NEW YORK -- If you listen closely, you can almost hear a clock ticking on the Red Sox' 2012 season, and, no, it is not about to detonate, casusing collateral damage.
Rather, it is about to quietly expire, and with it, Bobby Valentine's tenure as manager of the team will come to end.
The Red Sox can't say that publicly, of course. Both ownership and the front office said two months ago that Valentine would finish the season, and with just two games remaining, they'll make good on that vow.
But when the Red Sox return home to Boston, there will be meetings scheduled Thursday and it's all but certain that the team will hold a news conference to fire Valentine.
That's when things will get really interesting.
The clear front-runner for the job is Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell, who served as Red Sox pitching coach from 2007 through 2010.
But because Farrell is under contract with the Blue Jays through the end of 2013, the Red Sox will likely have to compensate the Blue Jays for allowing Farrell to leave with a year remaining on his deal. A year ago, the Blue Jays demanded Clay Buchholz in return for Farrell. If the asking price is as prohibitive this time, the Red Sox won't waste much time bickering with Toronto and will move on to other candidates.
Just how cooperative the Jays are will itself be fascinating.
Before the Sox even get around to asking about Farrell, it's possible that the Jays could themselves present Farrell with a contract extension.
Should that happen, Farrell could have a decision to make. If he accepts, he will effectively be taking himself out of the running for the Red Sox job. If he declines, he'll be signaling to the Jays that he wishes to explore returning to Boston.
"There are,'' acknowledges one baseball executive, "a lot of moving parts to this whole thing.''
Several people with knowledge of the situation insist that there is likely to be a divide within the Toronto organization when it comes to allowing Farrell to leave -- or, at the minimum, making the compensation reasonable enough to enable him to do so.
Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston is seen as someone who is more likely to facilitate Farrell's departure -- if that is indeed what Farrell wants.
The one caveat: Beeston is sensitive to the notion that some fans view the Red Sox' role as poachers -- the mighty, big-market U.S. team intent on plundering the Blue Jays, using them as a farm team for the Sox' development.
Given that this is the second time that the Sox have inquired about Farrell and that just one year remains on his contract, Beeston may not want to stand in the way if Farrell wishes to make the move.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos, however, is likely to be far less accommodating. Despite a losing season, Anthopoulos values Farrell and is eager to retain him. And if he doesn't retain him, he's not likely to allow Farrell to bolt to a division rival.
If the Sox encounter a roadblock with Farrell, where would they next turn?
While the Sox still place a value on managerial experience, they're not blind to the fact that a number of recent hires with no experience whatsoever have been enormously successful, including Mike Matheny (St. Louis), Robin Ventura (Chicago) and Kirk Gibson (Arizona).
Some have suggested that Jason Varitek, hired as a special assistant last week, would be a good choice if the club opted to consider candidates without previous experience.
But a source indicates that Varitek isn't yet ready to make that sort of commitment. Further, Varitek is said to understand that taking over a roster of former teammates would be problematic.
Varitek may well pursue managing down the road. But for any number of reasons, that time is not now.
Cherington had a long list of candidates last fall -- including Pete Mackanin, Sandy Alomar Jr and Torey Lovullo -- but if ownership found them less than inspiring, it's difficult to imagine he would return to the same group.
Detroit Tigers coach Gene Lamont made it to the finalist stage, but interviewing him again would only highlight the point that the organization made the wrong choice last December.
In all likelihood, the team would start fresh, with perhaps a willingness to consider other names without experience, including former Sox third baseman Bill Mueller and Brad Ausmus.
First, however, they intend to find out about Farrell.