BOSTON — Change will come to the Boston Red Sox.
It’s almost inevitable now. A season that began six months ago amid expectations of a championship ended in the rain Monday at Fenway Park. The Red Sox lost 5-4 to the Houston Astros in a thrilling Game 4 of the American League Division Series and were booted from the playoffs 10 victories shy of winning a World Series.
And one of the first decisions that must be made is the fate of manager John Farrell.
Farrell has guided the Red Sox to a World Series championship and three AL East titles (and two last-place finishes) in five seasons at the helm, and he is the only manager in franchise history to win back-to-back division crowns. But he’s also entering the final year of his contract, and after the Sox were beaten soundly in consecutive AL Division Series, ownership and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski must decide if a new voice is needed in the manager’s office.
Farrell was ejected in the second inning of Monday’s game for defending second baseman Dustin Pedroia during an argument of a called third strike. After the game, Farrell said he’s “confident” that he’s the right man to continue doing the job. But he also wasn’t willing to engage in a discussion about his future.
“We just walked off the field 10 minutes ago,” Farrell said. “I know that we have got an opportunity to assess where we are as a team. I can’t begin to talk about what the offseason plans are and what changes may be realized. But there’s still a lot of good things that are going on here.”
Farrell dealt with several brush fires en route to the Red Sox winning 93 games and holding off the charging New York Yankees in the AL East. There were questions about his hold on the clubhouse, particularly after Pedroia appeared to take sides against his teammates during an April beanball war in Baltimore, and Farrell took heat for not apologizing to broadcaster Dennis Eckersley after ace lefty David Price humiliated the Hall of Famer during a tirade on the team plane.
But in the aftermath of their season, several players spoke positively about Farrell while stopping short of openly lobbying for him to return.
“He’s done a great job,” right fielder Mookie Betts said. “I know no [Red Sox] manager has won back-to-back [division] titles, so it shows he’s done a great job in managing personalities and put us in a position to win. He listens to us and he talks with us. [It’s] one of those dynamics that he fits well.”
Said ace lefty Chris Sale: “There’s a lot of room for debate and would’ves and should’ves. He gave me every opportunity to succeed. I can say the same for everybody on this team.”
And from closer Craig Kimbrel: “He was there for us. He watches us all year long. He knows each and every guy in here. He knows what we’re made of. For him to go out every night and put it together and try to put the best team on the field, I think he did a great job.”
As usual when a season ends, Farrell addressed his players in the clubhouse when they came off the field, thanking them for their effort throughout the season. It’s a standard speech, a bookend to his annual talk before the first full-squad workout in spring training.
Dombrowski could use the latest playoff defeat as a reason to hire a manager of his choice. He inherited Farrell upon taking over late in the 2015 season.
But Dombrowski also has hired only two managers over the last 12 seasons. Jim Leyland has insisted he isn’t coming out of retirement, while Brad Ausmus was recently fired after a last-place finish with the Detroit Tigers. It’s unclear whether former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek could be a candidate. Varitek works for the team in an advisory capacity but has never managed.
“I think [Farrell] has done a great job,” Dombrowski said before the playoffs began. “He’s a tough guy. He’s a smart baseball man.”
In time, the Red Sox will decide if Farrell is still the right man to lead them onto the field.