The Devil’s Workshop: Exploring Dave Dombrowski’s Managerial Options

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Although the Boston Red Sox are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, it is time to accept that the season is over. As the team plays out the string and the kids continue to play well, Rick Rowand takes us on a journey exploring Dave Dombrowski’s options with regards to the manager.

Since Dave Dombrowski joined the Boston Red Sox on August 18 as the new President of Baseball Operations, information coming from Yawkey Way about the team’s future direction has been almost non-existent, which is to be expected. But it leaves people like us with idle hands and idle minds. It’s like living in the the devil’s workshop on steroids. So, except for articles on moves like the De Aza trade, or Papi reaching the  500 home run milestone, we get to fill space by making slightly educated guesses on what Dombrowski will be doing to remake the current team for 2016 and beyond.

We’ll be breaking this down into a series of articles on the starters, the bullpen, the everyday players and the coaching staff.

The Sox started this season touting their “Ace! We don’t need no stinkin’ ace!” strategy, but the inconsistency of their starters combined with the ineptitude of the pen and lack of offense doomed that strategy to failure. It hasn’t been until recently that the majority of the starters and the offense have been living up to expectations. Day late…

Dave Dombrowski is in a very enviable position. He has one of the best farm systems in baseball, one that is already contributing to the resurgence of the team in Boston. To go with those riches, he has a major league club which is only a few moves away from competing for the playoffs again (and he has Ben Cherington and the rest of Baseball Ops to thank for that).

No one knew what changes to expect when Dombrowski took over as President and Ben Cherington resigned as GM. It’s common for a new GM/President to bring his own people into the front office and into the dugout to put his stamp on the team. So many, myself included, were pleasantly surprised that he recently promoted Gus Quattlebaum to the Director of Pro Scouting position to take over for Jared Porter, who resigned to take the same position with the Cubs.

In moves designed to help address the Red Sox inability to to develop pitchers as effectively as their position players, Brian Bannister was moved from his previous position of scout and analyst to the newly created position of Director of Pitching Analysis and Development and Chris Mears was promoted from scout to pitching cross-checker.

Dombrowski has said that their will be more changes coming, but he’s given no hints as to what they might be. As far as the GM search is concerned, all we’ve heard is that Dombroski is making a list and checking it twice. There are the usual rumors with Mike Hazen the most talked about name now. Still no mention of Kim Ng, the candidate I made a case for at the end of August.

Four days before Dombrowski was named as the new President of Baseball Ops and Cherington resigned, Manager John Farrell announced that he had stage 1 lymphoma and would step down as active manager with Bench Coach Torey Lovullo stepping in as the Interim Manager.

If Dombrowski decides to bring in a new manager and coaches, the situation with Farrell certainly complicates things for him. Farrell should be finished with his treatment a couple of weeks after the season is over.  There is no good time to fire a man with cancer. But the key question is, should John Farrell lose his job because it is best for the team?

With the tweaking he’s done in the front office and from statements he’s made, Dombrowski has shown that he wants to blend analytics and scouting to help field the best team possible. In order to do that he will also need a manager and coaches who are comfortable with that approach and are able to get the players to accept and buy into the information they receive from the front office. In other words, he needs to keep the band together if he can.

There are two ways to go about this. The first would be to tell Farrell and his staff that he has no intention of replacing any of them. Because of the opening day roster, and the circumstances they’ve had to deal with, they have certainly earned the chance. Of course people have complained about some of the in-game decisions that both Farrell and Lovullo have made. That is what fans do. I know I have and will continue to do so.

But that’s not all of what running a team is about. It’s also the job of the coaches to keep the players on the same page, even when things are not going well which was certainly the case this season. They are also tasked with helping the young players grow into what they are projected to be and get players back on track when they hit a rough spell.

The pitchers and the offense didn’t perform as expected. Not until the latter half of the season anyway. The bullpen has pretty much sucked the entire year, minus Uehara and Tazawa until recently.

The problems with the pitchers were exacerbated when catcher Ryan Hanigan went on the DL in early May with a broken finger and they had to call up Blake Swihart. So instead of an experienced catcher to handle the pitching staff they were left with Sandy Leon and a rookie catcher who wasn’t slated to be promoted until 2016, at the earliest. Neither catcher was familiar with the staff or the hitters and they had to learn on the job.

