Monday, October 22, 2012

Awkward Goodbyes and Uncomfortable Questions

Sometimes, it's hard to wrap your head around the moment when you're fully immersed in it. When you're drowning in the moment, everything seems overwhelmingly historic and meaningful. It takes a certain level of detachment to look off into the horizon when your head is still under the surface, and you're breathing nothing but water. 

Having said that, there's something about this business with the Jays trading their manager to a divisional rival that seems...let's say "transformative". Like it's a big frigging deal. Like it's a moment that we'll reflect upon years from now as a moment that either changed the direction of the franchise, or made clear that there was something flawed in the way the Blue Jays were proceeding with the Eternal Building Plan.

Because really, this whole thing is a mess. This is not the way that it is supposed to play out. And I'll spare you my interpretation over who jumped and whether if they were on the cusp of being pushed, because really, who knows? There's a lot of whispers, and from a distance, whispers really just sound like noise. I won't be so bold as to interpret them quite yet.


Brought on board following one of the most exhaustive managerial searches in the history of mankind, John Farrell was supposed to be the leader who marshalled the new-look Blue Jays into their new era of contention. But after maddeningly inscrutable two seasons at helm, Farrell was unable to reasonably earn an extension to his contract. He was also not able to make himself appear indispensable. At least not to the Jays.

I held out a lot of hope for John Farrell, from the time he was hired through until the somewhat surprising news of his departure this weekend. I thought he talked a good game, and at the risk of painting myself as a bit of  a rube, I tend to think that people who talk a good game usually have the mental dexterity to actually manage the game just as well.

Certainly, there were holes in his management of the team. I didn't always care for his lineups, though I thought that by the end of last season, he had become better with that aspect of the game. I also didn't care for the 13-man pitching staff and the lame use of a thin bench, though it is an open questions as to whether if that was his call or the general manager's.

On the positive, I appreciated that his management of the bullpen seemed to progress when he had an adequate supply of arms from which to choose. I also thought that the Jays' use of extreme shifts - taking greater advantage of Brett Lawrie's tremendous athleticism - was a very nice development this year, and one which might have been underappreciated by some of the armchair nitpickers. 

I agree somewhat with notion - the new conventional wisdom, as it were - from the progressive-minded types that states that managers have a modest impact on the performance of their team. But I can't help but wonder: Would the Tampa Bay Rays have traded their manager for a 32 year-old, sub-.700 OPS utility player? For that matter, would the Rays trade their skipper for a 27 year-old with an .800 OPS? Should they?

Maybe that seems like an unfair example, but it certainly makes it hard for me to wrap my head around the notion that a player with value is worth blowing up your entire coaching staff. It's no sure thing that Brian Butterfield and Luis Rivera and Torey Lovullo follow Farrell out of town, but it seems as though that might be the de facto outcome of this transaction, which in turn means a new manager, new coaches, and a lack of continuity in the message the players are hearing from management.

This leadership transition means new processes, and new faces creating new expectations. It's going to mean a new set of coaches feeling out the limits and pressure points on the players who make up the roster. And if any coaches remain - because Dwayne Murphy and Bruce Walton will probably keep their jobs through nuclear winters and the zombie apocalypse - it will mean that they will deal with new directives and expectations as well.

So maybe a salient question leading out of this whole mess - even if it is unanswerable at this point - is whether a new message from a new regime is better at this point than preserving the existing regime to maintain continuity. A new message might not be a bad thing, considering some of the non-injury-related backsliding by some of the younger players this season.

In the end, what Farrell's departure might help to underline is the inherent fragility of the painstaking process of building the Toronto Blue Jays into a perpetual contender. Certainly, many Jays fans still hold Anthopoulos in a positive light, and believe that his approach to building the team has been prudent and wise. But I'd also hazard a guess to say that it's a shrinking number who continue to hold this view.

It probably doesn't matter if he was plucked from the Jays through something that feels like coordinated campaign through back channels that falls just short of "tampering", or if the team simply couldn't rationalize an extension beyond next year and let him go to avoid a lame duck year. That's all academic. We can stick out our pinkies and fill the air with chatter on these points at cocktail parties all winter long.

