BOSTON There are no shortage of issues that need Ben Cherington's immediate attention as he takes over as Red Sox general manager.
To begin with, he'll immediately be dealing with his former boss, Theo Epstein, on the issue of compensation from the Cubs for allowing Epstein to go to Chicago. Then there's the hiring a new manager and at least two new members of the coaching staff. And the usual offseason work of a general manager dealing with Sox free agents and players who are arbitration eligible, monitoring players who are nursing injuries or require medical intervention, and acquiring players to strengthen the roster.
But one of his biggest tasks is dealing with the aftermath of the team's historic September collapse and eaning up the team's image after details emerged of unseemly behavior during games by pitchers Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester, among others.
I think that we have work to do this offseason to restore the culture that we expect in the clubhouse, to restore the level of accountability, Cherington said. I dont believe that theres a silver bullet that will be the answer to that, its multi-factorial.
"Certainly we have an important hire in the next manager and he will be a big part of it. And were all going to be a big part of it. And most importantly the players are going to be a big part of it, and I know from talking to players theres a great motivation to clean up whatever does need to be cleaned up in the clubhouse and move forward to 2012.
And before they get there, Cherington has no lack of areas that need attention:
A managerial hire will be Cheringtons priority.
"I want someone whos got a strong voice, Cherington said. I want someone who cares about players but is also willing and ready to have tough conversations with them. I want someone who can collaborate with the front office and ownership but also is willing to make an argument when he disagrees. I want someone who has a passion for the game. I want someone who can create a culture in the clubhouse that enables everyone to do their job and put the team in the best position to win and make sure that were more prepared than the other team every night we go out there.
Were going to move swiftly and diligently and well be methodical in our search. Tito wasn't hired until after Thanksgiving. Were early in the offseason but well get going on that search very soon.
Weve done a lot of due diligence over the last two weeks. Weve narrowed a list down to a probable first group of interviews. Im not prepared to say who they are because I havent asked permission to speak with them yet, and certainly were not going to go into the process with any preconceived notions as to whos the favorite or any bias. We expect that well start the interview process soon and we do have a short list of candidates.
Cherington said previous managerial experience would not necessarily be a requirement.
Previous managerial experience would be a benefit but were not going to put ourselves in a box by requiring that, he said. Well certainly consider those who have previous major league managing experience but also those who dont. We need the right person and I dont think we can afford to put ourselves in any sort of box in our effort to find the right person. And the qualities that wed be looking for in the next manager are the qualities that were going to be looking for in the next manager. There are things that we believe a manager needs to succeed in Boston, to succeed working with this baseball operations group, with this ownership group that have nothing to do with what happened in September. Certainly well ask questions of candidates and get their input in what they saw from afar and thatll be an important part of the interview process.
Cherington was asked if the Sox would ban alcohol in the clubhouse.
I think the clubhouse culture is an issue that is multi-factorial, he said. Theres a lot that goes into a good clubhouse culture. And as I said, were going to hire a manager. Thats a very important step. And hes going to work with us on any changes that we feel are necessary in the clubhouse. Well do, well make as a group. I think its important to remember that first of all we have a ton of talent on this team. Were going to have a very good team in 2012. We have a bunch of players who are really motivated by what happened at the end of the season. And if there are things that happened in the clubhouse this year that we feel need to be addressed, were going to do that directly with the players. Were going to talk to them privately about it. I dont believe that anybody player, coach, front office, any of you should be judged on one moment, one episode, one piece of behavior. We need to judge people on the body of work. And I believe we have a lot of players in our clubhouse whose body of work is really good and are going to be a part of really good Red Sox teams going forward.
Cherington was asked his assessment of the teams free-agent signings, which have been less than optimal. While Epstein guided the Sox to two World Series championships in his tenure, he has also signed off on several free-agent contracts in the last few years that were less than desirable for the Red Sox. Factoring in the recent deals for John Lackey (82.5 million, five years), Carl Crawford (142 million, seven years), J.D. Drew (70 million, five years), Bobby Jenks (12 million, two years), Matt Clement (25.825 million, three years), Julio Lugo (36 million, four years), Daisuke Matsuzaka (52 million, six years, plus 51.1 million posting fee), Edgar Renteria (8 million, one year), Mike Cameron (15 million, two years), Dennys Reyes (900,000, one year), Hideki Okajima (1.75 million, one year), the sum is roughly 497.075 million. That's nearly a half-billion dollars on contracts, and it can't be said the Sox got their money's worth in return.
