First pitch: Red Sox managerial search to start with Farrell

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First pitch: Red Sox managerial search to start with Farrell

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.

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.