There’s a famous quote attributed to Sigmund Freud that’s used almost in equal measure as evidence that the founder of psychoanalysis was either a) a hypocrite; or b) someone with a sense of humor. Never mind that there’s an alarming lack of evidence to support that Freud ever said this famous phrase.
The legend is what’s important here, and the legend goes something like this: One day, Freud was informally lecturing a group of doctors on his theory of oral fixation when they began quietly laughing. Freud, annoyed at being interrupted, asked what was so funny about his idea. The snickering doctors replied that while he was explaining his theory on the first stage of psycho-sexual development, he was smoking a huge cigar in his mouth.
Depending on the motivation of the story teller, Freud either self-deprecatingly quipped or defensively suggested that:
Gentlemen, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
On Sunday, the Toronto Blue Jays announced that their manager for the past two seasons, John Farrell, was leaving the organization to become the new manager of the Boston Red Sox. As compensation for dissolving the last year of his contract with his previous club, the Red Sox sent infielder Mike Aviles to the Blue Jays in exchange for reliever David Carpenter.
Cue: Every sports columnist in Canada imagining the transaction to be either a harbinger of doom, the representation of all that ails the Toronto franchise or the end result of being backed into a corner by underhanded dealings. However, it is none of these things. It’s merely a baseball transaction that involves a manager, and as rare as that is, it isn’t the loss of value that it’s depicted as being.
While we have little idea of the value, at least in terms of something tangible like runs or wins, that any manager provides to his team, it’s generally perceived that in baseball, a skipper’s dealings are less impactful than most sports. Given the one-on-one pitcher-batter battles that comprise the game, and the plethora of data available to inform strategic decisions, I’d go so far to suggest that trading a manager for a player who can contribute as a member of the Major League roster in any form at all is a deal that stands to improve a ball club.
In other words, if the value being lost by trading John Farrell came from a player instead of a manager, this weekend’s agreement would represent a good deal for the Toronto Blue Jays.
This is not what Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun will try to tell you.
This is big business and the Blue Jays come off as small-timers here in this ugly mess of a transaction. This is major league sports and the small market Jays show themselves as little more than farm team for the large market Red Sox.
This is only slightly worse than Shi Davidi of Rogers Sportsnet who paints the picture of the team as a cuckolded partner:
The whole unseemly process that sent Farrell back to the Red Sox along with the soon-to-be-outrighted David Carpenter for Mike Aviles leaves the Blue Jays looking every bit the jilted husband, one resigned to a useful pittance in compensation for watching his wife joyously reconnect with her ex.
Toronto is not a victim in this scenario. Yes, a new manager search combined with the orientation efforts once he’s hired will take time away from what’s surely already a very busy off season schedule for the team’s front office. However, that’s all this bit of business costs.
The most important thing to the organization and its fans is what Farrell’s departure means on the field, where the impact will be positive, even if it is minimal. While Mike Aviles isn’t the prize that some had anticipated, he remains a useful utility infielder who turns into an above average hitter when facing left-handed pitching.
What’s being glossed over in the woebegone writing describing the Farrell saga is the fact that this team chose to let Farrell depart for Aviles. While circumstances might have played a role in coercing them to do so, it was still their decision, and one that they made. It could be argued that this is a naive way of viewing the situation, that Boston’s pursuit and “gamesmanship” put Toronto in a corner. However, I can’t help but wonder if anything was keeping Farrell in Toronto beyond the final year of a contract and the pomp and circumstance with which he was introduced at his press conference two years ago.
I seldom enjoy breaching the barrier between tangible and intangible, but there’s evidence, beyond planted stories in the press, to suggest that something was amiss in the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse during this most trying of seasons. In addition to the on-going complaints of Farrell’s questionable in-game strategizing, there were comments from Omar Vizquel about the lack of accountability, there was the collapse of Ricky Romero and of course there was the incident in which an entire clubhouse of players and coaches allowed Yunel Escobar to take the field with a homophobic slur written on his eye black.
Most importantly though, there was the contract extension that was never offered to Farrell ahead of the final year of his contract. Without the Red Sox interest, this would’ve left him as a lame duck manager for the 2013 season. While Farrell’s exit may not be causing good riddance sighs of relief at the Rogers Centre, the team presumably could have avoided his departure with an offer that they ultimately chose not to make.
There’s something of a bright spot to point out in these dealings. The Toronto Blue Jays didn’t succumb to the pressure of optics, or with pig-headedness that ultimately would’ve created a worse situation than the one the team now faces ahead of the 2013 season. They aren’t in a tail spin now that their manager is gone. There isn’t a tragic drama taking place. There isn’t a greater meaning to Farrell leaving than merely him leaving. Sometimes, a manager is just a manager.