Cherington's focus on character paid off

Cherington's focus on character paid off
October 2, 2013, 12:00 pm
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Ben Cherington is in the enviable position of having a surplus of starting pitching.

(AP Photo)

The Red Sox' turnaround, from worst to first, has resulted in plenty of accolades for John Farrell, who oversaw a team which improved by 28 wins and will likely win American League Manager of the Year for his efforts.
      
But general manager Ben Cherington, who provided Farrell with an upgraded roster, deserves credit, too.
      
It was Cherington who signed free agents Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, David Ross, Stephen Drew and Ryan Dempster. It was Cherington who dealt for Mike Carp in spring training and obtained Jake Peavy in July.
      
Nearly every personnel move Cherington made paid off. Napoli was second on the team in homers and RBI. Victorino was the team's best right fielder since Dwight Evans. Drew played an amazingly steady shortstop, committing just eight errors all season, while tying a career high for RBI. Even Dempster, who finished with a losing record, kept the Sox in most of his 28 starts.
      
That's not just rare, it's virtually unprecedented.
      
"I guess it is," agreed Farrell on Tuesday. "But in this case, knowing the depth in which he works, the information that he gathers to find out about people as much as what the traditional scouting reports might indicate . . . his pursuit to drill down and find out about the personalities (of players) and how they might embrace this situation, has really played out.
      
"And that's as much a key in all of this, as much as the talent that's been acquired."
      
In that sense, then, Cherington succeeded doubly. Not only did he add power, defense and pitching to a roster sorely in need of upgrades in all of those categories, but he also sensed that the team needed the right sort of people to thrive in Boston.
      
The mega-deal with the Dodgers last August wasn't just an unloading of payroll; it was also a recognition that not every player was suited for the Boston environment.
      
If Cherington had merely signed or dealt for talent and skill without regard to makeup, the Red Sox would have simply reshuffled the deck and left themselves with the same troubling issues.
      
Instead, Cherington went about trying to get the right fit. And there, too, he succeeded. That, as much as any signing, trade or waiver claim, is why the Red Sox sit seven wins shy of returning to the World Series for the first time since 2007.
      
"He doesn't get enough credit," said Farrell Tuesday of his boss. "He's done an outstanding job. His vision clearly started last August with the trade with the Dodgers and where we stand today was initiated 14 months ago. It was tremendous foresight on his part.
      
"But to select the people, in addition to the talent that he brought in, everyone has fit well . . . He's done a great job of revamping who sits in our clubhouse today."
      
By nature, Cherington is quiet and unassuming and abhors the spotlight. When he travels with the team, he frequently sits in the dugout in mid-afternoon, checking his phone and conducting private conversations.
      
But last winter, Cherington had to become a salesman, pitching the idea of coming to Boston. Cherington knew the kind of players -- and people -- he wanted in as part of his re-design and he let the free agents he was interested in know.
      
"Fortunately or unfortunately, I've bounced around,'' said Gomes, now with his fifth organization. "But this is the first time I ever had a conversation with a GM, about what he's looking for and what he expects. Every time, we never talked about (statistics); he never said, 'Hey, we're looking for you to do this, or we need this slugging percentage.' But he couldn't mention enough the winning atmosphere, winning players, getting grinders. That definitely brought a smile to my face."
      
It wasn't lost on Gomes that an organization that is known throughout the game for its devotion to advanced metrics was, instead, focusing on the intangibles and the importance of clubhouse chemistry.
      
"You don't hear that that often," said Gomes. "You hear a lot about different ways to win. The Giants did it with pitching. The Cardinals do with by bringing up a lot of young players. But maybe this (the attention to makeup) is the new way."
      
What impressed Gomes, even before the start of the season, is that Cherington wasn't looking for a quick fix with a big name.
      
"I don't know how many people, at the start of the season, were excited about a platoon of Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava in left field," he said. "I'm sure people would have been a lot happier with that five-year, $100 million guy or whoever was out there. But it really shows the homework and how all of this is a 25-man chain link."
      
Like Gomes, David Ross has bounced around, having played in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Cincinnati and Boston (briefly in 2008). He, too, was pleasantly surprised by the personal appeal and interaction with an executive that he barely knew.
      
"He was very positive, very upbeat," said Ross. "He wanted to know how I liked my time here, and he promised that the Red Sox were going to get back (to what had made them successful), with everyone caring about each other and on the same page.
      
"That kind of discussion was really rare. This is the only place I've ever been where the front office puts so much value in the players, where you felt like you have a voice. You feel like they really care. And it comes from the top down."
      
Ross, who suffered two concussions with the Sox, was shocked at the amount of contact he had with Farrell and Cherington, both of whom made a point to regularly check in with him and update him on what was going on.
      
"I've been in a lot of places where the GM's just absent or it's kind of 'Hey, how you doin'?' and that's it," said Ross. "Here, we're all together. I told them early in the season that I liked a certain kind of scouting report (on opponents), and, boom, two days later, it's at my locker. They had to go and make that adjustment for me. It's just very, very professional around here and player-oriented. That's rare to find."
      
Ross said the recruiting effort by Cherington is "why I'm here. He called me and told me what they liked about what I brought to a team. They didn't talk about my batting average. He knew what other things I brought -- my game-calling skills, my leadership ability, my clubhouse presence. That made me feel great. It's like they wanted me to be me, and that's when I perform the best."