It was a perfect storm of unique events that led the Toronto Blue Jays to trade John Farrell, who had managed the team the past two seasons, along with reliever David Carpenter to the Boston Red Sox for infielder Mike Aviles.
When the Blue Jays gave Farrell his first opportunity to manage a baseball team — at any level — following an exhaustive search for a replacement for Cito Gaston at the end of the 2010 season, he was a hot commodity who was seemingly forever blocked by Boston manager Terry Francona. Farrell served as pitching coach for four years for a Red Sox club that was a force in the American League, making the playoffs three of those four seasons and winning the World Series his first year.
Francona was one of the most well-regarded, well-respected managers in the game, a hero to Red Sox Nation, and it appeared as though he would run that team as long as he wanted.
Everything changed last September when the Red Sox had their epic collapse, getting knocked out of the playoffs on the last day of the season, and Francona was unceremoniously ushered out of town amid rumours of a clubhouse in tatters, with beer and fried chicken all over the place. Francona was smeared on his way out by rumours — presumably from Red Sox ownership — about his marital problems and prescription drug addiction.
But that’s where John Farrell wanted to be.
The Red Sox came after him last winter, ultimately settling on Bobby Valentine and all the clusterness that would follow in Beantown. When it became clear that Valentine was going to be fired, the reports began again out of Boston that the Sox wanted Farrell as their next manager.
There were tales of a deep, irreperable rift between Farrell and general manager Alex Anthopoulos and that Farrell’s heart was really always in Boston, and the Red Sox appeared to be relentless in their pursuit of Farrell, not caring at all that he was under contract to another team.
The whole process was pretty unseemly, to be sure.
In his end-of-season post-mortem with the media, Anthopolous said that there was no doubt in his mind that John Farrell would be the Blue Jays’ manager in 2013. Four or five days later, his mind changed when he finally broached the subject of all the Boston rumours with Farrell and the Jays’ ex-skipper told him that the Red Sox job was, indeed, a dream of his and that he’d like the opportunity to pursue it.
With that information in hand, Anthopoulos decided not to stand in Farrell’s way, so long as the Blue Jays were able to acquire something they liked in return, and so long as the Red Sox got in touch with the Jays and inquired about Farrell’s availability. They did, a few days later, and the transaction was hammered out mainly at the ownership level (that is, Paul Beeston on the Jays’ side, Larry Lucchino on Boston’s).
In Aviles, the Blue Jays get a major-league player, which was their focus in negotiating Farrell’s departure. He’s not overwhelming by any means. Aviles finished tied with Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy for second-last among qualified American League hitters in 2012 with a .282 on-base percentage. Only Indians first baseman Casey Kotchman was worse, at .280.
Aviles did hit .325/.354/.480 as a rookie with the Royals in 2008 and .304/.335/.413 in 2010, both seasons with almost 450 plate appearances. He also hit .317/.340/.436 with the Red Sox in 2011 after a late-season trade to Boston.
Clearly, this isn’t a guy who can’t hit. He’s not going to walk, but he also doesn’t strike out much and his career line of .277/.308/.408 is by no means terrible for a bottom of the order hitter, which is what he should be in Toronto. He has also stolen bases at a 74 per cent success rate for his career with a high of 14 each of the last three seasons.
The Blue Jays made the point several times late in the season that they needed more hitters with the ability to make contact on a regular basis. Aviles becomes the Blue Jays’ second-best contact guy — the only Jay with a lower career strikeout rate than Aviles’ 13.6 per cent is Yunel Escobar.
Is Aviles the “offer you can’t refuse” for the Blue Jays? Did the Jays make the Red Sox pay through the nose to acquire Farrell? Were they willing to walk away if they weren’t completely satisfied with what they got back?
The answer to all those questions is no. But they did get a guy who could very well wind up being their everyday second baseman in an off-season in which they needed one and the free agent market was bone-dry beyond Marco Scutaro. And they got that for a manager, and one who didn’t want to work for them.
Carpenter, who came over in the 10-player deal with Houston back in July, was going to be squeezed out in a roster crunch and would have been placed on waivers shortly anyway. Carpenter wasn’t the centrepiece of the trade that brought J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon over with him — Anthopoulos stated that he was a “late add” and eventually became a disposable piece.
