By Jorge Arangure
In the days after Bobby Valentine’s hiring, Boston general manager Ben Cherington was put in the role of the patsy: a front man for a team that would be led by a manager he did not want, and ultimately had not selected.
It seemed unfair that Cherington, who had spent many formative years as a mid-level team executive, would have his first season in charge undermined by the very people who had given him the job. Cherington would be judged by the successes and failures of the 2012 Red Sox even though he had fundamentally opposed the hiring of the man making the important decisions on the field. It’s no surprise that such a structure failed.
The hiring of John Farrell, who had always been Cherington’s first choice, as Valentine’s replacement is an immense victory for the general manager, and it restores the decision-making in Boston to where it belongs: the front office. We have no idea how good Cherington really is as a general manager. We’re about to find out.
How much did Cherington want Farrell? Enough to trade a major league player for him, which on the surface seems ludicrous. Mike Aviles may not be an All-Star, but he will be a starter for Toronto, and the fact that Boston was so willing to part with him makes it obvious how much Cherington valued his new manager. It also showed just how willing Boston ownership now is to allow Cherington to tinker with the roster for the sake of organizational stability (if the monster deal with the Dodgers this year wasn’t proof enough). In that sense, the trade of a player for a manager makes perfect sense. Wouldn’t you trade someone to prove that you’re in charge?
Saying Cherington has won a power struggle may be overstating it, since there are no signs of real discord -- just a difference of opinion in which Cherington was overruled. And really, who wins a power struggle with their bosses? But make no mistake, Cherington has won a fight. He can now sit back and provide a teaching moment, like the parent of kid who ate too much Halloween candy and now has a stomach ache (see what happens when you do things I told you not to do?).
In that regard, Valentine’s hiring was the best thing to happen to the Red Sox since they won the 2007 World Series. Had Valentine been even marginally successful, it’s likely that Boston would have continued on a self-destructive path.
The Valentine era was such a disaster that it has forced the Red Sox to at least temporarily abandon their gluttonous, free-spending ways. It convinced them to refocus on developing young, inexpensive talent (always a Cherington preference; his roots in the game are as an amateur scout), and has given the GM the autonomy he deserved when he was given the job last year.
Most importantly, the power -- or at least the willingness to extend that power -- has been taken away from Boston ownership, who has exhibited such poor decision-making in the past two years that it has sunk two different historic franchises, in two separate continents, in two different sports. Since 2010, the Fenway group, which also owns the soccer team Liverpool FC in the English Premier League, has fired two different baseball managers and two different soccer managers; it’s dismissed front-office executives from both Liverpool and the Red Sox, creating a chaotic leadership structure on both sides of the pond; it’s seen both teams head toward the bottom of their respective standings; it’s endured a scandal concerning beer and fried chicken with its baseball team and a racism scandal with its soccer team; and it’s currently in the midst of embarrassing investigation concerning allegations that their recently hired Liverpool public relations director harassed a blogger.
Boston ownership has shown so much empirical authority recently that it seems like a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, that Larry Lucchino labeled the Yankees as the Evil Empire for having the same qualities the Red Sox now exhibit. It’s as if Boston’s earlier success empowered the Fenway group to believe it could do whatever it wanted, and it would work. John Henry, Lucchino and Tom Werner are smart and successful men, but sometimes smart and successful men must also know when to back away. Such an attitude sunk the Baltimore Orioles for years when Peter Angelos -- an intelligent, successful, caring (ask anyone who really knows him) man -- would constantly inject himself too closely into his team’s on-field affairs. Orioles fans endured 14 years of ineptitude.
Cherington will live or die with Farrell as his manager, just as Theo Epstein did with his hiring of Terry Francona -- which hardly seemed like an inspired move at the time. But that’s the way it should be. General managers are supposed to make those types of decisions, and ownership is supposed to trust them enough to let them run the franchise.
Farrell’s managing career has so far been so nondescript and short that it’s almost impossible to draw any conclusions as to whether this was a good decision. He seemingly had little control over roster construction in Toronto, something that should change now because of his close relationship with Cherington. Something worth noting: Farrell’s pre-Boston managing winning percentage is higher (.475) than Francona’s winning percentage (.439) prior to joining the Red Sox. In other words, don’t read too much into Farrell the manager by looking at his two years in Toronto. At the very least, Farrell will provide positive nostalgia for a group of struggling pitchers (Jon Lester, Daniel Bard, Clay Buchholz) who thrived with him as Boston’s pitching coach. Improving all three of these pitchers would go a long way towards making Boston a contender again.
Most importantly, for the first time in a year, there will now be harmony between the manager’s office, the front office and in ownership’s penthouse. And Boston fans have Bobby Valentine to thank for that.
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Arangure has been a baseball writer since 2003. He has worked as a senior writer for ESPN and The Washington Post. He's still looking for a Mexican restaurant in New York City that's as good as something from his hometowns of Tijuana/San Diego. He doesn't think he'll find one.