As expected, the Red Sox wasted little time in firing manager Bobby Valentine, dismissing hm less than 24 hours after the end of a 69-93 campaign that marked the franchise's first last-place finish in their division since 1992, and the worst record of any Sox team since 1965, when they went 62-100. The Sox brass even skipped the traditional press conference; this was "[t]heir version of a 'closed casket' service," as the Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont put it.
Where do the Red Sox go from here? After years of trying to keep up with the Steinbrenners by maintaining one of the majors' most expensive payrolls — they haven't been outside the top five since 2003, the first year of owner John Henry's regime — the Sox were granted more than a quarter-billion dollars worth of salary relief when they unloaded Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett in a late August blockbuster trade with the Dodgers. With that trio off the books, the team has less than $50 million committed to next year's roster, which should allow general manager Ben Cherington and company to step out of the shadow of predecessor Theo Epstein, who doled out long-term deals to the aforementioned players that he later admitted were for the sake of "doing something." On the heels of the Red Sox' shocking September 2011 collapse, the team's hiring of the high-profile Valentine appeared to be similarly tied to that headline-grabbing mentality; Cherington was said to favor the more subdued Dale Sveum, but he was overruled by Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, and Sveum wound up managing the Cubs — Epstein's new team, not coincidentally.
This time around, Cherington should have a stronger hand in choosing the new manager, and will find somebody with whom he can see eye-to-eye, particularly given his dysfunctional relationship with the manager his superiors foisted upon him. Which isn't to say Henry and company were entirely wrong about Valentine, whose track record and progressive ways pointed to a solid fit with the progressive-minded organization. While a massive avalanche of injuries played a part in his undoing, his tone-deafness to the particulars of the situation he inherited alienated many veterans and hastened his demise.
With that old gray mare flogged one last time, here's a quick look at some of the top candidates to replace Valentine, ranked roughly in the order of their likelihood of getting the job. What's striking is the overlap among these candidates, both with regards to their connections to Boston and to the frequency with which their names have surfaced as candidates for the openings of other progressive-minded teams.
John Farrell: Currently the manager of the Blue Jays, whom he has piloted to records of 81-81 and 73-89 in his two years at the helm, Farrell spent the 2007-2010 seasons serving as the Red Sox pitching coach under Terry Francona. During that time, he worked with current members of the Red Sox pitching staff such as Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Daniel Bard, many of whom seem to have lost their way since his departure — a major reason why his return may hold such appeal to the Boston brass. The 50-year-old Farrell has one more year under his current Toronto contract, but USA Today's Bob Nightengale reports that "a high-ranking Red Sox official" says the team is targeting him. Rumors of a rift between Farrell and Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos appear to be overblown, but Anthopoulos recently admitted that an extension beyond next year for the current manager isn't a high priority. Still, the Blue Jays would demand some amount of compensation in order to let him go, much as the Red Sox demanded compensation from the Cubs for letting Epstein depart, though that situation grew so sticky that Major League Baseball had to intercede. If both sides want it to happen, it will happen, but as division rivals, there's no guarantee Toronto will play nice.
Tim Bogar: The 45-year-old Bogar has been part of Boston's coaching staff since the 2009 season, serving as first and third base coach under Terry Francona, and then as Valentine's bench coach; he may have been one of the coaches Valentine accused of disloyalty in a radio interview earlier this week. Valentine refused to name names or provide further details, but Bogar was said to have a chilly relationship with him, and that he survived the previous regime change suggests close ties with the brass. Bogar spent nine years as a major league infielder, including time with the Mets early in Valentine's tenure, and four years managing in the Houston and Cleveland organizations as well; he recently interviewed for the Astros opening that went to Bo Porter. The bet here is that if the Sox can't pry Farrell loose, they'll hire Bogar.
DeMarlo Hale: The 51-year-old Hale spent 2006-2011 on Francona's staff as third base coach and bench coach, following nine years spent managing in the Boston and Texas minor league chains. He interviewed with the Blue Jays before they hired Farrell, and interviewed for the Cubs' managerial opening last winter. After losing out to Sveum, he was hired to be the Orioles' third base coach and infield instructor, and he's said to have been instrumental in helping young Manny Machado shift from shortstop to third base upon his promotion to the majors. The Orioles won a wild-card berth, so Hale isn't likely to be available to interview until their season is done, which could work against him given Cherington's stated desire for a shorter search than last year.
Sandy Alomar Jr. and Torey Lovullo: A six-time All-Star during his 20-year big league career, the 46-year-old Alomar served as the Indians' interim manager over the final week of the season after Manny Acta's dismissal, and at the time he was said to be the leading contender for the job — but then Francona, who has ties to the Indians, expressed interest as well. Alomar is widely viewed as a future big league manager, and has interviewed with the Blue Jays, Cubs and Red Sox in the past three years. As for Lovullo, the 47-year-old has nine years as a minor league manager under his belt, eight of them (2002-2009) in the Indians chain and one (2010) in the Red Sox chain before joining Farrell's staff as Toronto's first base coach. He interviewed with Boston last winter, and has also interviewed with the Dodgers and Pirates. The speed with which Francona and the Indians decide whether they're right for each other could influence this pair's involvement in the Boston race.
Brad Mills: Mills spent six seasons (2004-2009) as Francona's bench coach before accepting the thankless job of managing the Astros during the last two years of Drayton McLane's ownership — a time when the need to rebuild was sorely apparent — and the first one under new owner Jim Crane, when that rebuilding actually began in earnest. The Astros went just 171-274 (.384) under Mills, including 39-82 this season, before he was fired in mid-August. The 55-year-old Mills' resume is longer than that; he spent 11 years managing in the minor league systems of the Cubs, Rockies and Dodgers, and spent time on Francona's staff in Philadelphia as well. For all of his familiarity with the Boston front office, his recent lack of success in Houston — deck stacked against him though it were — will probably work against him, as the awkward optics of hiring a castoff from the majors' worst club aren't exactly what the Red Sox need right now. Dave Martinez: The 48-year-old Martinez spent 16 years bouncing around the majors as a player before joining the Rays' coaching staff following the 2007 season. He has spent the past five years as Joe Maddon's bench coach, and while he has never managed in the minors, he interviewed for the Blue Jays, Indians and Astros openings in recent years, and is highly regarded for his communication skills. In this crowded field, his lack of experience is likely to work against him, though.