BOSTON — John Farrell sat in the visitors’ dugout at Fenway Park as talk intensified that he might be working in the other dugout next year.
The Toronto manager looked up at two dozen reporters a month ago and told them that as Boston’s pitching coach for four years under Terry Francona he learned an important lesson: think of the players first in making managerial decisions.
If you do that, he said, “you probably are guided in the right direction to do the right thing.”
Since that session before the opener of the Blue Jays’ three-game sweep of the Red Sox, Bobby Valentine has been fired as Boston’s manager and Farrell has emerged as the leading candidate to take over. But he has a year left on his contract and the Red Sox would have to discuss compensation with the Blue Jays to make him available.
Valentine didn’t always make the players his top priority before he was fired on Thursday after going 69-93 in his only season, Boston’s worst record in nearly 50 years.
He said in April that Kevin Youkilis wasn’t as physically or emotionally into the game as he had been, kept Jon Lester in a game long enough to allow 11 runs and said as the miserable season kept getting worse that the Red Sox had “the weakest roster we’ve ever had in September in the history of baseball.”
Valentine’s predecessor, Francona, rarely criticized players in public. Management likely is looking for the same from Valentine’s successor.
That’s not the only difference in this year’s managerial search from last year’s, when Valentine wasn’t hired until Dec. 1. That was 64 days after Boston’s last game and 62 after Francona was let go.
“I’d prefer to have it done in less time,” general manager Ben Cherington said of the current search, but it’s more important to get the right person.
The Red Sox likely will look for a person with different attributes this time than they did during last year’s search, especially with a younger roster after the team traded high-priced, underperforming veterans Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August.
“The team is in a different point than it was last year when we hired Bobby,” Cherington said. “The roster was fairly mature and we felt, mistakenly in retrospect, but we felt at the time, that we had a chance to win and the team was ready to win and we’re now at a different point.”
But he refuted the suggestion that the Red Sox aren’t ready to win next season.
“To be elite again we needed to make more than cosmetic changes,” Cherington said. “So now we’re very early in the process of doing that and we’re going to work our tails off to put the best team we can out there in 2013 and build the next great Red Sox team. We don’t know exactly when that will come to fruition.”
Others who could be candidates for the job are Cleveland interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr., Detroit third-base coach Gene Lamont and Toronto first-base coach Torey Lovullo, a former manager of the Red Sox Triple-A team at Pawtucket. All were interviewed by the Red Sox last year before Valentine was hired.
Boston bench coach Tim Bogar and Baltimore third-base coach DeMarlo Hale, Francona’s former bench coach, also could be considered.
The Red Sox wanted to talk with Farrell last year but were rebuffed. The Blue Jays may be more willing after his second losing season in his two years in Toronto.
Farrell was Boston’s pitching coach from 2007, when the Red Sox won the World Series, to 2010 and helped Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz develop into productive pitchers. He’s also familiar with many veterans and minor leaguers in the Red Sox system.
And, as Cleveland’s director of player development from November 2001 to the end of the 2006 season, he worked with current Boston assistant general manager Mike Hazen, who held scouting and player development positions with the Indians from 2001 to 2005.
Farrell also worked with many current members of Red Sox management.
“Not only are they professional colleagues, on some level they became personal friends and we had success,” he said on Sept. 7 as he sat in the third-base dugout. “We shared a lot of challenges along the way.”
That familiarity would make him a much safer choice than Valentine. Cherington preferred Dale Sveum, who ended up as manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, a strong backer of Valentine when he was hired, said on Thursday, “as well as you may know someone casually or through the interview process, you get to know them better when you have a full season together. So, of course, (there were) some surprises, positive and negative surprises.”
The Red Sox would like fewer surprises and more stability from their next manager.
“I don’t think there’s a certain resume or background” necessary, Cherington said. “These jobs bring all sorts of challenges. There’s a person who’s right for the Red Sox job in 2013 who isn’t right for another team’s job or who might not have been right for our job last year or the year before.”
Farrell may be the right person this time, if the Blue Jays let him go to a team with a larger and more demanding group of fans and media contingent.
“Having worked in Boston,” he said a month ago, “there’s a tremendous fan base that is very passionate. The expectations are always very high, but, as a competitor, that’s what you aspire to do.”