The two years that followed the Boston Red Sox’s 2013 World Series title produced back-to-back last-place finishes in the American League East, a fate the franchise had not suffered in 85 years. But it wasn’t enough to get Manager John Farrell fired, with the team in a transitional phase as it rebuilt around young players such as Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. This part was also true: Championships buy time for managers.
The past two seasons have produced consecutive AL East titles for the Red Sox, something the franchise hadn’t achieved in a century, but that wasn’t enough to save Farrell’s job. On Wednesday, the team announced it had fired him. And this time it appeared the Red Sox’s postseason failures were the deciding factor.
Farrell’s five seasons with the Red Sox produced a 432-378 regular-season record, three division titles and, of course, the 2013 World Series championship. But the past two seasons ended with first-round exits from the playoffs, with Boston winning just one game across those two American League Division Series.
The Red Sox will say the decision was not as simple as wins and losses in October. They will say they needed a new voice in the clubhouse and a new face in the media, and maybe they do. It’s possible Farrell’s standing never really recovered from the Manny Machado beanball debacle in April, when Red Sox star second baseman Dustin Pedroia appeared to throw his teammates under the bus by claiming he had no part in the Red Sox’s retribution against Machado.
It’s also true that Dave Dombrowski, the president of baseball operations, inherited Farrell — who was sidelined with cancer at the time — when he took over the Red Sox’s front office in 2015, and it isn’t unusual for such a change to be made eventually under those circumstances.
But it also seems clear Farrell’s job could have been saved by a better showing in the postseason these past two years, instead of back-to-back first-round exits — a sweep to Cleveland in 2016, and a loss in four games to Houston this year.
Fairly or not, managers these days — especially those of large-market, high-payroll teams — are judged on how their teams play in October. Farrell isn’t alone in facing that reality this month.
There are already rumblings that a first-round exit by the New York Yankees, who play Game 5 of the Division Series against the Indians on Wednesday night, could lead to the dismissal of Joe Girardi — despite the fact the youthful Yankees essentially arrived this season a year ahead of schedule. And there is at least a perception in Washington that Dusty Baker’s future as manager depends on how the team does in its Division Series against the Chicago Cubs.
Wherever the franchise decides to turn for its next manager, there will be an undercurrent of lost opportunity in Boston. A year ago, they decided to retain Farrell, and as a result bench coach Torey Lovullo was allowed to leave to take the manager’s job with Arizona — under GM Mike Hazen, a former Red Sox executive — earning widespread praise this season for guiding the Diamondbacks to 93 wins and the National League’s first wild card.
Because of Dombrowski’s past success in Miami and Detroit, familiar names such as Jim Leyland and Brad Ausmus will be floated in the coming days. But Leyland, 72, has said directly he has no interest in coming out of retirement to manage again, and Ausmus was just canned in Detroit following a 98-loss season and a second last-place finish in three years.
Former Red Sox captain Jason Varitek will be a popular candidate around Boston, and Astros bench coach Alex Cora, considered one of the hot managerial prospects of the moment, has the benefit of having played in Boston near the end of his career.
But whoever gets the Red Sox’s job will come in with the understanding — the same as Farrell and those who came before him undoubtedly had — that while it’s nice to talk about clubhouse leadership, people skills and familiarity with the market, the only thing that matters in Boston is winning in October.
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