Dave Dombrowski Knows Why John Farrell Was Fired (We Can Only Speculate)

Consecutive AL East titles weren’t sufficient for John Farrell to retain his position.
(Photo: Arturo Pardavila III)

Dave Dombrowski held a press conference yesterday following the Red Sox’ announcement that John Farrell won’t be returning as the club’s manager next year. He wasn’t particularly forthcoming when asked to explain why. Nor was he willing to address whether it would have happened had the Red Sox gone deeper into the postseason. The latter is an especially compelling question, as Dombrowski cited a need for change multiple times during the 30-minute media session.

Would Farrell have been retained as a reward for playoff success, even though the front office believed a different voice was needed? Or would that dynamic have changed with a World Series berth? In other words, does an October run transform a manager’s ability to lead in the forthcoming season?

I decided that Dombrowski’s deflection of the “what if” scenario deserved a follow-up. Well after the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier initially posed the question, I barked up the same tree, using distinctly different verbiage:

When acquiring or retaining a player, the future is more important than past performance. To what extent is that true for a manager, and does success or failure in the postseason impact a manager’s effectiveness going forward?

The extent to which his answer shed light on the Farrell decision is debatable.

“First of all, you weigh what a manager has done in the past,” responded Dombrowski. “But I think you’re hopefully predicting future success. You can look back and hire some managers… that would have been great managers and have a good resume, but they’re just not ready to manage now for whatever reason — age, experience, drive. So I think it’s important that you go forward.”

His answer to the second part of my question was somewhat less convoluted.

“Postseason success… that’s a tough one, because so much of that can be beyond a manager’s control,” said Dombrowski. “There’s so much more fortune. When I talk about the postseason, I’m not one of these guys who thinks it’s a flip of the coin once you get there. But there is also much more left to chance when you have a short series — one game, five games, seven games, [as opposed to] a 162-game season. So I think you look at that — you look at a lot of different things — but I can’t tell you that postseason success is a driving force.”

Retaining Farrell after he led the team to a World Series title in 2013 — his first season in Boston — was a no-brainer. Last-place finishes in 2014 and 2015 subsequently put him on the hot seat, and 2016’s ignominious ALDS ouster kept him squarely in the cross hairs. Without a successful 2017, his tenure was more than likely going to come to an end.

Which brings us back to the definition of success, and what it means going forward. Does a manager deserve to be retained — regardless of how many games his team has won — if there are reasons to believe he’s not the best man for the job? That may depend on the reasons, which in this case are a matter of conjecture.

Speculation as to who should replace Farrell began even before he was fired. That comes with the territory when you’re in a major market with a fervent fan base and an often relentless media contingent.

Asked by another reporter if managers are similar to players in that they’re either made to handle Boston or they’re not, Dombrowski answered in the affirmative.

“I’ve had really quality managers that I know and respect tell me that they wouldn’t want to manage in Boston,” said Dombrowski. “And not only Boston. There are a couple of cities along those lines. I think you have to be prepared to take it. This is a great baseball city… but there’s a lot of scrutiny attached. It’s for some people, and it’s not for others.”

For the most part, Farrell handled Boston well. There were bumps along the road, but the stoic and square-jawed skipper kept the clubhouse in fairly good order, and his relationship with the media was respectful. He wasn’t without his flaws — and truth be told, a change was probably needed — but Farrell was never a round peg in a square hole. This wasn’t Bobby Valentine in 2012, which qualified as a curious fit from the get-go.

Who will be Boston’s next manager? Dombrowski said that he always keeps a list of names for any position for which he could be hiring and that other names have recently been added to it. He plans to “whittle it down” and start interviewing candidates as soon as possible. As for what the list looks like and who will ultimately be hired from it… let’s just say those questions are every bit as intriguing as the reasons Farrell was fired. Dombrowski isn’t divulging anything, so all we can do is speculate.

So let’s finish this post by doing that. Here are five of the notable names being floated.

  • Brad Ausmus. He’s being widely cited as a possibility — Dombrowski hired him in Detroit — but the guess here is that he ends up elsewhere (and not necessarily as a manager). Probably not a good fit for Boston at this time.
  • Alex Cora. Cora is the game’s hot new managerial prospect, so every team with an opening will at least kick his tires. I can see him being on Dombrowski’s short list, but something tells me his name isn’t on the top line.
  • Ron Gardenhire. His name is being tossed around, and he seems like a Dombrowski kind of guy. This wouldn’t be a surprise, although I picture him as more of a placeholder than a longterm presence on the Boston bench.
  • Dave Martinez. Joe Maddon’s right-hand man is in the same boat Torey Lovullo was in before getting the Arizona job. It’s only a matter of time until he gets an opportunity. Martinez would be a smart hire, and I can see it happening.
  • Bo Porter. The former Astros manager possesses all of the qualities for which Dombrowski has said he’s searching in John Farrell’s replacement. Does that mean he’s a top candidate for the job? He should be. For my money, Porter is the best fit to fill Boston’s managerial opening.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Joe Joemember
4 years ago

Bo Porter? The guy that moved Sipp in LF to save him to face an upcoming LHB and should have lost his DH as a result?