Not good enough, certainly, Cherington said of the Sox track record in free agency. Let me say first that there are players on this team now that we signed as free agents that we still really believe in and that I was a strong proponent of signing. I think we have to look at that area and look critically at perhaps why we havent performed as well in that area . . . We need to make sure that were not only talking about using the best possible objective and subjective information when we make decisions like that. We have to make sure we actually do it and . . . walk the walk not just talk the talk. And thats something were going to focus on.
We have a lot of talent on our baseball operations staff, in the office and in the field scouting. Its my job to utilize that talent as best possible to help make those decisions. THERE may be subtle changes we make in decision-making processes or even just in the voices that we include in that process because it is an area that we need to get better at.
Crawford, another recent free agent signing, also had a disappointing season. He hit just .255, with a .289 on-base percentage, the lowest marks of his career. His 18 stolen bases in 130 games were the fewest for him in a full season, seven fewer he had in 109 games in 2008.
First of all, I was one of the strongest proponents of signing Carl last offseason, Cherington said. I pushed hard for that because I believe in him and I believe in him the same amount now as I did then. This guy has been an impact player on both sides of the ball for a lot of years in this league. We saw over and over what he can do to help a team win when he was inTampa. He had a down year. He admitted that. Hes taken full responsibility for it. Despite that, because of the way that he handled it in our clubhouse and how hard he worked and how much responsibility he took for it, I truly believe that he finished the year earning a tremendous amount of respect from his teammates and from us. So we need to spend some time with Carl this off-season and find out if there are things that we can do to help sort of help him fully transition to Boston, fully assimilate into Boston.
When hes comfortable and feeling good this is one of the best players in the league andits our job to help him do that. Its his job to learn something from what happened this year and what he went through and put himself in a position to be that guy again. But hes certainly one of the guys that I look forward to going to see this off-season. I know our new manager is going to look forward to seeing this off-season and Im betting on Carl Crawford moving forward.
The Sox have several free agent decisions to make shortly. Both closer Jonathan Papelbon and David Ortiz can become free agents. The Sox have a five-day window of exclusivity at the end of the World Series to negotiate with the pair.
"One of the advantages of free agents that are coming from your clubhouse is that you know them really, really well, Cherington said. We know David and Pap really well. Theyve been huge parts of this team. We'd like to have both of them back. We're going to have to see if there's a contract that makes sense for them and for us. But we'd be a really good team if we had both of them back and we've had some initial dialog with both. We'll talk more with both and we'll have to see how that plays out. But theyve been huge parts of the team over several seasons, very consistent performers and in a vacuum wed love to have both on the team again."
The Sox will also have the normal offseason duties of trying to acquire players to improve the roster.
Weve got the core I think of a really, really good team, Cherington said. We have a very strong top of the rotation, Lester, Beckett, and a healthy Clay Buchholz. Were confident that well have a healthy Buchholz. We need to build some pitching depth. We have talent in the bullpen. Obviously with Papelbon not knowing the outcome of that, of Paps decision, we potentially have an opening at closer. We have a couple people, players in-house that we think are capable of filling that role if needed. But we need to add some pitching depth. I think most likely well do that through some good creative, perhaps buy-low acquisitions. Were going to do our diligence on every available player. But I think we need to hit on some pitchers this off-season in much the same way we did with Alfredo Aceves last off-season. We need to continue to do that.
The David issue notwithstanding, we have a really good lineup coming back. We have a couple young players in Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish who are going to get a chance to compete for the right field job. Well probably look to complement our outfield with a right-hand bat. Weve got a left-hand dominant outfield as you know.
We have a decision on Marco Scutaros option to make after the World Series. 'Scut' had a really good year and we believe hed be very coveted this off-season if he got into the market. So thats a decision well make right after the offseason but certainly hes coming off a strong year and we have a club option that well make a decision on.
