A year ago Tuesday, the Toronto Blue Jays hired a composed and confident John Farrell away from the Boston Red Sox and introduced him as their new manager.
On a day Farrell would like to spend thinking about what is best for the team in 2012, the one-time Red Sox pitching coach might have to answer another question about why he is said to be the preferred candidate to replace the departed Terry Francona in Boston.
Blue Jays policy states an employee is free to speak with other teams without any compensation sought, and Farrell is believed to be happy in his role and enjoys Toronto.
That feeling appears to be mutual given the few, if any, calls to Toronto sports radio phone-in shows calling for Farrell’s job following an 81-81 season, the Jays’ fifth .500-or-better campaign in the past six years.
The players also seem to have bought in to what Farrell is selling, namely a more focused approach to getting on base and a more aggressive attitude on the basepaths.
'John knows who he has and what works and has done a great job. ... I think the players respect that and he has a long future ahead of him, hopefully.' — Former Blue Jays 2nd baseman Aaron Hill on Farrell
"He takes it seriously. That’s the kind of guy you want to play for," outfielder Eric Thames said after a season in which he surprised many by bringing some energy to the lineup and hitting .262 in 95 games with 12 home runs. "I love him, we all love him."
Even those who left during the season like second baseman Aaron Hill, who was traded to Arizona for a playoff run, offered kind words about the rookie skipper after leaving Toronto.
"I think every manager’s got their different way of communicating. They have to know their guys," Hill told CBCSports.ca late in the regular season. "John knows who he has and what works and has done a great job in his first year managing. I think the players respect that and he has a long future ahead of him, hopefully."
With a reported two years left on his contract, one of Farrell’s goals in 2012 might be to halt the Blue Jays’ playoff drought at 19 seasons.
The 49-year-old New Jersey resident accomplished much in his first season at the helm, even though Toronto experienced a slight decrease from its 85-win total of 2010.
- He created a different culture or different approach to the game. The Jays ranked sixth in stolen bases with 131, an increase of 73 from 2010.
- Earned the respect of players.
- Communicated well with general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
- Guided the Jays to a solid 39-42 road record.
- Served as coach to American League manager Ron Washington at the all-star game
- Instilled never-say-die approach. Of Toronto’s 41 home wins, 12 were via walkoff.
On the downside …
- Farrell admittedly could have established set roles for members of the bullpen. The Jays blew 21 saves.
- The starting pitching — with the equivalent of three pitching coaches in Farrell, Bruce Walton and Pat Hentgen — struggled, with Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil and battling inconsistency while rookie Kyle Drabek was sent to the minors in mid-June and struggled upon his return in September.
- Farrell missed 10 games due to pneumonia.
- He weaved catcher J.P. Arencibia, third baseman Brett Lawrie, outfielder Eric Thames and pitchers Henderson Alvarez and Joel Carreno into regular roles with the club
"The one thing I was never exposed to was the responsibility of 25 players," Farrell told reporters in discussing his biggest challenge of the season. "In the past, it’s been 40 per cent of a roster with the pitching staff."
Farrell beat out a long list of candidates to replace outgoing manager Cito Gaston following an exhaustive and secretive search that included interviews with 18 candidates.
Farrell pitched in 116 major league games, spending time with Cleveland, California and Detroit. He spent five years as assistant coach/pitching and recruiting co-ordinator at Oklahoma State University.
In 2001, he returned to the Indians as director of player development until joining the Red Sox as pitching coach in 2007, a position he held until joining the Blue Jays.
"You can tell that he’s been around it for a long time," Thames said. "He knows how to deal with the young guys, deal with the older guys, and it shows."
Farrell got plenty out of Lawrie, who burst on the scene in August, and then suffered a non-displaced fracture of his right middle while taking grounders before the game. In 43 games, the 21-year-old from Langley, B.C., batted .293 with nine home runs and 25 runs batted in.
Arencibia also made significant contributions working with the pitching staff and setting the franchise record in home runs by a catcher with 23.
As for the veterans, right-fielder Jose Bautista led the majors in home runs for a second consecutive season, following up his 54-homer campaign in 2010 with 43. He also raised his batting average 42 points to .304.
"I think the personality that emerged with this group is one that was a competitive one, and yet we’re not here just to be competitive," Farrell said. "We’re here to turn this organization into being the best that there is."
This sounds like a man looking to stay in town.