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Buckley: Now we’ll learn a bit more about John Farrell

February 22, 2017 GMT

FORT MYERS — John Farrell has made so many goofy moves during his tenure as manager of the Red Sox that I’ve often joked that his uniform number should be replaced with a question mark.

But as Mark McGwire famously said, I’m not here to talk about the past. The Red Sox were less than 24 hours removed from last fall’s three-game humiliation at the hands of the Cleveland Indians when boss of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski announced Farrell would return for 2017, so it doesn’t make much sense to rehash 2016 lineup cards.

Thus, let’s limit today’s discussion to what’s ahead. Specifically, let’s pose this question: Will the departures of iconic slugger David Ortiz and bench coach Torey Lovullo make it more difficult for Farrell to do his job this season?

Even Farrell’s fiercest defenders dance around the topic of the venerable skipper’s in-game decisions. Dombrowski, in announcing last fall the club had picked up Farrell’s option for 2017, said, “I do not feel in-game strategy is the biggest thing for a manager. I think it’s important, but there are other things that are probably more important.”

Managing, I guess, is overrated.

“The most important thing for a manager is that their club plays up to their capabilities day in, day out, which means they’re communicating with their players and getting everything they can,” said Dombrowski last fall.

What he was coveying, then, I guess, is that Farrell does an outstanding job working behind the scenes to make sure the boyos are prepared, focussed, etc. He is apparently a great communicator as well. And so on.

And we’ll absolutely take Dombrowski’s word on that. All of it. He’s the one who brought Farrell back, and he’s the one who sees things, behind the scenes, that the rest of us cannot see.

But this is where Ortiz and Lovullo enter the discussion. Ortiz, we can all agree, was always a demonstrative presence in the clubhouse and an unquestioned leader. And Lovullo, a loyal Farrell lieutenant, surely operated as a buffer between the clubhouse and the manager’s office. That’s what most bench coaches do.

And now that Ortiz has retired and Lovullo has moved on to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks . . .

“We have quite a bit of stability and continuity here with our entire coaching staff,” said Farrell, adding that Gary DiSarcina, a former Sox minor-league manager who has replaced Lovullo as bench coach “is not an unfamiliar face or person to many of the players in our clubhouse.”

Farrell agreed that “ . . . communication has always been critical element to our clubhouse. Trying to keep things from being a surprise to certain individuals. I like the fact that we return a high number of players from a year ago.

“All of those are part of the continuity that allows us to start this spring training without skipping steps,” he said.

But again: Does Farrell’s job change?

“I’ve always taken pride in interactions and building relationships with individual players,” the manager said. “That won’t change. If it’s enhanced further because of a new combination in the manager/bench coach position, that will unfold naturally. I think there’s a great awareness between myself and Gary that things won’t fall between the cracks in terms of communication.”

And losing Ortiz? Worried about rifts?

“No,” he said. “We’ve got an exciting group, a high number of players who have been drafted and developed here and they understand what’s of value in terms of an organization . . . that doesn’t mean there’s not room for opinion but at the same time there’s an expectation we all hold ourselves accountable to.”

It’s that “room for opinion” that can sometimes suffocate a clubhouse.

“Opinion” can be a position player grousing about batting orders, or pitchers complaining about how and when they’re used. This is where a leader like Ortiz can put out a fire. This is where a Lovullo can run some interference.

Don’t ever assume these matters are handled seamlessly because they are not.

How will Pablo Sandoval react if he’s benched or platooned?

What if Hanley Ramirez goes into a funk as he’s transitioning to a mostly full-time designated hitter?

What happens next time there’s a plan to use a starting pitcher as a pinch-runner?

These are the kind of small problems that can turn into big problems if they’re not handled properly. And as Farrell has an altered support system around him now, he may have some adjustments to make.