McAdam: With GM change, philosophies remain

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McAdam: With GM change, philosophies remain

BOSTON -- In the most obvious sense, Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington have very different tasks facing them.

The former, introduced as president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, will be charged with essentially repeating for his new team what he did twice for his former club: winning a World Series after decades without one.

The latter, formally unveiled as the new general manager of the Red Sox Tuesday, must return his team to contention after two straight seasons out of the playoffs. While he's at it, Cherington has to restore some luster to a franchise which dirtied itself with a September implosion and the revelation that a handful of its players were less than focused as the team nose-dived out of the playoffs.

Both have their hands full.

But perhaps what was most striking about their press conferences Tuesday -- held some 900 miles and several hours apart -- was the similarity of their messages.

Though the two have widely different agendas and responsibilities -- Epstein isn't even going to be his own GM -- it was interesting to hear them emphasize the same priorities.

Both spoke about the overriding importance of scouting and player development. Both noted the need to utilize both traditional scouting combined with analytical methods. And both emphasized the need to work collaboratively with others in their organizations.

In other words, those expecting a wholesale change in philosophy, or some seismic shift in approach between the former Red Sox general manager and his replacement, are probably going to be disappointed.

To be sure, the two are different. Epstein is more of an extrovert and Cherington tends to be more on the subdued side. But both have the same basic approaches to the job.

It's been noted ever since it became known that Epstein was leaving and Cherington would be promoted as his replacement that Cherington brings a more varied resume to the job than did Epstein in November 2002, and that's undoubtedly true.

It's also true that Cherington has a more extensive scouting background than Epstein had. And Cherington was asked about other general managers whom he admired, he immediately mentioned former Minnesota GM Terry Ryan, who came from a scouting background.

But as Cherington himself noted, the chasm between traditional scouting and statistical analysis is nowhere near what it was, say, a decade or more ago. Most teams, in fact, combine the two - as the Red Sox have done and as the Cubs surely will now that Epstein is in charge.

"Most people in the game today," said Cherington, "they can talk about performance analysis and they can also talk about what they see on the field. We have a lot of those people in the organization."

Asked to evaluate the team's recent forays into the free agent market at his introductory press conference, Cherington summarized it succinctly with three words: "Not very good."

That point is inarguable, given the 82.5 million committed to John Lackey and the seven-year, 142 million contract signed by Carl Crawford.

Still, it's unlikely Cherington will treat the free-agent market much differently than did Epstein. Cherington, like Epstein, recognizes that free agency is, by definition, inefficient. Bidding against other big-market clubs for past performance of players entering (or into) their 30s is actually highly inefficient.

In a market like Boston, however, expectations often drive personnel decisions. If the Sox weren't pursuing big-name players up for bid, they'd hear about it from their fan base, which pays the highest average ticket price in the game as it fills the ballpark.

In Kansas City, there's no pressure to get the best available player on the market; in Boston, failure to make what's perceived to be a legitimate effort leads to cries that the team isn't committed enough to winning.

So, the Red Sox under Cherington, as they were under Epstein, will pick their spots on free agency. The challenge will be to get more return on their investment than they did with Lackey, Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo and other ill-advised signings in the Epstein Era.

Epstein was known to encourage dissent from his advisers and assistants in an effort to make the decision-making process more democratic and thorough; Cherington, say those who know him, will likely do the same.

There's a reason Epstein sought assurances from ownership that Cherington would succeed him, just as there's a reason Cherington referred to Epstein as his professional mentor Tuesday: the two have the same basic approach to the position.

That's not to suggest that Cherington is some sort of clone, or that Cherington will make every decision with an eye toward his WWTD (What would Theo do?) bracelet.

But it does mean that there will be no sea change, no dramatic altering of course on Yawkey Way. And, if after nine years on the job, the Red Sox win two pennants and play in two more ALCS, Cherington, too, will be considered a successful steward at the head of the Red Sox front office.

Sandoval’s offseason transformation doesn't guarantee he's Sox starting third baseman

Sandoval’s offseason transformation doesn't guarantee he's Sox starting third baseman

BOSTON - The weight room, as much as Instagram, has been Pablo Sandoval’s home in the offseason leading up to the 2017 season.

His change in diet and routine have clearly led to visible results, at least in terms of appearance. His play is yet to be determined. But his manager and teammates have taken notice.

“Compliments to Pablo,” John Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner. “He’s done a great job with the work that he’s put in, the commitment he’s made. He’s reshaped himself, that’s apparent. He knows there’s work to be done to regain an everyday job at third base. So, we’ll see how that unfolds. We’re not looking for him to be someone he’s not been in the past. Return to that level of performance.”

Farrell noted that Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge are the other two players in contention for time at third base and while others, such as prospect Rafael Devers, may get time there in the spring, those are the only three expected to compete for the job.

“The beauty of last spring is that there’s a note of competition in camp,” Farrell said. “And that was born out of third base last year [when Travis Shaw beat out Sandoval at the third base]. That won’t change.”

Sandoval's 2016 season ended after shoulder surgery in April. 

While the manager has to be cautiously optimistic, Sandoval’s teammates can afford to get their hopes up.

“Pablo is definitely going to bounce back,” Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com “Especially with the weight he’s lost and the motivation he has to prove a lot of people wrong, to prove the fans wrong.

“He’s been a great player for his whole career. He’s not a bad player based on one year. Playing in Boston the first year is tough, so, hopefully this year he’ll be better.”

Prior to Sandoval’s abysmal 2015, his first season in Boston, when he hit .245 with 47 RBI in 126 games, the 2012 World Series MVP was a career .294 hitter who averaged 15 home runs and 66 RBI a year.

If Bogaerts is right and Sandoval can be that player again, that will be a huge lift in filling in the gap David Ortiz left in Boston’s offense.

Scott's taste of big-league life with Red Sox has him hungering for more

Scott's taste of big-league life with Red Sox has him hungering for more

CHESNUT HILL -- The Red Sox Rookie Development Program is designed to help young players prepare for what playing at the major-league level is like,. That can be valuable for a prospect like Rafael Devers, who hasn’t even made it to Double-A.

But of the eight-man cast at the workout this year, there’s one guy who actually has major-league experience.

Robby Scott joined the Red Sox as a September call-up last season and turned some heads, holding opponents scoreless over six innings of work.

Now the lefty is back working with younger guys to prepare himself for spring training -- something he’s itching to get started.

“It’s one thing that we always talk about,” the left-handed reliever told CSNNE.com “It’s a tough road to get there, but it’s an even tougher and harder road to stay there. And having that taste in September last year was incredible to be a part of it.”

That taste Scott had last fall has only made the desire to rejoin Boston greater.

“Yeah, because now you know what it’s like,” Scott said CSNNE.com. “You see it and you’re there and you’re a part of it. And it’s like, ‘Man, I wanna be there.’ You’re a little bit more hungry.”

And his hunger to pitch with the Red Sox only becomes greater at an event like this where he’s the only one with MLB time.

“They ask on a consistent basis,” Scott started, “ ‘What’s it like?’ ‘What was it like getting there the first day?’ ‘How did the guys react?’ ‘What was it like dealing with the media?’

“That’s what this program is here for, just to kind of gives these guys a little taste of what it is like and get familiar with the circumstances.

While the experience and constant discussion invites players to try to do more in the offseason or change their routine, the 27-year-old has stayed the course, trusting what’s gotten him there.

“The offseason training stays the same, nothing really changes on that side of things,” Scott said. “Nothing changes. Go about my business the way I have the last six, seven years.”