The Jays Gamble on a Neophyte
John Farrell was named Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday, a great choice for a team with a young and promising pitching staff looking to compete in the brutal American League East. Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman felt differently, however, and took to his Twitter feed with the following:
We have been tough on Heyman here at times, I admit it. We think he’s been pretty obtuse in his belief that Bert Blyleven doesn’t belong in Cooperstown, and Rich wrote the definitive Heyman takedown over his Scott Boras servitude. With this in mind, I want to try and be cordial towards Heyman despite my frustration with his reaction to Farrell's hiring.
First, there was Heyman's use of the term “neophyte.” A “neophyte” is a novice. One example someone used when I asked whether others on Twitter considered the term derogatory was that Meg Whitman is a political “neophyte”. That sounds right to me. It’s not necessarily derogatory in that light. It’s just a fact. But when applied to someone like Farrell, who has spent his life in baseball, I think it’s misapplied.
In the narrowest sense, yes, Farrell is a “neophyte” as it relates to Major League Baseball Managing. But he appeared in eight separate Major League seasons as a pitcher, so he’s capable of relating to the day-to-day life of a Big Leaguer. Players value that. He also spent six years heading up the Cleveland Indians’ Player Development organization from 2001 to 2006, a time during which they turned out some awfully good players. He’s an excellent evaluator, and has a track record of getting the most out of talent. Finally, in his latest gig, he’s been pitching coach for a team that has won 375 games in four seasons. Player, front office guy, coach. I’m not sure you could come up with a more seasoned professional to take the reins. As far as his overall baseball experience is concerned, he’s anything but a "neophyte".
My wife thought I was nitpicking by isolating that word, however. “A neophyte is someone who is new to something, and Farrell is new to Managing,” she reminded me. Fine, that’s true. We’ll set that aside. She then said, “it’s the world ‘gambling’ that would offend me if I were Farrell.”
As I think more about it, it’s a fantastic point. Who are the better, more experienced Managerial options for Toronto? Would Art Howe or Don Baylor or Jimy Williams or Mike Hargrove be better? And if so, why? Joe Girardi had all of 162 games of Manager experience before the Yankees hired him, and he ended up leading New York to a World Series title last year. That seemed to work out ok. So where exactly is the “gamble”? Who's to say Bobby Valentine wouldn't be a "gamble"?
I think Farrell's the perfect choice for the Jays, a team whose future hinges on its young pitching staff's continued improvement. Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow and Marc Rzepczynski will average 26 years old for the 2011 season. Kyle Drabek, Zach Stewart and Brad Mills aren't far behind. Farrell will be able to lean on all of his professional skills - his MLB player experience, player development expertise and pitching coach track record - to help strengthen Toronto's biggest asset, its young pitching.
There may be others like Farrell around the league, but I can’t imagine a better extended apprenticeship than the one Farrell has served leading up to this moment in his career. I don’t mean to pick on Heyman, but I found his remarks to be unfair. Farrell has too much experience in baseball to be considered a “neophyte” (except in the narrowest sense), and his hiring is both sound and the byproduct of a long and drawn-out process by the Jays. They’ve done their diligence. If only Heyman would do the same prior to taking to his keyboard.