BANGOR, Maine — When spring training begins next month, fifth-year Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell will be under pressure as there will be high expectations for the team after they acquired ace left-hander Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox to bolster a starting rotation that includes Cy Young Award winners David Price and Rick Porcello.
And the Red Sox did so without giving up an established major league player.
But the engaging Farrell seemed relaxed and genuinely interested when he answered questions from a crowd of about 300 people during Townsquare Media’s annual Hot Stove Night on Wednesday night at the Gracie Theatre on the Husson University campus.
Farrell, who guided the Red Sox to the 2013 World Series championship, said he liked the trade that sent infielder Yoan Moncada, Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year, hard-throwing pitcher Michael Kopech and Class A pitcher Victor Diaz and outfielder Luis Basabe to the White Sox.
“You may debate trading away young players for Sale, but I think it’s a pretty good get,” said Farrell. “We wouldn’t have made the trade if we didn’t have a core group of young players like we have.”
Sale was 17-10 and had a 3.34 ERA last year with 233 strikeouts and just 45 walks.
The Red Sox already have four starters 26 years of age or younger in center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., 26, right fielder Mookie Betts, 24, shortstop Xander Bogaerts, 24, and left fielder Andrew Benintendi, 22.
Porcello and Price each had sub-par seasons in their first year with the Red Sox, and Farrell expects Sale to go through a transition period.
“To change organizations for the first time can be startling. It’s like going to a completely different company,” said Farrell. “You have a big deal and you’re in a big market, so there are high expectations. You try to do too much to hold up your end of the deal. Porcello talked openly about it. And I expect Price to have a better year.”
Price was 17-9 with a 3.99 ERA in his first year with the Red Sox last season after being 18-5 with a 2.45 ERA the previous year between Detroit and Toronto.
Before even being asked the anticipated question, Farrell said, “I have no idea who is going to start opening day.”
Farrell also was glad to get hard-throwing relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers. Thornburg was 8-5 with a 2.15 ERA and had 90 strikeouts in 67 innings.
“We needed an eighth-inning guy,” said Farrell. “This bolstered our bullpen.”
The Red Sox will have to replace retired slugger David Ortiz, and Farrell said he “wouldn’t be surprised if we sign a middle-of-the-order bat.”
However, a team that signs a specific type of free agent has to give up a first-round draft pick as compensation, and Farrell said giving up a first-round pick to sign a free agent to a one-year deal “isn’t going to happen.”
He considered Bradley Jr. to be the team’s most improved player last season and called Porcello the “most prepared pitcher” he had ever coached.
He also said third base coach and infield instructor Brian Butterfield of Orono is the most detailed coach he has ever seen.
“With his work ethic and energy — he is invaluable. And he is very demanding,” said Farrell, who will be working with Butterfield for their seventh season, including two in Toronto.
Farrell spoke very highly of the young players such as Betts, Bradley Jr., Bogaerts and Benintendi, saying the scouts did a “great job” evaluating their character as well as their talent.
“They are quality guys. They’re respectful. They don’t think they know everything,” said former Boston pitching coach Farrell, who has a record of 339-309 in Boston after going 154-170 in two years with the Blue Jays.
He was pleased to report that third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who played in just three games before having shoulder surgery, has lost weight and is in very good shape as he returns to try to win back the third base job. He was a disappointment in his first season in Boston (2015) as he hit just .245 with 10 homers and 47 runs batted in.
Farrell said it will be up to Sandoval to “reclaim” his starting third base job with versatile Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge also in the mix.
Catcher Blake Swihart, who also played the outfield but wound up missing most of the season with an ankle injury, will return behind the plate to battle Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez for the job, according to Farrell.
“But Leon and Vazquez are out of options, so we can’t send them down to Pawtucket. If we take them off the roster, they would be exposed [to other major league teams], and there would be high demand for them,” said Farrell, a former Major League pitcher who is a cancer survivor.
On other topics, he is glad the All-Star game won’t determine which league gets the home field advantage for the World Series, saying it is meant to be a “showcase.”
He feels the league that has the best record in interleague play should get the home field advantage.