Jays GM Anthopoulos makes another strong move
So you think it's easy to locate and hire the successor to Cito Gaston as the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays?
The ink is hardly dry on the contract signed by former Boston Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell as the 12th Toronto field manager (contract length unspecified) but the consensus is that general manager Alex Anthopoulos has made another shrewd move as he wrapped up his first year operating the ball club.
Recent history in Toronto shows just how difficult it is to find a manager able to survive in the highly competitive American League East, baseball's deepest division. One by one the appointees fell short: Buck Martinez, Carlos Tosca, John Gibbons. Even Gaston, called on for a second stint after the back-to-back World Series championships of 1992 and '93, couldn't lift the Jays' to post-season baseball.
The task, however, is not an impossible one.
Look no further than the Texas Rangers, currently enjoying — well, maybe not after the first two games — their first-ever World Series experience under manager Ron Washington.
Good men gone
When Washington — who nearly lost his position earlier this year after admitting to cocaine use in the 2009 season — was hired by Texas in November of 2006, he was chosen ahead of Trey Hillman, Don Wakamatsu, John Russell and Manny Acta.
All of those men went on to subsequent major league manager's posts (Hillman in Kansas City, Wakamatsu, Seattle, Russell at Pittsburgh and Acta in Washington) and all have been fired. Acta, though, was hired this summer by Cleveland.
But Anthopoulos, the 33-year-old from Montreal, seems to have made a wise decision signing up Farrell, 48, even though the New Jersey native has never managed at the professional level.
Yet Red Sox skipper Terry Francona said that Farrell could do just about any baseball job he wanted and be brilliant. After his eight-year major league career as a pitcher, Farrell coached and recruited at his alma mater Oklahoma State University. He then ran the Cleveland Indians' farm system from 2001-2006 as the director of player personnel.
During his tenure, the Indians were touted as the best minor league development program in baseball.
Farrell followed with four years as the Red Sox pitching coach that included the club's latest World Series triumph in 2007.
It was the direction that Anthopoulos has the Jays pointed in that attracted Farrell to the northeast side of Lake Erie from the Cleveland suburb of Westlake, Ohio, where he taught his three sons to play hockey in winter and baseball each summer.
The Blue Jays' surprising record of 85-77 this past season was built on the team's major league leading home run power (a club record 257 homers), but mainly on their starting pitching.
Farrell, shortly after his appointment, was asked to rank the Jays' starters and put Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow on top based on their pitching "stuff," which for Romero includes a variety of breaking pitches, while Morrow displays a mid-to-upper '90's fastball.
Farrell mentioned Shaun Marcum next, with his experience and competitive nature, followed by Brett Cecil, who was 15-7 in only his second year in the big leagues. Kyle Drabek, the prized acquisition in the Roy Halladay trade with Philadelphia, will vie for a starter's role next spring along with Mark Rzepczynski, and one or two others from the Jays' farm system.
Anthopoulos nearly doubled the size of the Blue Jays' scouting department and has placed great emphasis on recruiting players from the Caribbean and South America, areas where Farrell has dealt in the past.
Follow Rays route
Developing from within and via the free-agent draft is the best course of action for the Jays to compete with the free-spending Yankees and Red Sox, just as the Tampa Bay Rays did, turning around a moribund franchise that had never had a winning season until 2008, when they won their first of two American League East titles.
So the Jays, Anthopoulos and Farrell look forward to creating a contender with their strong pitching and impressive offensive core.
Jose Bautista won't improve by 41 homers as he did from 2009 to his major league-leading 54 home runs in 2010, but most analysts believe he's for real.
Centre fielder Vernon Wells enjoyed a nice comeback season as he had 31 homers, 88 RBIs after recovering from seasons plagued by injury.
Aaron Hill and Adam Lind didn't hit for average (.206 and .237 respectively) but still managed 26 and 23 homers, respectively, in a down year.
Youngsters Travis Snider, still only 22, catcher J.P. Arencibia and shortstop Yunel Escobar, 28 on Tuesday, are about to be counted on as regulars in the lineup.
The Anthopoulos Era continues.