BOSTON -- John Farrell is out as manager of the Boston Red Sox.
After steering a relatively young team to the first back-to-back division titles in franchise history but also consecutive first-round playoff knockouts, Farrell was dismissed with one year left on his contract, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski announced Wednesday.
Dombrowski declined to get into specifics about the move -- or offer any substantive reasons for making it -- during a 34-minute news conference at Fenway Park. He also wouldn't say whether Farrell might have been spared if the Red Sox hadn't lost to the Houston Astros in the best-of-five Division Series.
But in dumping Farrell now, Dombrowski clearly determined that the team needs a new voice in the clubhouse and a fresh public face. Despite another first-place American League East finish, the Red Sox grew increasingly unpopular this season. Prime-time television ratings on New England Sports Network dropped 15 percent below ratings last year, which was David Ortiz's final season.
"It's not a snap decision that says, 'OK, we lost in the posteason.' That is not by any means the case," Dombrowski said. "To me, I think change is good for the organization and the manager's position for the Boston Red Sox going into 2018."
Pressed to elaborate, Dombrowski said, "That's really something I'm going to keep to myself. I'm not going to get into anything beyond that, other than a lot of different factors [were involved]."
In a statement, Farrell thanked the Red Sox's ownership group, the team's front office and Boston's coaches, players and fans.
"Despite an end to this season that we all wanted to be different, I am proud of this ball club and the resiliency shown," Farrell said in the statement. "I have enjoyed every moment of this job -- its peaks and its valleys. There are few, if any, positions in life that create so much passion on a daily basis."
Popular former Red Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek will be mentioned prominently as a possible successor to Farrell. But Varitek has neither managed nor coached at the big league (or any) level, qualifications that Dombrowski indicated will be prerequisites for the job. Dombrowski could turn to Brad Ausmus, whom he hired in 2014 to manage the Detroit Tigers but was recently dismissed. Another possibility: Houston Astros bench coach Alex Cora, a hot managerial prospect who played for the Sox from 2005 to 2008.
Farrell posted a 432-378 record over a roller-coaster five-year tenure that included a World Series championship in 2013 and two last-place finishes. He is the only Red Sox manager to win three American League East crowns and ranks sixth on the club's all-time wins list.
Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona weighed in on Farrell's firing and said he's confident his good friend will land on his feet.
"I talked to Johnny today and he is one of my good friends. And he knows a lot of people that care about him," the Cleveland Indians' manager said. "Happens in our industry and people get let go. It's hard. People get let go. He will land on his feet and be in better position."
But Farrell also became a punching bag for frustrated fans and talk-radio hosts. While all managers get second-guessed for in-game moves that don't pan out, Farrell came under greater scrutiny than many. Some critics maintain that he would have been fired in 2015 had he not missed the final six weeks of the season to undergo cancer treatment.
Dombrowski huddled with his baseball operations staff after Monday's season-ending loss and made the choice to cut ties with Farrell. On Tuesday, he presented his decision in a face-to-face meeting with owner John Henry and team president/CEO Sam Kennedy, with chairman Tom Werner conferenced into the meeting by phone.
"I made the decision myself to make a change," Dombrowski said during a news conference that was curiously not attended by Henry or Werner (Kennedy was there, but he declined to comment). "I explained my thought process behind it [to ownership], and John basically said, 'That decision is up to you.'"
On Wednesday morning, Dombrowski called Farrell into Fenway Park to give him the news.
"I don't know if he was surprised," Dombrowski said. "He asked me a question that I answered, and really that was all. It's not like he was pleased. I would say he was disappointed."
This year, in particular, was challenging for Farrell. Regarded previously as a players' manager, there was a perception that he lost respect from some veterans who doubted he had their back. Left-handed pitcher David Price, for one, seemed to treat Farrell with derision by calling him "Manager John."
Farrell dealt with several brush fires this season. There was a beanball saga against the Baltimore Orioles in April and May in which Red Sox pitchers repeatedly failed to exact revenge for a hard slide into second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who in turn appeared to take sides against his teammates for their attempts at retaliation. In June, Price humiliated broadcaster Dennis Eckersley on the team plane, an incident that didn't produce any apologies to the Hall of Fame pitcher from uniformed personnel, including Farrell.
On the field, though, Farrell masterfully handled the bullpen en route to 15 extra-inning victories, and he coaxed the most out of an offense that slugged the fewest home runs in the AL by preaching relentless opportunism on the bases. In his final on-the-field act Monday at Fenway Park, he was ejected from Game 4 of the American League Division Series for protecting Pedroia in an argument with plate umpire Mark Wegner. Then, Farrell advised bench coach Gary DiSarcina to leave ace pitcher Chris Sale in the game in the eighth inning. Sale gave up the tying homer to Houston's Alex Bregman.
After being knocked out of the playoffs by the Astros, several players pledged support for Farrell.
"He gave me every opportunity to succeed," Sale said. "I can say the same for everybody on this team."
Said star right fielder Mookie Betts: "He's done a great job in managing personalities and put us in a position to win. He listens to us, and he talks with us. Those dynamics he fits well."
Dombrowski is now able to appoint a manager of his choosing. Upon taking charge late in the 2015 season, Dombrowski inherited a cancer-stricken Farrell. And although Dombrowski never publicly hinted at dissatisfaction, even complimenting Farrell last week after the Red Sox clinched the AL East, he also was never effusive in his praise.
If anything, observing Farrell seems to have given Dombrowski an appreciation for the intensity of managing in Boston. It requires a thick skin and the ability to shrug off criticism. And it isn't for everybody.
"Managing is a tough job, period. I think it's a tougher job here than maybe anywhere else," Dombrowski said recently. "The scrutiny you receive -- being in the game as long as I've been in the game, I'm amazed somewhat [by] the scrutiny aspect of it. And then when I look at the names behind [Farrell's] desk, the number of pictures and how few guys have stayed a long time, it just shows you it's a tough job."