Within the Red Sox's seemingly cut-and-dried transition from one pitching coach to another, two lines showed there was a bit more to this transaction than at first glance.
"I think the thing I find most disappointing is that in four years nobody ever asked my opinion about bringing in a player." - former Boston pitching Dave Wallace to the Boston Globe.
"Farrell has also supervised the signing of all minor league free agents while assisting in major league player acquisitions." - a portion of the Red Sox press release on the hiring of new pitching coach John Farrell.
After too many pitching acquisition misses in the past few seasons, the Sox are at least attempting to plug a hole in their approach. Helping try to stem the tide of mediocre maneuvering will be none other than Boston's new pitching coach.
"There have been discussions on that, yes," Farrell said from his Ohio home, regarding his new team's request for input on potential pitching acquisitions. "As to specifics, first and foremost, we have to see how the free-agent pool is defined and then we'll have conversations at that time, which is consistent with what I did in Cleveland."
The days of underutilizing the expertise of the pitching coach when considering outside talent, as Wallace referred to, have come and gone. While Farrell might be a professional novice when it comes to acting as an in-uniform coach, having performed the task only at Oklahoma State, entering the decision-making process regarding free agents is anything but foreign.
Not only was Farrell charged with the responsibility of weeding out the future big league hurlers while serving as Cleveland's farm director, but he also played a major role assisting Indians general manager Mark Shapiro diagnosing the good from the bad in the open market.
"This past free-agent class with Paul Byrd is one example," explained Farrell, referring to the pitcher Cleveland signed to a two-year, $14.25 million deal last offseason. "I was just giving opinions, but here's someone who has a consistent track record in regards to his health. And then you look deeper into the pitcher's history, his delivery, the stress on certain body parts, and how that style would fit into your current rotation and complement and offset power arms such as Cliff Lee or (C.C.) Sabathia. You have to look at the entire rotation instead of just the one pitcher by himself.
"As we were looking through starting pitchers, there were a group of pitchers to review film of. What I would do is write up a little bit of a report, whether it be on delivery, arm slot or ability to get swings and misses with certain pitches."
Farrell, and ultimately the rest of the Indians front office, deemed the then-35-year-old Byrd a wise investment. The result was solid, if not unspectacular, with the righty going 10-9 with a 4.88 ERA over 31 starts.
Filling the other end of the Cleveland staff, however, presented another challenge all together. Potentially needing a closer (a situation now facing the Red Sox, by the way), the Indians and Farrell took a hard look at career setup man Scott Eyre, who was coming off a standout season with the San Francisco Giants but had managed a total of four saves in nine major league campaigns.
So Farrell went through his checklist and joined others in the Indians front office in deciding that there was one piece of Eyre's overall makeup which didn't fit quite for a transformation to the closer's role.
"We began looking at certain attributes of his delivery that can impact the consistency of the release point," Farrell said. "And there were some questions about fastball command, which is just paramount as a closer."
So when that list of free agents is sent to Farrell to breakdown and analyze for the Red Sox, what kind of qualities will the new pitching coach value? One thing is certain: Farrell all but eliminates any sort of going-by-your-gut-guesswork.
"Each case is going to be individual, but there is a decision-making process that I've learned to go by," Farrell explained. "First and foremost is always going to be health history. That is clearly the No. 1 factor you look at because that is what gives you some kind of parameter as to what kind of contract to give. Then you arrive at the basic statistical measures, such as walks and hits per inning, groundball ratio, hits per inning and how susceptible they are to the long ball. Then you look at his athleticism, has he shown he can make adjustments over time and can he stay one step ahead of the competition.
"Through repetition, I think scouting can be a discipline that you learn. But having first-hand experience and knowing the feeling of when a pitcher is challenged and how they respond to those certain challenges is important."
As if helping identify the future Red Sox hurlers isn't daunting enough, the beginning of Farrell's tenure has been consumed getting a handle on those players already collecting paychecks in Boston.
"I just got done watching (video of Manny) Delcarmen about 15 minutes ago," Farrell said. "It's my responsibility to get my arms around their strengths, their limitations and begin to find out from them. And I've already had initial conversations with the majority of the pitchers, their personal checkpoints and reminders for adjustments. That's all part of having a relationship which will be a cornerstone for putting them in a position to succeed."
Cora, Cora, Cora
All of the Red Sox's impending free agents (with the exception of newly signed Mike Timlin) continue to wait for the real offseason action to heat up, having failed to get a commitment from Boston. One of those in limbo is infielder Alex Cora.
"They keep talking, I guess," said Cora from his South Florida home. "I haven't talked to (agent) Scott (Boras) in a while. The last time I talked to him he said things are going 'professionally,' whatever that means.
"I know I read something about (New York infielder Jose) Valentin and the Mets, and the names that came up to replace him were me, Mark (Loretta) and (Julio) Lugo. That's the only thing I have heard. I think money is going to be an issue and the length of the contract. We'll see. Hopefully, it works out."
Cora, however, couldn't help but reference perhaps the biggest obstacle in predicting the return of himself or fellow free-agent infielders Alex Gonzalez and Loretta.
"I think they're pretty big on Dustin (Pedroia)," said Cora, referring to Boston's rookie, who could fill any of the three aforementioned players' spots in the Red Sox lineup.
On another front, despite playing in a 2004 exhibition game against Japanese hurler Daisuke Matsuzaka, one of the prime free agents this offseason, Cora couldn't offer much insight about the powerful right-hander.
"I don't remember anything about him, really," said Cora, who went 0 for 2 against Matsuzaka. "That was a long, long trip, and to be honest he wasn't really my biggest concern."
Red Sox pitching decisions last three seasons:
ON THE MONEY
Curt Schilling%Traded for and subsequently signed
Tim Wakefield%Re-signed for annual club option at $4 million
Pedro Martinez%Signed with New York Mets; recently underwent rotator cuff surgery
Kyle Snyder%For what he cost was worth it
NOT ON THE MONEY
Matt Clement%Signed for 3 years, $25.5 million
Rudy Seanez%Signed for 1 year, $1.8 million, traded
Derek Lowe%Signed with Los Angeles Dodgers; appeared in 35 games each of last two seasons; won 16 games in '06
Cla Meredith%Traded to Padres; became one of majors best set-up relievers last season
David Wells%Traded to Padres; ultimately provided more headaches than wins
Bronson Arroyo%Traded to Reds, led majors in innings pitched in '06
Wade Miller%Injured for most of one season with Sox
Jason Johnson%Didn't cost much, but produced even less
TO BE DETERMINED
Keith Foulke%Signed for 3 years, $20.25 million
Josh Beckett%Traded for and subsequently signed
Mike Timlin%Recently re-signed for 1 year, $2.8 million
Julian Tavarez%Signed for 2 years, $6.7 million