Farrell to Boston a surprise? Not really…
When the rumors linking John Farrell to Boston first surfaced last year, it was hard to take them at face value. It seemed relatively impossible that Farrell would be looking to bolt after one season on the job even if a dream scenario in Boston hung in the balance.
The speculation seemed as though it was a by-product of the Boston media and an organization that is notorious for leaking information to the press. There was almost a sense that it was the big bad Red Sox acting as league bully with a sense of entitlement and that Toronto should step aside and simply let Farrell return to his roots.
At the time, the Blue Jays didn’t crumble under the pressure. They instead instituted a club policy which prohibited employees departing for another organization in a lateral move. That was supposed to be the end of the rampant speculation but instead it was really just the beginning.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos declined to get into the specifics of what took place in 2011 but he did outline the recent events on Sunday afternoon. He said that it was the Blue Jays belief all along that Farrell would return in 2013 but that changed during a debriefing at the end of the season during which the manager expressed his desire to join the Red Sox.
The move supposedly caught the organization completely off-guard but there were indications throughout the past two seasons that Farrell hadn’t ruled out a possible return to Boston. There were the relatively weak denials through the media that sidestepped the issue more than it brought closure.
Whenever pressed on his connection to the Red Sox, Farrell frequently answered with “I am the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.” At no point did Farrell say he wasn’t interested in the job nor did he openly lobby for a contract extension beyond the 2013 campaign.
This was viewed by some as taking a common-sense approach to the situation. Managers very rarely have leverage in negotiations but it was clear from the start that almost all of the power rested in Farrell’s hands. Here was a Red Sox organization ,in a big-time market, with a big-time budget that clearly felt Farrell was the solution to their problems.
Instead of speaking out about the issue in any great detail, Farrell held his cards close to his chest. Along the way, there were plenty of clues where Farrell’s heart truly lied but at the time most of them seemed relatively innocent. It was clear through their pre-game embraces and discussions on the field that Farrell had a close personal relationship with Boston’s franchise player Dustin Pedroia.
There were also Farrell’s fond memories of his old neighborhood in Boston. There were his close ties to the organization with plenty of friends to be found even following the departure of Terry Francona at the end of the 2011 season. None of these developments were entirely surprising because of course he would have fond memories of a place he used to call home.
But for me, the clear sign that there was something to this Farrell speculation came on Aug. 25 when the Dodgers and Red Sox reached an agreement on a blockbuster trade. I was sitting in the Blue Jays dugout watching batting practice when I saw the breaking news on my phone.
I turned to Farrell and relayed the news and as is somewhat custom on the road we discussed the day’s events with a handful of other Toronto beat reporters. At the time, I made an off-handed remark about how that has to be the most salary being traded to one team in the history of baseball.
Farrell thought about it for a few seconds and then began running down the list of players I just mentioned were in the deal. Within a minute, Farrell had the total amount the Red Sox would be shedding in the trade. I remember being somewhat taken aback by this because — despite public opinions to the contrary — this is not the type of information most managers would know off the top of their head.
Sure, a lot of managers could ballpark the total figure but when I got back up to the pressbox I checked Farrell’s math. He was within a few million of the total amount going to Los Angeles, which is no small feat when you’re talking about a deal worth more than $250-million.
Now, I’m not relaying this story because I think Farrell had any knowledge of the deal prior to it actually taking place. Nor am I insinuating that there was blatant tampering on the part of the Red Sox and that Farrell knew with absolute certainty the job would be his at the end of the year.
Instead I’m using it as an example that Farrell never really let go of the past when the Blue Jays gave him his first managerial opportunity just two years ago. There’s very little doubt in my mind that Farrell would not have been able to immediately crunch of the numbers of any other team in baseball the way he could with Boston.
It became evident that he was still monitoring the Red Sox’s state of affairs. Yet another clue was provided at the end of the season when Farrell did an interview with MLB Network Radio in which he admitted knowing the timing of interviews for Boston’s managerial search. That’s also something that wouldn’t be considered commonplace even for an intelligent man like Farrell who is aware of his surroundings more than most peers.
Farrell’s departure isn’t exactly an act of treason but it does feel like the Blue Jays have been left at the altar. There’s no way the 50 -year-old could have envisioned when he originally departed for the Blue Jays that Terry Francona would be relieved of his duties less than a year later.
At the time, Francona was revered in Boston and it seemed inevitable for Farrell being forced to leave for another team in order to reach of goal of becoming manager. It was ultimately Toronto that ended up taking a shot only to see the favor repaid with a quick departure for a team he never really put in the past.