As the Blue Jays spend their 17th straight October jealously watching the playoffs from afar, the front office continues their effort to rebuild the team into a contender. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has been looking for a replacement for manager Cito Gaston, who will remain with the team in an advisory role for a few months. Last week, that search ended with the announcement of John Farrell as the new manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Farrell may not have any experience as a manager in Major League Baseball, but he seems to be an ideal match for Anthopoulos and a well-qualified candidate. Anthopoulos has constantly stressed the need to build the farm system and over time infuse the team with talented young players. He likely learned from JP Ricciardi’s failed attempt as the previous general manager to win by signing big-name free agents.
The ownership has supported Farrell’s effort by completely overhauling the scouting department, but this plan requires a patient manager that can work well with young players.
Farrell spent five years (2001 to 2006) as the director of player development for the Cleveland Indians. His experience in developping prospects will prove to be extremely valuable in the next few seasons as the revitalized Jays farm system continues to progress. Prospects will begin to work their way up to the Major League level and Farrell’s guidance will play a pivotal role in their development.
Farrell also brings with him knowledge of the tough American League East division which the Jays have been unable to conquer in recent years. He has spent the last four seasons as the pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox. Farrell spent that time working under Terry Francona, one of the most well-respected managers in all of baseball and a close friend of Farrell’s since their playing days in Cleveland. Farrell knows what it takes to win in the division, a quality that was presumably a major factor in the decision to hire him.
His experience as a pitching coach for one of the better teams in baseball will also be a major asset for the Jays. Toronto is trying to build around their young pitchers, who showed a great deal of promise last season. If Farrell can get the best out of Ricky Romero and the rest of the rotation that made significant strides last season, the Jays should continue to improve.
With Kyle Drabek, the key piece in the Roy Halladay trade, Farrell has at his disposal a raw talent that he might be able to mould into an ace in the coming seasons. There is no shortage of young talent on the pitching staff. Under the tutelage of both Farrell and returning pitching coach Bruce Walton, these pitchers could help to expedite the rebuilding process for the team.
The offensive philosophy Farrell identified seems to mesh well with the same principles that Anthopoulos has been emphasizing. Farrell wants to build on the hitting success that was achieved last season. Toronto led the league in home runs this year with 257, but their dependence on the long ball was a problem that was evident throughout the year. Ranking fifth-worst in the league in on-base percentage and sixth-worst in batting average, the Jays were able to translate their exceptional power numbers into only the ninth-best run total in the majors. An added emphasis on getting on base more frequently from Farrell could be precisely what the Jays need to become a more consistent hitting team.
Farrell’s knowledge and baseball philosophy may not be the only thing he brings to the table. His relationship with former Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez is drawing speculation that he could possibly be an off-season target for the Jays this year. Manny, who spent two years in Boston with Farrell, embodies exactly what the Jays are now trying to do offensively, since he is a player capable of both high power numbers and an excellent on-base percentage. Upon hearing the news of Farrell’s hiring, Manny said, “Toronto has made a great acquisition. Farrell is a manager for whom I would like to play, and Toronto is a team I’ve liked since they had all those Dominican players in the ’80s.”
Manny said nothing to dispel the potential for a reunion in Toronto, and as such the speculation will likely continue for months. Ramirez, with 555 home runs and spectacular career numbers at the Rogers Centre, would be extremely motivated to remind the Red Sox brass that he is still an elite player. Manny is one of the most unpredictable players in all of sports, but he could be a tremendous addition to the already powerful Blue Jays lineup.
The Jays are a young team that is extremely close to becoming a playoff contender. Farrell’s familiarity with developing young players, the AL East, and even Manny Ramirez, provides legitimacy to the goal of ending a long playoff drought in Toronto.