McAdam: With GM change, philosophies remain

McAdam: With GM change, philosophies remain
October 26, 2011, 12:11 am
Share This Post

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.