be to hire a new manager as quickly as possible, and based on his history, he will move expeditiously. He did in firing Farrell.
The Sox were eliminated from the playoffs Monday afternoon with a 5-4 loss against the Houston Astros. Dombrowski talked to people on his staff that night, then held a more formal meeting Tuesday morning.
“Basically after that made the decision myself to make a change,” said Dombrowski, who said he did not feel a need to consult with any of the veteran players.
Later on Tuesday, Dombrowski met with principal owner John Henry and team president Sam Kennedy at Fenway Park, with Werner participating via telephone.
Henry, who also owns the Globe, did not respond to requests for comment.
Dombrowski called Farrell at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and asked him to come to Fenway. Farrell was fired approximately 30 minutes later.
“He said he understood and respected my decision,” Dombrowski said. “It’s never an easy moment.”
Dombrowski said Farrell asked him one question, the content of which he did not reveal.
Firing Farrell will appease a significant portion of the fan base that never warmed up to him. But now the focus will be squarely on Dombrowski and his construction of the roster.