But ultimately, this feels to a fan - this one, anyway - like another low point in a year that has had far too many of them. It feels like a bit of an insult, even if it's not entirely clear why, and who's responsible. It feels like another step backwards. 

The other side of this debacle is that the Jays will fill out the coaching staff in the coming weeks, and that will provide another opportunity for some blind optimism. We'll meet a new skipper, and project some hopes and dreams on him. We'll visualize that manager having champagne poured over his head, and celebrating some sort of meaningful victory. Just as we did with John Farrell, two short years ago.

And when it comes to taking responsibility for hiring a manager that is ultimately viewed to be disposable within two seasons: That's on AA. Farrell was his call, and it will be incumbent on him to
help take this crisis and turn it into an opportunity.


DJ said...

I was never a fan of the Farrell choice, although I don't know who all was in the running. Maybe everyone else was worse. Dumping him in two years, as you say, is on AA.

But is this precise situation most appropriately viewed as a trade in the sense we tend to think of them? A normal trade happens when a GM thinks he can switch his pieces for some other guy's pieces and come out ahead, a process which often includes players a given GM no longer wants. That's how players get dumped. A GM who doesn't want his manager anymore just fires him.

I'm not going to hail this move as an AA super-genius play, though I like his work in general. But what did Steinbrenner ever get for all his removals of Billy Martin from the helm? The fact the Jays received any return strikes me as a bonus, not something to prompt the question of did they get enough.

Nav said...

Well said. It feels like another step backwards, because that's precisely what it is. I agree with AA when he says a "perfect storm" created this scenario, but it's still embarrassing for the Blue Jays.

I won't be all that excited when a new manager is announced. It hardly seems to matter. You know what would have been great? Settling this matter as soon as the season ended, and hiring Francona before the Indians got to him.

So long, President Farrell, and I'll see you at the next cocktail party, Tao.

The Ack said...

How come I never get invited to any of these damn cocktail parties?

Oh yeah, FJF (you figure it out).

Anonymous said...

i recently moved to Pittsburgh. The apathy around the Bucs is amazing, especially coming from Toronto. People simply don't care about the team. They go to the beautiful ballpark with the affordable seats and reasonably priced beer, but when the team craters after being in the race, people just laugh and move on. That's what 17 years of sub-.500 ball will do.

This is the first season in my life I have begun to feel apathy towards the Jays. This season brought a whole new level of failure after a spring of optimism: the Darvish non-bid, the Lawrie meltdown, the Yunel situation, the Vizquel situation, the Farrell situation. It just feels like this is an organization that can't get it's shit together.

And with a new manager, the reset button is going to be pressed. We'll have to give give him a year to get a feel for the team. Then, who knows, maybe the Orioles will have another year where they defy Pythag while the Jays get some "bad luck". Maybe the injury bug will strike. Maybe some prospects won't develop.

It just feels like this could go on ... forever.

Darren said...

The most troubling bit of news coming out of this was AA's comments on McCown's show that he did not actually do the Farrell leaving deal.

It's hard to be a ninja when when you're being undermined by Beeston and who knows who else from Rogers.

Chill said...

I'm not sure blowing up the coaching staff is a bad thing. The call for a new Hitting Coach, and expunging the pull everything mentality is near universal. Romero's struggles and publicly total lack of any idea on how to fix them doesn't exactly instill confidence in Walton or Walker. Sac bunts, green lights on the base paths, helmet tossing, offensive messages on eye black...

I don't know how relevant any of that is, but wholesale change won't necessarily be bad, will it?

Jeff said...

I guess the only issue I don't have with the whole ordeal is Farrel talking and joking about he can only go as far as his roster. It sounds like he's saying that he didn't have a good enough roster here and its hard to argue with that notion, especially last years starting rotation.

tincanman2010 said...

I would like to see Spanish speaking coaches at the corners. I don't know why this isn't standard practice in a game where some Latino players don't understand English well.