BOSTON - It's a tough business, but the majority of baseball managers know they are hired to one day be fired. The length of the leash varies from city to city, and in Boston, the leash is short, even if you've won a World Series and led the Red Sox to back-to-back division championships.
The reality is this Red Sox team was built for more than division championships. The expectation is a World Series title and when that expectation isn't met, changes must be made.
John Farrell's firing may appear cold-hearted, but for many reasons it was time. When a season of turmoil under intense media scrutiny ends with a thumping in the ALDS, you can't be surprised when your number is called.
Yes, the Red Sox won two consecutive division titles, but both times they were the third-best team in the American League and started the playoffs on the road. They lost Games 1 and 2 in Cleveland last year and did the same thing in 2017 against Houston, digging a hole that was insurmountable in both cases.
The stumbling finish to the regular season in 2016 was even more egregious than this year's, since the top seed was within reach through the final week of the regular season.
Poor September's didn't help Farrell's cause, nor did some controversial decisions in this year's series against Houston.
Why was Hanley Ramirez on the bench to start Game 1? Why did Deven Marrero replace Rafael Devers in the lineup in Game 2? If Chris Sale was going to pitch in Game 4, why didn't he start instead of pitching out of the bullpen when the Red Sox were already trailing?
These are three top-line, elementary questions that scratch the surface of an uncertain faith in Farrell.
More critical to explore - why wasn't he able to get the best out of his players?
While Pablo Sandoval showed up overweight and unmotivated after he signed his free-agent deal in 2015, isn't there some obligation on the manager to get his players in the right frame of mind to perform at the level expected of them?
What happened with Rick Porcello this season? A year after winning the Cy Young, how can he finish 11-17 with a 4.65 ERA?
How about Hanley Ramirez? When he was expected to fill the void left by David Ortiz' absence from the lineup, he hit seven fewer home runs and drove in 49 fewer runs than he did in 2016. Point to a shoulder injury, perhaps, but the drop-off played a role in Farrell's demise.
Mookie Betts regressed this season, following up a year in which he was a finalist for American League MVP by hitting .264, compared to .318 in 2016.
Jackie Bradey, Jr.'s numbers dipped. So did Xander Bogaerts'. And Dustin Pedroia's.
Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz and Craig Kimbrel put together remarkable seasons, but the two starters lacked consistency and ultimately faltered when it mattered most, while Kimbrel surrendered the game-tying and game-winning hits in the season's final loss.
In some of these cases, you might blame injury, but this is a team trending down when management has invested top dollar to trend the opposite direction.
Do I expect the production to dip again in 2018? No, but this isn't a time for complacency.
David Price dealt with arm issues throughout the season, and while his performance out of the bullpen in the playoffs was astounding, his attitude and outbursts throughout the year were poisonous in the court of public opinion, if not the clubhouse.
The manner in which the most public ordeal, Price's run-in with Dennis Eckersley, was handled undoubtedly played a role in Farrell's dismissal. The fact it was allowed to happen in the first place speaks to a manager's lack of control or respect in the clubhouse.
Dave Dombrowksi now faces his ultimate test in choosing the next manager. Twenty years removed from winning a World Series with an All-Star Florida Marlins team, Dombrowski's teams have knocked on the door many times since only to fall short - 2006, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 in Detroit. The last two years in Boston.
He cannot get this wrong.
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