So generally I think we have the makings of a very good team and as everyone knows we were on our way toa very, very good season at the end of August and we went 7-20 and it was painful. But that doesnt mean that we dont have the core of a really, really good team coming back and we need to complement that core with a little extra pitching, a little bit more versatility on the bench to round out the team in certain ways. But its a very good core coming back.
With John Lackey needing Tommy John surgery, the Sox have three pitchers from the 2011 roster Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rich Hill are the others who required the surgery. That begs the question of whether there is enough being done to prevent injury.
The Tommy John surgery, the injury that results in Tommy John surgery is a really difficult one to prevent, Cherington said. Thats not to say that we dont work hard to do it. There are things we can do to help at least push that off for as long as possible. We did that with John. But its a hard thing to prevent because of the nature of the elbow joint and what happens to it over a long period of time when you're putting that kind of strain on it.
So I think in Dice and Hill and Lacks case, look, all those guys have been pitching a lot for a long time and the elbow joint just wore out. The good news is that with Tommy John surgery, if you're willing to work, and all those three guys are, theres a very good chance you come back from it and you're successful again.
Cherington will be negotiating with Epstein to work out compensation from the Cubs for allowing Epstein out of the last year on his Red Sox contract.
Im sure Theo and I will get a chance to talk about it in the coming days, Cherington said. There was an agreement from both sides that we were to receive significant compensation to give the Cubs the right to talk to Theo and ultimately for Theo to go to Chicago. So the question is: Can we agree on what significant compensation means? So weve had several conversations, Sox presidentCEO Larry Lucchino and I have, with the Cubs, made some progress. We werent able to come to a resolution and I think everyone believed that the right thing to do was to move forward with the understanding that Theo and I will now try to work that out in the coming days. And if we can't, then well turn it over to the commissioner and let him decide. But either way, were moving forward and prepared to start the offseason.
Cherington was asked about the status of the farm system, which has been depleted in recent seasons by trades. The Sox lost four players in December (Casey Kelly, Reymond Fuentes, Anthony Rizzo, and Eric Patterson) in the deal to acquire first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres; three to the Indians for Victor Martinez in 2009 (Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone, and Bryan Price); four in a three-team deal to acquire pitcher Erik Bedard from Seattle in July (Tim Federowicz, Stephen Fife, Chih-Hsien Chiang, and Juan Rodriguez); and three to the Rangers in 2007 for Eric Gagne (David Murphy, Kason Gabbard, and Engel Beltre).
I think our farm system is actually stronger and deeper than ever, Cherington said. That strength and depth is probably more at the Double-A level and below than in some years. Farm systems go through cycles. We put tremendous effort and resources into acquiring players every year under this ownership. Youre not going to always have the ready line of major league replacements every year. Its just not the way scouting and player development works. Theres going to be some cyclical nature of this.
But, I was able, I personally got out and saw a lot of our teams this year. Certainly we have a lot of eyes and ears with our players every day. We know what our players are doing every day and I believe that the farm system in aggregate is stronger than ever. There are players that need to migrate up the system and get closer before they are ready to graduate to the big leagues. But theres a lot of players in our system right now that are going to be really, really good major league players and a lot of them are going to do that here.
Of his perception on the balance of scouting versus statistical analysis in player evaluation, Cherington said:
The only mistake we made at this press conference is not having a seat for Carmine the computer. First of all, I believe that Theo really believed in both sides of that equation also. But yes, as Larry said, I think in order for us to be the best, to make the best decisions certainly at the major league level we need to have the best analytics department and we need to combine those people with the best evaluators and those groups need to collaborate. They need to agree, disagree, fight if necessary and through that we will winnow and narrow down to the group of players that really are the right fits for the team. So it's easier said than done to do that and I think we have some really, really strong evaluators in our organization that I'm going to utilize to the best of my ability. We may look to add more. That's an area that we need to look at, but mostly it's process.
It's again finding ways to leverage the intelligence of objective minds, subjective minds and realizing that very few people you can just sort of neatly fit in either box. Most people in the game today they can talk about performance analysis. They can also talk about what they see on the field and we have a lot of those people in the organization. We have to make sure we're getting the best out of them."