To add to the problems with their pitching, the Sox also had an offense that wasn’t performing up to expectations. After a very good April and a series of injuries that he still hasn’t recovered from, Hanley Ramirez fell off the map. He was never on the map on defense. Ortiz started out slowly. Except for a a few brief moments, Mike Napoli didn’t contribute at all. Pablo Sandoval’s performance on the field and at the plate suffered because of injuries. Neither of the opening day subs not named Brock Holt did anything. Which also made the Napoli situation worse, because both Allen Craig and Daniel Nava were just as bad, if not worse at the plate and were soon gone. Rusney Castillo, after barely playing baseball for two years, and Jackie Bradley Jr. were called up early in the season to see if they could add some punch, but were soon sent back to the minors to get steady at bats as they were no help to the offense.

With the hand Farrell and the coaches were dealt I seriously doubt whether Connie Mack, Tito, Jim Leyland or any other manager would have been able to accomplish much more. And soon people were calling for his head. I was not one of them.

Then August happened. After a series of moves by Cherington, the return of Hanigan, the hiring of Carl Willis as pitching coach, the return of David Ortiz that could also hit lefties, the offense of JBJ, Travis Shaw and Castillo, improvement of the starting pitchers and better team defense, the Red Sox started to click.

Here is what they’ve done by month:

Month Runs Scored Runs Allowed Differential Record
April 113 119 -6 12-10
May 82 124 -42 10-19
June 126 120 +6 14-14
July 111 137 -26 10-15
August 161 130 +31 15-12
September 69 52 +17 7-5

Because much of the run production has been on what JBJ, Castillo and Shaw have been doing at the plate, the samples are much too small to predict anything going forward. Much the same holds true for the recent performances by Porcello and Kelly. Because of their age and inexperience Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens are still works in progress.

At the end of July they had a -68 run differential and a record of 46-58 (.442 winning percentage). Since the start of August they have lowered the run differential to -20 and have improved their record to 68-75 (.476 winning percentage). The Sox have five games left against the Orioles, three against the Blue Jays, four each against the Rays and Yankees and end their season in Cleveland with a three-game series. If they can maintain their recent pace, they will end the season with a positive run differential and quite possibly, a winning record. And no one, myself included, expected either of those things to happen. Not with the way they were playing in July.

Farrell has stated, and this was before the hiring of Dombrowski, that he expected to be back as the manager of the Red Sox in 2016. And I think he’s earned the chance to show what he can do with this team and this group of coaches with, fingers crossed, an actual bullpen.

The other option, would be for Dombrowski to move Farrell into the GM (in name only) role and to retain Lovullo as the manager along with the coaching staff. Farrell has prior front office experience as the Director of Player Development for the Cleveland Indians from 2001-2006, so it’s not like he’s a stranger there. This would give him the chance to learn other aspects of the GM position from one of the smartest men in the game, and hopefully, take over the role of President of Baseball Ops when Dombrowski retires or leaves.

It would also keep Lovullo with the team in the role of manager. In addition to his experience as the bench coach and interim manager for the Sox, he was the first base coach for Farrell during his tenure as the manager of the Blue Jays. Lovullo also has minor league managing experience with various organizations. Unless this happens, I doubt that Lovullo is long for the Sox. He’s interviewed with five other teams to be their manager, but wasn’t hired, with a lack of MLB dugout experience as his primary weakness, which is no longer the case. Lovullo has to be on the short list for any managerial openings that will come up and he’d be foolish to not jump at the chance if offered.

I still feel that Kim Ng is very qualified for the GM position, either with the Red Sox or another team. I didn’t start thinking about the two scenarios above until I started this series of articles. At the moment, I’m in favor of the Lovullo option. He’s good with the players and knows this team. He uses the analytics that the front office supplies him. The team’s success in August and September lend credence to the belief that he has earned the chance. It’s not like he’s an ex-player without any coaching or managing experience at any level. It would also keep Farrell with the organization in the front office, which is where many saw him going after managing.

The next article will be about the bullpen. It will be short.

*Click here for Rick’s rotation plan and here for the lineup plan.

Rick Rowand has written about the value of Brock Holt, Boston’s rotationBrock Holt’s cycle and aura, and a series about Bogaerts, Betts and Swihart, a screenplay of Napoli’s last days on the Sox, Travis Shaw, what to do with Hanley Ramirez, and Kim Ng.

Follow Rick on Twitter @rrowand.

Check out Mike Richmond’s day at the ballpark in Japan.

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