McAdam: With GM change, philosophies remain

570048.jpg

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.

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

When it comes to Pablo Sandoval and his weight, a picture is worth a thousand words.

During spring training it wasn’t a good thing. Sandoval made headlines when a number of photos revealed significant weight gain for the Red Sox third baseman.

But the last two images have been more positive for Sandoval.

In October, a noticeably thinner Sandoval was photographed at an FC Barcelona game.

On Monday, Dan Roche of WBZ tweeted a more recent picture of the new-look Sandoval.

Sandoval, 30, is entering the third season of a five-year, $95 million contract. In his lone full season in Boston, 2015, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 with 10 homers and 47 RBI.

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The newly agreed upon Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement features higher taxes and additional penalties for exceeding the competitive balance threshold -- and don't think the Red Sox haven't noticed.

The Red Sox went over the threshold in both 2015 and 2016, and should they do so again in 2017, they would face their highest tax rate yet at 50 percent. Additionally, there are provisions that could cost a team in such a situation to forfeit draft picks as well as a reduced pool of money to sign its picks.

None of which means that the Red Sox won't definitively stay under the $195 million threshold for the upcoming season. At the same time, however, it remains a consideration, acknowledged Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"You would always like to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax) if you could,'' offered Dombrowski. "And the reason why is that are penalties attached for going over, so nobody likes to (pay) penalties.

"However, the Red Sox, if you follow history, have been up-and-down, right around that number. We were over it last year and the year before that. So I would prefer (to be under in 2017). However, a little bit more driving force in that regard is that there are stricter penalties now attached to going over. And some of them involve, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrificing money to sign players and that type of thing. So there's a little bit more drive (to stay under).

"But I can't tell you where we're going to end up. Eventually, does it factor (in)? Yeah. But until we really get into the winter time and see where we are, will I make an unequivocal (statement about staying under the CBT)? Maybe we won't. But there are penalties that I would rather not be in position to incur.''

Dombrowski stressed that he's not under a "mandate'' from ownership to stay under the CBT.

"But I am under an awareness of the penalties,'' he said. "Last year, I would have preferred to be under, too, but it just worked for us to be above it, because we thought that would be the best way to win a championship at the time.''

He added: "I think we're going to have a good club either way.''

But it's clear that the CBT is part of the reason the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive toward some premium free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who is said to be looking for at least a four-year deal at an annual average value of more than $20 million.

Currently, the Red Sox have nearly $150 million in guaranteed contracts for 2017, plus a handful of arbitration-eligible players, some of whom (Drew Pomeranz, Jackie Bradley Jr.) will see significant raises.

Together, with insurance premiums and others costs tallied, the Sox stand at nearly $180 million, just $15 million under the 2017 tax.

"I've said all along I've wanted to stay away from long-term contracts for hitters at this point,'' Dombrowski said of the current free agent class, "(especially) with some of the guys we have in our organization coming. I just haven't felt that that's a wise thing to do.''

The Sox saw two potential DHs come off the board over the weekend, with Carlos Beltran signing a one-year $16 million deal with Houston and Matt Holliday getting $13 million from the Yankees. Either could have filled the vacancy left by David Ortiz's retirement, but Dombrowski would also be taking on another another eight-figure salary, pushing the Sox well past the CBT.

"I figured we would wait to see what ends up taking place later on,'' said Dombrowski, "and see who's out there.''