McAdam: Farrell should be the fix Sox organization needs

McAdam: Farrell should be the fix Sox organization needs
October 23, 2012, 10:42 pm
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Over the last few years, as the Red Sox went from an appearance in the ALCS to a first-round wipeout to three straight non-playoff seasons, it's been obvious that their man shortcomings have been the decline of their pitching staff and a series of ill-advised free agent investments.

And here's where John Farrell comes in.

The pitching part is obvious. Farrell served as the Red Sox' pitching coach from 2007-2010, a period in which the Sox compiled the third-best ERA in the American League.

Under Farrell's direction, both Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz enjoyed their best seasons. If the Sox are to be successful in 2013 and going forward, the pair must get turned around.

Though he's returning to the Red Sox as manager of the entire roster and not as pitching coach, Farrell's working knowledge and familiarity with the two can't do anything but help.

In his introductory press conference, Farrell almost casually noted that, even from the opposing dugout, he noticed some "obvious things" in Jon Lester's delivery and has, in the last couple of days, mentioned those to Lester.

"We all recognize how important pitching is, and particularly starting pitching," said Farrell. "You look at every team that's advanced to the post-season and it typically starts and ends with the strength of your starting rotation. That is a priority. You can't over-emphasize the importance of the starting rotation.

"And we do need some work in the rotation. In talking with Clay and Jon already, they're eager to get going, even though the post-season this year hasn't even ended. But I think we'll tap back into those previous experiences to get it right. But the capability is here."

The same goes for Daniel Bard. Moved from the bullpen to the rotation last spring with disastrous results, Bard completely melted down against, ironically, the Blue Jays and Farrell on June 1.

He subsequently was sent to the minors for a two-month stint where his unraveling continued, leaving his future with the Sox uncertain.

But Tuesday, Farrell, who has exchanged text messages and voice mails with Bard already, said Bard "not too long ago might have been the best eighth inning reliever in baseball."

"He's not injured," said Farrell, "and that gives you every reason to believe that he can regain that performance ability."

Bard broke into the big leagues in 2009 with Farrell as his pitching coach. It seems likely that, if anyone can right Bard, it could be Farrell.

Equally important to the task at hand is Farrell's background in player development. From 2001 through 2006 -- before he left to become the Red Sox' pitching coach -- Farrell was the Cleveland Indians' farm director.

At the time, many in the game believed that Farrell was on the front office career track, rather than a uniform or managerial path.

His experience there should prove valuable in Boston. When the Sox shipped Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 25, it was with the admission that the Sox had, in recent years, strayed from the formula that made them so successful from 2003-2008: relying mostly on homegrown talent.

While the 2007 World Series team featured a core of drafted-and-developed players -- Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon, among others -- the Sox then went on a free agent spending spree that netted them Crawford, Mike Cameron, Bobby Jenks and John Lackey, with little return to show for their investment.

The Sox vowed then to be more "disciplined" with their spending, while limiting their forays into the free agent market.

Though the club saved nearly 260 million in salary obligations with the trade with the Dodgers, the Sox don't intend to plow that money back into free agents this winter.

Rather, the team is expected to introduce a number of top prospects into the lineup in the next two seasons led by infielder Xander Bogaerts, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and pitcher Matt Barnes. Additionally, young players such as Ryan Kalish and shortstop Jose Iglesias, both of whom have already had brief exposure to the majors, are expected to compete for jobs in 2013.

Farrell, having overseen the Indians' system a decade ago, can bring some of that experience to his new position, helping him to integrate the next generation of Red Sox farmhands.

"There's going to be a transition that's individual to the given guy," said Farrell, "based on where he's at physically and fundamentally but mentally, can he handle this stage? Can he handle failure, possibly for the first time in his career? Making sure that that player feels comfortable, not trying to add more pressure to himself when this setting alone is going to add to that or compound things.

"I think there's an understanding that when a guy makes his way through the minor league system, transition and development continues at the big league level."

"The good thing is," said Mike Hazen, once the Red Sox director of player development and now the assistant GM, "that I think we have some talented (young) players who are going to be ready, in the next 12 to 24 months, to crack this roster. And we need to, in order to have a sustainable run and that next great Red Sox team."