Should the Blue Jays have told Boston to go and do something that’s rather improbable, anatomically, and let Farrell manage out the one year remaining on his contract and then leave for nothing? That certainly was an option, and we don’t know how much hardball the Blue Jays played in negotiations, but it really does seem like the best thing to do was to make a palatable deal, even though it looks pretty bad from a Blue Jay fan’s perspective.
In a release from the Red Sox announcing the deal, Farrell said he was “extremely excited to be returning to the Red Sox and to Boston. “I love this organization. It’s a great franchise in a special city and region, with great fans, and we want nothing more than to reward their faith in us.” Neither Toronto nor the Blue Jays were mentioned by Farrell in the release.
On a conference call with the media, Anthopoulos wished Farrell well and said that his now ex-manager gave everything he had to the Blue Jays while he was there, from start to finish. He also implied that the entire affair left him with a bad taste in his mouth because of all the false information that was leaked from the Boston side.
Anthopoulos called reports of Farrell wanting Omar Vizquel released in July and rumours of Adam Lind having been involved in the transaction “100 per cent completely false.”
He also apologized for some of the details of the deal being leaked late Saturday night, saying that the Blue Jays didn’t get their medical reports on Aviles until Sunday, nor did the commissioner’s office approve the transaction until then. The plan had been for the Blue Jays and Red Sox to release a joint statement about the trade on Sunday, but that was ruined by all the leaks, none of which came from the Toronto side of things.
The search for a new manager — the Blue Jays’ eighth full-time skipper since Cito Gaston was fired at the end of the 1997 season (including Gaston’s second tour of duty) — began as soon as Anthopoulos hung up the phone on that conference call at approximately 3:45 p.m. ET on Sunday.
The Blue Jays will once again look for stability in the manager’s office. Since Gaston’s first tour ended, the average lifespan of a Blue Jays manager has been just under two seasons.
Anthopoulos doesn’t expect this manager search to take as long as the last one did. He said there are “zero frontrunners” for the position, despite reports he’s heard and seen. I did suggest that I thought Sandy Alomar Jr. was the frontrunner for the position, but that was an opinion, not a report by any means. I still believe Alomar Jr. will wind up at the forefront of those considered for the job.
The list of candidates is shorter than it was two years ago, when Farrell, Alomar, Brian Butterfield and DeMarlo Hale wound up being the four finalists of a group of over one hundred when the search began.
Anthopoulos did say he was interested in speaking to some people he didn’t get the chance to interview last time, either because he wasn’t granted permission to do so or because they were managing elsewhere at the time. Among that group could be people like Manny Acta, Tim Wallach and Jim Tracy.
As far as the Blue Jays’ coaches are concerned, one would have to imagine that it’s all but a done deal that Farrell will take his best friend, Torey Lovullo, with him to Boston, likely to serve as his bench coach. The rest of Toronto’s coaches are free to seek employment elsewhere, as whoever becomes the new manager will be free to select his own staff. Anthopoulos said that he did hope to have several of them back, but that he couldn’t make any promises until a new manager is hired.
As far as I’m concerned, I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth as well. I understand the unique set of circumstances that occurred in Boston and believe that when Farrell came to Toronto he never imagined Francona would leave the Red Sox on anything other than his own terms. The Blue Jays did get a major-leaguer for their manager, and any guy who actually contributes to wins on the field is worth more than any guy who sits in the dugout pushing all the buttons. But it still feels as though the Red Sox saw something they wanted that the Blue Jays had and without any consideration for what was happening in Toronto, came and took it.
After two years, I didn’t really have a read on John Farrell as a manager. I liked him as a person, he’s a bright, engaging guy who knows the game and communicates very well, but I gave him a mulligan for his rookie season and he was barely managing a major-league team for the final third of this past season. I have no idea what sort of a manager he’s going to develop into, and the guy who takes his place could easily wind up doing a better job.
So ultimately, this very well may wind up with the Blue Jays getting their everyday second baseman for the next couple of years in exchange for a manager who didn’t want to be here and who is replaced by someone who does the job the same or better, and that’s certainly not a step backwards.
Wish the optics were better, though.