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.

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

NEW YORK - There won't be any wild pitches on intentional walks this season.

The players' association has agreed to Major League Baseball's proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.

"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I know they're trying to cut out some of the fat. I'm OK with that," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

While the union has resisted many of MLB's proposed innovations, such as raising the bottom of the strike zone, installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound, players are willing to accept the intentional walk change.

"As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes," union head Tony Clark wrote Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however."

The union's decision was first reported by ESPN .

"I'm OK with it. You signal. I don't think that's a big deal," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the most part, it's not changing the strategy, it's just kind of speeding things up. I'm good with it."

There were 932 intentional walks last year, including 600 in the National League, where batters are walked to bring the pitcher's slot to the plate.

"You don't want to get your pitcher out of a rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm," Girardi said. "I've often wondered why you don't bring in your shortstop and the pitcher stand at short. Let the shortstop walk him. They're used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is."

Agreement with the union is required for playing rules changes unless MLB gives one year advance notice, in which case it can unilaterally make alterations. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Tuesday that ongoing talks would lead to an agreement on other changes but also said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Some changes with video review can be made unilaterally, such as shortening the time to make a challenge.

"I know they were thinking about putting in a 30-second (limit) for managers to make a decision," Francona said. "I actually wish they would. I think it would hustle it up and if we can't tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn't be doing it anyway."

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.