Monday, October 22, 2012
Awkward Goodbyes and Uncomfortable Questions
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.