John Farrell and Swapping the Skipper

Every weekday morning, I have the exact same routine. The alarm on my cell phone goes off, I yell at it for a few minutes, it doesn’t stop making noise, then I succumb and get up and turn on the coffee maker. My first walk is always to the kitchen, to start making coffee, and then the rest of the day begins. Yet as certain as I am every morning that I’m going to make myself coffee, I’m still less certain of that each day than I was that the Red Sox would dismiss manager Bobby Valentine. If anything the surprise was that he lasted through the end of the year. Valentine was a dead man sitting, and now a year after finding a new manager, the Red Sox are in the early stages of finding a new manager.

And the guy reportedly at the top of their wish list is one-time Red Sox coach and current Blue Jays manager John Farrell. Last year, the Red Sox tried to get Farrell until the Blue Jays were like, “wait, no.” Now the Red Sox want Farrell again, and the Blue Jays are listening. Farrell’s still got another year on his contract, so while the Jays are open to the idea of him bolting for Boston, a trade would have to be worked out. That’s a trade involving a manager, which, as you can imagine, is historically pretty rare.

One wonders what we might learn from past trades involving managers. And to begin the process, we first need to identify those past trades involving managers. Here’s what I was able to find:

Indians trade manager Joe Gordon to Tigers for manager Jimmy Dykes

Mets trade Bill Denehy and cash to Senators for manager Gil Hodges

Pirates trade Manny Sanguillen to Athletics for manager Chuck Tanner and cash

Devil Rays trade Randy Winn to Mariners for manager Lou Piniella and Antonio Perez

Marlins trade Jhan Marinez and Osvaldo Martinez to White Sox for manager Ozzie Guillen and Ricardo Andres

There was a rumor last year that the Marlins were going to get Ozzie Guillen in exchange for Logan Morrison. Clearly, that didn’t happen, but that would’ve been a hell of a lot more interesting, and it would presumably look a hell of a lot worse today. Anyway, let’s talk about all this.

The fact of the matter is that, because we struggle so badly to evaluate managers even today, there’s only so much we can do to evaluate past trades involving managers. We sort of have to settle for looking at team records and then throwing up our hands and saying “well all right.” In 1960, the Indians and Tigers swapped managers. By that I mean in the middle of 1960. Those Indians were 49-46 under Gordon, and 26-32 under Dykes. Those Tigers were 44-52 under Dykes, and 26-31 under Gordon. The Tigers would have a new manager come 1961; the Indians would have a new manager come 1962. This deal is a historical curiosity that seems to have made little difference.

We have to say, in hindsight, that the Hodges deal worked out well for the Mets. Denehy never became anything, at least as a major-league baseball player. Hodges had steered the Senators to a bunch of sub-.500 seasons, then in 1968 he steered the Mets to a sub-.500 season, but the 1969 Mets won 100 games and then more games in the playoffs on their way to capturing the World Series. The Mets were average the two years after that, and then Hodges passed away, but we have to assume that Hodges was a positive.

We have to say that the Tanner deal worked out well for the Pirates, too. Bruce Markusen goes into a lot more detail at THT. Sanguillen had been a good catcher for the Pirates for years, but he was about to turn 33 when he was dealt to Oakland, and his performance immediately fell off. The Pirates, meanwhile, won 96 games under Tanner, then 88 games, then 98 games and the World Series. Tanner managed the Pirates through 1985 and while it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops, Tanner was the guy in the dugout the last time the Pirates won it all.

That Piniella deal is tricky because in theory the Devil Rays had the leverage — while Piniella was under contract with the Mariners, he had an ailing parent in Florida and wanted to be closer to home. The Mariners would’ve been real pricks to say no. Oddly the Rays still coughed up perhaps their best player, as in 2002 Winn had been a nearly five-win 28-year-old. Winn continued to be a pretty good outfielder for a while, and while Tampa got one-time top prospect Perez in addition to Piniella, he didn’t blossom. Piniella never won with Tampa Bay in three years; it was probably an impossible mission. He did guide the Devil Rays to their first 70-win season in franchise history, which isn’t nothing. Then came the Joe Maddon days.

Finally, the Marlins and the White Sox. Guillen was supposed to be the man, the guy who helped to make baseball really work for the first time in Miami. Now it looks like he’s going to be replaced after just one year. The Marlins underachieved, and under a different and brand-new manager, the White Sox overachieved. Marinez looks like a somewhat capable reliever. Martinez is nothing, for our purposes. Andres, I’d never heard of until today.

So that’s the whole history of managers getting traded, and it doesn’t leave us with a whole lot of clues as to how one should expect these things to go. It stands to reason that a team wouldn’t let a manager go if it really highly valued said manager. The Mariners highly valued Piniella, but there were special circumstances around that one, and the 2003 Mariners under Bob Melvin finished with the same record as the 2002 Mariners under Lou. It stands to reason that a team will look for and receive fair compensation for a manager that’s leaving. The tricky thing is that no one knows how to assign a win value to a manager, but a team won’t make a manager trade if it feels like the deal is lopsided. That’s the most we can say.

Even if one could assign a win value to a manager, that value probably wouldn’t be consistent across all teams, the way it is with players. Joey Votto would be a superstar anywhere. For a manager, there might be teams with which he’s a good fit, and teams with which he’s a bad fit. And this brings us to the present Boston/Toronto situation. The Red Sox value Farrell in large part because of their previous relationship, and because the Red Sox suspect Farrell would command the respect of the clubhouse. Farrell doesn’t have that history in Toronto — there he’s just a manager who once coached for someone else. Farrell might have more value to Boston. Toronto, of course, would appear to have the leverage, given Farrell’s contract.

The Blue Jays would reportedly want “a decent player” from the Red Sox in exchange for Farrell. Ken Rosenthal suggested that Toronto begin by asking for Clay Buchholz. That might sound absurd, but you have to start your negotiations somewhere, and Boston is the desperate party. We don’t know what would be fair, because we don’t know the value of any given manager. Because of that, and because most managers seem to be generally interchangeable, one’s instinct is to always side with the team getting the decent player instead of the team getting the coach. We can put win values to players. But managers have to make some sort of difference, and that difference has to have some sort of value, even if we can’t capture it. If teams didn’t think so, teams wouldn’t trade for managers, or pay managers varying amounts of money.

We’ll see how this goes, and it’s complicated by the Red Sox and Blue Jays being division rivals. If a trade is worked out and the Blue Jays get a legitimate player, we’re all going to want to think the Blue Jays did well for themselves. But if a trade is worked out and the Blue Jays get a legitimate player, the Red Sox will have agreed to those conditions, and the Red Sox will have figured they were doing the right thing in exchange for John Farrell. There are so many countless unknowns. The only thing that’s known is that trades involving managers are really really weird.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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11 years ago

What? No mention of Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich?