Red Sox looking for turnaround
John Farrell says team can contend quickly, but Ben Cherington has work to do
BOSTON -- The new manager of the Boston Red Sox surveyed the room packed with reporters, TV cameras and club officials and leaned into the microphone in the fourth-floor State Street Pavilion in Fenway Park.
"I am honored, I'm humbled and I'm pretty damn excited," he said. "Did I dream about this situation? Absolutely."
Sorry, somebody hit the rewind button by mistake. That was Bobby Valentine, not even 11 months ago. But on the day the out-of-work Valentine was preparing to sit down with Bob Costas for a televised interview, the Red Sox introduced Valentine's successor, John Farrell, who also said he was honored, humbled, excited and persuaded he was living a dream.
Valentine never expected a pink slip at the end of his rainbow, and now Farrell becomes the team's third manager in three seasons charged with the task of returning the Red Sox to the postseason.
We understand, gentle reader, why you might be something less than bedazzled by that prospect, regardless of the Mount Rushmore-esque presence Farrell cut at the podium Tuesday as manager No. 46.
Even principal owner John W. Henry, who has mostly gone underground amid the wreckage, asked Farrell over a meal of Chinese takeout at president/CEO Larry Lucchino's house Saturday night whether he knew what he was signing on for.
"John asked me, 'With all the issues, why would you want to come here?"' Farrell said. "I responded that if things ran smoothly, I wouldn't be having this conversation with him. That was kind of an obvious answer. But I think, at the same time, there's some realization on my part there's work to be done here. There are a lot of quality players who are currently here, but the results, the win-loss record, doesn't reflect that.
"It's my job, and my intent, to get started, to find out what took place, how do we address it and correct it."
The Red Sox thought they had a roster packed with talent a year ago, even after the September collapse that cost Terry Francona his job. Valentine, Henry proclaimed, was "the right man at the right time for this particular team. We're set to win."
The two most expensive baubles on that roster, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, have since been traded away. The Sox have a pile of cash with which to replace them, but the needs are many: first base, shortstop, outfield, pitching -- and the quality of potential replacements is not immediately apparent.
Which begs the question: Can this team contend next season or should Sox fans prepare for that rarest of occurrences on Yawkey Way, a rebuilding year?
Lucchino, who applied Henry's words about Valentine ("right man at the right time for the right job") to Farrell, hedged.
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"I think it's too early to put any kind of timetable on it," Lucchino said. "We have a whole winter of steps we are taking. This is a giant step in the right direction to make us more competitive than we were in 2012. You will see more steps like that: coaching staff, the right kind of cohesive coaching staff. And then, importantly, we'll see player acquisitions and player signings that will make a big difference. Ask me that question in spring training and I'll have a better answer.
"I certainly hope that we will be, but there are just too many unanswered questions to set a particular timetable on how soon we're going to be back to winning, contending baseball. I'm hopeful it will be as early as next year, but we're going to do it the right way."
Sam Kennedy, the team's chief operating officer and president of Fenway Sports Group, was more bullish on the team's prospects for a rapid recovery.
"This is great, turn the page," Kennedy said. "I think Ben is committed to that, I think John [Farrell] is committed to that. We were talking before the press conference about the fact that I think fans associate John with seeing champagne poured on his head in 2007, and we remember. It's been a little while, but it hasn't been that long since we were playing deep in October consistently, and that's our goal, that's what we've got to get back to.
"It's not going to be easy. I think Ben is focused on getting us back to where we were. I think it's what our fans deserve, it's our goal as a front office. When we were in San Diego, it was unrealistic to expect to be playing October baseball every year. Our expectation here is to play October baseball each and every year. We as front-office members and we as fans sometimes take that for granted because it happened so often for so long, but that's what we have to do."
This, Kennedy said, "was turning the page on three or four years of underperforming."
Now? "This is all on Ben's shoulders," Kennedy said, laughing. "The truth is, when we fall short, it's on all of us to fix it."
In a sense, of course, Cherington now does bear a greater burden, which Farrell underscored in his very first comment of the afternoon.
"Ben, you said an awful lot of nice things," he said, "but we know it's going to come down to the quality of the players on the roster when it comes to wins in this ballpark, on this field."
Farrell's role is to succeed where Valentine failed, in building trust among his players, demanding accountability, creating an environment in which confidence and enthusiasm reign instead of confusion and ennui. His leadership qualities are self-evident, even though they did not translate into a strong won-loss record in Toronto.
Farrell already has reached out to a number of players, including both David Ortiz and Cody Ross, further evidence that both free agents will be coming back. He said he already has discussed mechanical flaws he noticed from the opposing side with pitcher Jon Lester. He has sealed an agreement to bring Torey Lovullo with him from Toronto as his bench coach. And his first five minutes on the job with Cherington were more comfortable than any the GM had last season with Farrell's predecessor.
Farrell vowed to hit the ground running, and he has.
But will the Sox contend next season?
"I think a couple of things need to happen," he said. "Certain players return to the form and the performance that they established for themselves, not just one-year situations, guys who have established their career path and record to be above average and very successful." (That's you, Jacoby Ellsbury.)
"And get the guys back who were taken out because of injury. Get them back fully healthy, and what other additions are brought forth to this group," Farrell continued. "Yeah, I think we've got an opportunity to be a fairly quick turnaround and get to the playoffs, contending, next year."