Red Sox rallying for John Farrell

By Flickr user Keith Allison

By Sharyn Gladstone

After an active offseason the Boston Red Sox began the 2015 season with high expectations, but ended with their third last place finish in the past four years.

During the offseason, then-General Manager Ben Cherington vowed to fix the team. He splurged on two free agent bats in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval and assembled a rotation full of number four and five starters, rather than acquiring an ace to fill the void left by the departed Jon Lester.

Cherington’s failure to make sufficient moves in another offseason led the Red Sox ownership to bring in Dave Dombrowski as their president of baseball operations.

Cherington, who would have to report to Dombrowski, chose to resign rather than stay with the team. Mike Hazen has since been hired as the new GM.

In August, Manager John Farrell had a hernia surgery, and Bench Coach Torey Lovullo took over the helm in his absence. It was soon discovered from the procedure that Farrell had stage-one lymphoma, and would need to undergo over four months of chemotherapy to rid himself of this curable form of the disease.

Interim Manager Torey Lovullo would continue to manage in Farrell’s place.

The team rallied behind Lovullo in Farrell’s absence, showing signs of life for the first time since their season-opening series against the Phillies.

The team scored 37 runs in the two games following Farrell’s clubhouse announcement of his diagnosis.

Second-baseman Dustin Pedroia told reporters, “It’s your family. Your first reaction is shock. The next reaction is, ‘How do we get him better?’ And he’s going to start that process soon.”

It became a team priority to win, playing for Farrell.

Under Lovullo, the team went 28-21, compared to a 50-63 under Farrell. Veteran slugger David Ortiz shined, reaching the 500 home run plateau while showing no signs of slowing down, even at 39-years-old.

Youngsters Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts flashed positive signs for the future of the franchise with consistent numbers all season, like a shining beacon for the future.

On the downside, Hanley Ramirez was hurt multiple times, missing almost all of the games that Lovullo managed. Pablo Sandoval also underperformed, a trend he followed all season.

Cherington’s decision to have Ramirez play left field without ever having played the position at the major league level proved costly, as Ramirez was one of the worst defensive players in baseball with a .984 fielding percentage.

Decisions like these beg the question: Do teams play badly because of personnel decisions or managerial decisions?

According to The Boston Globe, the team’s success under Lovullo impressed many members of the front office of both the Red Sox and other teams around the league.

Members of the front office and ownership were impressed by his managerial skills. It also left them thinking: what about Farrell?

Dave Dombrowski had a tough decision to make, and many wondered how he would handle the situation.

Who would manage the team in 2016? Dombrowski continuously claimed that if Farrell were healthy enough, then he would return.

After the team finished with a 78-84 record, fans and the front office ended up reasonably satisfied as a result of the team’s late improvement.

During the last month and a half of the 2015 season, the team looked like they were driven by John Farrell’s diagnosis announcement.

This was reminiscent of the 2013 World Series Champion Red Sox team that came together as a symbol for hope after the Boston Marathon Bombing. That improbable run came after a last place finish in the 2012 season under short-tenured manager Bobby Valentine.

Farrell was brought in as manager from the Toronto Blue Jays along with Lovullo, who would be promoted from first base coach to bench coach.

Farrell led the team to a World Series championship in his first season as manager. The team finished in the cellar in his second and third seasons, just as they had before his arrival. The roster was overhauled, the team completely reshaped.

Still, they played poorly.

Farrell underwent six months worth of chemotherapy in eight weeks. He’s a fighter.

The team fought for him in his absence. Farrell is in remission and will be returning to manage next season.

There was popular opinion that Lovullo become the full time manager.

There was even speculation that Farrell getting cancer is what saved his job.

One can’t help but wonder if the team improved because of a change in manager or a change in atmosphere.

Dombrowski countered the move to keep Farrell by signing Lovullo to a two-year extension as bench coach that would require him to veto the right to pursue any open managerial positions in baseball.

Surprisingly, Lovullo didn’t want to leave to pursue a bigger job.

This move proves how intelligent Dombrowski is compared to Cherington. He protected his new team as if he’d been on board for years.

By keeping Lovullo on, the team has a proven manager that could step in should Farrell become ill again.

Many changes are coming this offseason, one including the hiring of new GM Mike Hazen, that are going reshape this team into a contender again. They have the pieces to do it. With a better roster, the team will have no excuse but to improve.

Should Farrell manage the team into yet another poor finish, expect him to be removed from his managerial position.

It’s highly unlikely that Farrell would leave the team though, as he would likely get bumped up to a front office position. The Sox could then turn to Lovullo, who they have seen do the job well.

The front office has changed, and soon so will the team. There will be new additions and many subtractions to the roster. Some things are the manager’s fault, but sometimes it’s the team they’re given.

Will Farrell stay healthy and successfully manage the team, or will Lovullo take over if the team has another poor start?

Will the team keep playing for John as hard as they did under Lovullo, or did they only start living up to their potential because they had something to play for?

Changes are coming and the team is going to be expected to win.

The team will have to wait to see how Farrell handles the new team, and decide his future from there.