Cherington faces a mountain of work

Cherington faces a mountain of work
October 23, 2011, 1:25 am
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Ben Cherington has been part of the Red Sox organization for more than a decade.

No one has to show him how to get from the clubhouse to his office. He doesn't need to be introduced to people throughout Fenway Park.

All of which means Cherington can hit the ground running when he's introduced as the Red Sox new general manager Tuesday.

Which is good for Cherington, because there's a long list of things that require his immediate attention.

Among them:

1) Find a manager.

This, naturally, is Job One. Terry Francona parted company with the Sox two days after the ugly conclusion of the regular season.

For most of the last few weeks, Cherington has split his time between researching potential candidates for manager and working on compensation with the Cubs in exchange for Theo Epstein.

The compensation issue should be decided by Tuesday's press conference or soon thereafter. That will free Cherington to pay full attention to his first big hire.

It's not as if Cherington is going to deviate from the list of potential candidates put together with Epstein. There will be no search for a high-profile, big-name manager such as Bobby Valentine or Joe Torre. Cherington will probably select from among the group of current major-league coaches -- Philadelphia's Pete Mackanin; Tampa Bay's Dave Martinez; Cleveland's Sandy Alomar Jr.; Milwaukee's Dale Sveum; Los Angeles's Tim Wallach and one or two more.

This isn't any hire, of course. It will be the first significant move of Cherington's tenure and he must find someone capable of bringing together a clubhouse that seemed more obsessed with beer, chicken, and mostly, self.

2) Hire a coaching staff
This will be done in conjunction with the new manager. Don't rule out the return of hitting coach Dave Magadan and perhaps third-base coach Tim Bogar, though it's more likely Bigar would move to bench coach.

Either way, given that almost all of the managers under consideration have little or no major-league experience, a strong and capable coaching staff will be a must if the Sox are to succeed in turning around the culture that infected the clubhouse in the final months of the season.

Special attention needs to be paid to the pitching coach. The starters took advantage of easygoing Curt Young in his one season in the role and a more authoritative personality is a must.

3) Make some tough decisions on the Red Sox' own free agents.

David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield and J.D. Drew are all eligible for free agency.

It seems likely that Varitek, whose tenure with the Red Sox goes back to 1997, and Wakefield, who joined the club in 1995, have reached the end of their careers in Boston.

Wakefield needed 10 starts to reach his elusive 200th career win and though he held up rather well physically, at 45, his value to the team isn't what it once was. As for Varitek, he may still be a capable backup, but with Ryan Lavarnway ready for some playing time, it's probably time to move on.

Ortiz and Papelbon will present interesting challenges.

Ortiz finished with the fourth-best OPS in the American League and was easily the top DH in the league. It will likely take a two-year commitment of around 20 million to keep Ortiz and that seems a reasonable price.

Papelbon will present a tougher decision. Though clearly one of the handful of best closers in the game, the Red Sox philosophy -- developed under Epstein, but shared by Cherington -- is that closers in their 30s are risky investments.

Papelbon has looked forward to free agency for years and won't settle for a one-year arbitration deal. A three-year deal for somewhere near 40 million might be a reasonable compromise for both sides.

4) Develop a strategy for the offseason.

Do the Red Sox aggressively pursue some big-name free agents (C.J. Wilson; Japanese-Iranian import Yu Darvish) or use the trade market to re-tool their roster?

Given the team's poor track record in recent years with free agents (John Lackey, Carl Crawford), it's difficult to imagine ownership green-lighting a big bucks shopping spree.

More likely, Cherington will use some tradeable parts (Kevin Youkilis? Jed Lowrie? Josh Reddick?) to address some of the needs and hope that Lavarnway, Ryan Kalish, Felix Doubront and Jose Iglesias are ready to contribute in meaningful ways in 2011.

5) Steer the Red Sox back to normalcy.

This is at once the toughest and most important chore on Cherington's list.

The team's brand has been sullied by the stories coming out of the clubhouse in the aftermath of the club's disastrous September and a steady hand is needed.

He needs to convey to the fan base that the Red Sox are running smoothly again following two months of disappointment and chaos. The best way to send that message is to go about his normal business, with one goal in mind: Getting the Red Sox back into contention and into the postseason for the first time since 2008.

Around baseball, too, people will watching to see if Cherington gets to exert his independence in his new position or whether he's dominated by president and CEO Larry Lucchino, who may see Cherington's ascension as a chance to exert his influence on the team's Baseball Operations department.