BOSTON -- Former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell is at the "top of the list" of candidates the Red Sox are assembling to be their next manager, a team source said Thursday, and Boston is expected to ask Toronto to release Farrell from the final year of his contract as manager of the Blue Jays.
The Red Sox made overtures to the Blue Jays about Farrell last year after Terry Francona was ousted, but the Blue Jays denied permission and ultimately changed their internal rules for taking a job with another team, saying they would allow movement only in the event of a promotion.
There is still some uncertainty whether the Jays would allow Farrell to go to an AL East rival, but with just one year left on his original three-year deal and Toronto coming off an 89-loss season, the Red Sox are hopeful the Jays might relax their policy.
The Red Sox are prepared for the likelihood that hiring Farrell would require compensation in the form of a player, a process they experienced from the other side last year when, after lengthy negotiations, they acquired relief pitcher Chris Carpenter from the Chicago Cubs as compensation for losing general manager Theo Epstein.
Neither Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino nor general manager Ben Cherington, who on Thursday held a series of interviews with various news outlets, including ESPN Boston, would confirm an ESPN Boston report that Farrell had been targeted as their first choice.
"We're not prepared to talk about any candidates," Lucchino said.
"This is not the right time to talk about the logistics of the search and next steps," Cherington said, adding that their intention Thursday was to discuss the firing of Valentine.
Farrell, 50, is a former major league pitcher who developed close ties with Francona and current Red Sox vice president Mike Hazen while they all worked for the Cleveland Indians. Farrell was the Indians' director of player development for five years (2001-2006) before being hired by the Sox as pitching coach, a position he held under Francona for four years.
The Red Sox pitching staff led the American League with a 3.87 ERA in 2007, Farrell's first season, and the team won the World Series.
In the next three seasons, the Red Sox fell to fifth, seventh and ninth in ERA, in that order, but Farrell was given considerable credit for the development of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard, while maintaining a close relationship with Josh Beckett. Even after being hired as Blue Jays manager after the 2010 season, Farrell was sought out by Sox players when the teams played each other, including position players such as Dustin Pedroia, the men enjoying an easy rapport.
Indians president Mark Shapiro once said that Farrell was qualified for any position he'd seek in baseball, including general manager. Similar sentiments were echoed by Epstein when he was here. Farrell appears to be held in high regard across the board in the Red Sox organization -- ownership, baseball operations and players.
There were indications that the Sox would attempt to reach a resolution in their pursuit of Farrell before broadening their search, though Cherington said Thursday the team has yet to reach out to other clubs to talk to any candidate. There is no timetable for hiring a new manager, Cherington said; the focus is finding the right person.
Valentine became the first Red Sox manager to be fired after just one season since Bucky Harris in 1934.
"It's probably doubly important to find someone we can get behind and who can build some stability, create some stability, in that office," Cherington said. "We don't want to be going through those changes often, and it's important to the franchise and all of us to find the right person to be part of restoring the Red Sox to what they should be."
Here's an intriguing scenario: The Red Sox have had four pitching coaches in the past three years, and Cherington said Wednesday that was unacceptable and the Sox need to find a long-term solution in that position as well.
One possibility? Rick Peterson, who has been pitching coach for a number of big league teams and this season has had an enormous impact as the director of pitching development for the Baltimore Orioles, leading to remarkable improvement by a stable of young pitchers, including Zach Britton, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and teenage phenom Dylan Bundy.
While working with pitching rehab coordinator Chris Correnti, who formerly worked for the Red Sox and Mets and was highly regarded by pitchers Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Derek Lowe, the innovative Peterson, a huge believer in the study of pitching biomechanics, made alterations that have paid huge dividends for the playoff-bound Orioles.
Farrell and Peterson have a shared history: When Farrell was a struggling pitcher in the Indians' system, his pitching coach in Triple-A was Peterson, who made alterations to Farrell's delivery, helped him improve his velocity and sent him on his way to the big leagues.
"I was on the road to nowhere 'til Rick took me in," Farrell said at the time.
Peterson was not given an interview last winter by the Red Sox. They hired Bob McClure, who had widely publicized differences with Valentine and was fired in August. A Farrell-Peterson combination might prove appealing this go-round.
Beyond Farrell, the Red Sox's list of candidates is expected to include Sandy Alomar Jr., who interviewed for the job last winter and on Thursday interviewed in Cleveland for the Indians' job; Blue Jays coach Torey Lovullo, another candidate last winter and former Pawtucket manager; Rays bench coach Dave Martinez; White Sox coach Joe McEwing; and Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux.