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John Farrell on improved Yankees: ‘We respect them. But we’ll be prepared’

02.06.14 at 1:46 pm ET
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Red Sox manager John Farrell, appearing on ESPN’s “First Take” on Thursday morning, discussed the Red Sox‘ preparations for 2014 and their chances of repeating as World Series champions.

“I think we’re all looking to spring training starting and see what 2014 has in store for everybody in baseball,” Farrell said.

Much of the conversation centered around the Yankees, who made some offseason splashes in attempt to avoid missing the playoffs like they did in 2013.

“They’ve upgraded their roster,” Farrell acknowledged. “They’ve spent a lot of money, as we know. And you know what? That’s the beauty of the AL East, is that every year it’s going to be a dogfight from start to finish. They took [Jacoby] Ellsbury from us. [Masahiro] Tanaka, [Brian] McCann, [Carlos] Beltran. Long list. They’ve improved.”

Added Farrell: “We respect them. But we’ll be prepared.”

Farrell expressed his disappointment but also his understanding in losing Ellsbury as a free agent.

“I think the market took him from us,” Farrell said. “We wanted Jacoby Ellsbury, there’s no question. You look at players that talented, an original Red Sox, sure, we’d have loved to have him remain with us. But certain things happen that are out of our control. We wish him well, but we’ll see him 19 times this year.”

Asked to asses the Red Sox’ chances to repeat as champions, Farrell said: “Difficult. Particularly when you’ve got 29 other teams trying to do the same thing we are. We’ve got to get back to — first day of spring training is going to be important from our mindset to be back to what it was first day of 2013, not the final game against the Cardinals. And that’s back to a building block approach, and getting prepared for 2014.”

Farrell also noted that the American League is improving as a whole.

“A lot is always talked about about the AL East, but when you start talking about baseball, what’s going on the AL Central? There’s a lot going on there, with Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Minnesota’s revamped itself. The American League is very difficult,” he said.

Following are more highlights from the interview. For more Red Sox news, visit the team page at weei.com/redsox.

On why he was able to have immediate success in his first year as Red Sox manager: “I think a lot has to do with having been the pitching coach there for four years prior to going to Toronto. Having some relationships already in place with not only the guys on the pitching staff, but David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, other guys in that clubhouse, and I think most importantly with Ben Cherington, our GM. So it allowed us to kind of hit the ground running and tackle the challenges that we had, which was rebuilding a roster, changing the culture of the clubhouse and then ultimately getting off to a good start.”

On what Farrell inherited following the problems under Bobby Valentine the previous season: “It was clear that there was a roster that was very talented. Injury took Ortiz, Ellsbury, Pedroia off the field in 2012. There were some guys in the rotation that I think needed to get back on track performance-wise. And then because in markets like Boston, New York and others, it becomes a little bit of a distraction and some other stories can start to evolve from that. So, first day in spring training was, ‘Hey, let’s make the game tonight the most important thing. Try to simplify it, become as focused as possible.’ And our guys did such a great job of working to prepare for that single day.”

On closer Koji Uehara’s breakthrough year in 2013 at age 38: “If you look at what he’s done since coming from Japan and the way he’s performed in the States, he’s been a very good pitcher. I think the fact that he came to Boston and moved into a closer’s role — which are two high-profile positions — his overall performance kind of is in line with his years in the States. … We had two guys go down with injuries, here’s an opportunity, he capitalizes on it and the rest is history.”

On if he was surprised by Ortiz’s 2013 season: “Surprised? No. As he was coming along in spring training, he was trying to get over the hump of the Achilles tendon that was giving him issues all the way back in 2012, it was a matter of him getting healthy. Again, we talked about track record and performance of Uehara, David Ortiz is no different. This is a guy that I think as he’s gotten older he’s gotten more productive against left-handed pitching in particular. And I think his time spent with Adrian Gonzalez has a lot to do with that — the conversations that those two guys had on just attacking left-handed pitching. But when you see the way he studies, the way he prepares, not a surprise he performed like he did.”

On protecting the players in the media: “I think it’s important that they are first and foremost, that this game will always be about the players. And as soon as it becomes about me or our coaches, you know what? You have a chance to jeopardize that relationship and lose them. And I think it’s important that they remain in the forefront. You’re always looking to put them in a position to succeed. And sometimes that means protecting to them in the media, or never talking to them first time through the media. That’s my own personal rule is that if I’m asked a question, I’m not going to answer it if I haven’t talked to that player about it first. Just out of respect, and I think basic respect with the player.”

On the players’ beards and if that helped team chemistry: “It has definitely something to do with it. Because the one thing we did in spring training, we established what our expectations were. And included in that is some behavior — what’s accepted behavior and what’s not. But I think there’s always room for individuality inside that framework. And beards became that individuality and that characteristic of this team. I do know that in talking with Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli they still have the beards but they’re going to be gone. And there’ll be some other characteristic that will emerge. So, I think it’s just great that they can be themselves. …

“I was asked many times last year to grow one. Have never grown one in my life and I wasn’t about to start now. That was their thing. There will be a new thing come up that will be theirs in that clubhouse.”

Read More: David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, John Farrell, Koji Uehara Print  |  Email  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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