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Monday, October 22, 2012

Trade Analysis: Farrell to Boston

I'm extremely excited to be returning to the Red Sox and to Boston. I love this organization. It's a great franchise in a special city and region, with great fans, and we want nothing more than to reward their faith in us.

Following the collapse of their 2011 season, the Red Sox parted ways with longtime manager Terry Francona and conducted a nominally-thorough search for his replacement. Amid much drama, they settled on Bobby Valentine, but not until they spent a great deal of time lusting after John Farrell, by all accounts a good baseball mind and Boston's pitching coach from 2007-10. Valentine took the heat for an utter failure of a 2012 campaign, and he took $5 MM, and walked away.

Last weekend, Boston finally got the man they'd been seeking for over a year, prying Farrell from the Jays. They didn't get him for free - while the details are not completely released, it seems the compensation is the Red Sox trading Mike Aviles for David Carpenter. This is an interesting case, so without further ado, let's take a look.

What Does Toronto Get?
 Aviles had one of the worst OBPs among full-time players in 2012, but he does have his uses. He doesn't walk, but he will hit an empty .270-.280  with some pop - he hit 13 home runs last season. He also plays a pretty good shortstop, with the ability to move around and play second base, third base, and even some outfield. Aviles can steal a base if necessary, swiping 14 bags, too.

Aviles isn't a star, or even a starter on a contending team, but he is an interesting fit in TO. With Brett Lawrie and Yunel Escobar in the fold, there is no demand for infield help, but Aviles is a quality reserve option, and he is already expected to push Jays second base prospect Adeiny Hechevarria to fight for the starting job in Spring Training.

Aviles is also highly-regarded in the clubhouse. Toronto supposedly had similar issues with a virulent  clubhouse in 2012, and Aviles, a popular player who managed to stay out of the spotlight while fighting for his position down the stretch and in while being in Valentine's good graces. This clubhouse presence could be the veteran leadership the Jays wanted out of Omar Vizquel, who was so helpful as to call out his own manager in the dog days of summer.

What Does Boston Get?

I'll start with Carpenter - Some people are actually quite high on the 27-year-old reliever. The converted catcher can hit the upper-90s with a fastball and complements it with a sub-par slider. He struck out 25 men in 26 innings with the Triple-A affiliates of Houston and Toronto in 2012, but didn't do much in 32 big-league innings (8.07 ERA). The Red Sox might be able to squeeze some quality innings out of him as a short reliever, but that is the best-case scenario for him.

As for Farrell,  it's basically impossible to give more than the most vague impressions of a manager, especially on a team you don't follow everyday. Here's what I know:


Farrell ain't scurred. He employed more defensive shifts than any team in baseball outside of the Rays, was constantly shifting his lineup around and making pitching moves that raised questions in the Toronto media. Will he hold up to the Boston media scrutiny? I don't know, but he proved as manager of the Jays that he is not afraid to go against conventional wisdom. It is also worth noting that in TO he was supported by the radical front office, and it is yet to be seen how dynamic Boston's tendencies will be under sophomore GM Ben Cherington.

Ferrell is a well-respected baseball mind. He's now had tons of experience as a 150-game-winner, coach, manager, and even a front office executive - he spent five years as Director of Player Development in Cleveland, running the pipeline of talent that produced what was believed to be a model organization in 2007.


Farrell has yet to prove that he can get a clubhouse to toe the line. I'm not usually a fan of 'old school' manager-types, but any job in the world should have a superior that demands respect. Especially in Boston, Farrell will need to run a tight ship - perhaps no city in American professional sport history has been so eager to tear a team apart. The Red Sox need to show solidarity and avoid feeding the fires of distraction, and Farrell fell prey to these same issues in Toronto. 

The Winners

I think Toronto won this trade. Mike Aviles isn't a stud, but he definitely has his uses on a MLB roster, and this isn't really about the players involved anyway. Only time will tell, but Toronto may well have dodged a bullet by cutting ties with Farrell. His tenure had taken on a life of its own, and this distraction would only grow as the season went along, with Farrell playing out the last year of his contract. Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star pointed out that the only way to avoid such a distraction would be to offer Farrell an extension that he hadn't deserved, which would leave Toronto looking foolish if 2013 did not go well. Additionally, if Farrell had stayed and 2013 was another flop, Toronto would have to admit three years of wasted time in cutting him, something no front office is eager to do. There were enough avoided pitfalls for the Jays to offset the loss of one supposedly smart baseball man.

2013 is a good opportunity for Aviles to define his career and create some superlative value for himself. Both Kansas City and Boston pushed him into the demanding role of starting shortstop, a position in which he was bound to fail. By recasting himself as a utility guy and a clubhouse presence, Aviles can become a big league player that doesn't have to worry about being forced out of the league when he hits .250. That type of player doesn't make headlines, but keep in mind: Alex Cora made $15 MM. 

The Loser

I think the real loser here is John Farrell. This is a classic high-risk, low-reward scenario. Think about what Farrel stands to gain: if he succeeds, and this is not by any means likely, it will reflect very little on him - Boston's success was constantly heaped on the front office, and only in the last few years of Francona's stint, after two World Championships and an eight-year reign, did his name begin to emerge among the best in the sport. It is very easy to win with star players, and doing so is not an achievement in Boston, it is expected. Winning 90 games is like showing up to work at 8:02 - it's really the bare minimum. Even if the Red Sox turn everything around and win the division in 2013, what's the narrative going to be? Ballsy new GM Ben Cherington cutting Theo Epstein's fat and creating his own team from the wreckage. Farrell would be a mere player on Cherington's stage.

The risk is substantial, too. Farrell is taking on a hornet's nest of issues. Rebellious players, immense expectations, a vitriolic fanbase - who would want that? And what is at stake? Probably nothing less than Farrell's managerial career. If he fails in a small market and a big market, both with booming budgets and highly-regarded front offices, it will be tough to rebuild his reputation. You have to think this is do or die for John Farrell - and the latter seems more likely by the day.

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