September 29, 2013

Red Sox GM covers all the bases

Ben Cherington has turned a Boston team in disarray into a unit that's back in the playoffs

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON - At one point in his career, Ben Cherington struggled to find players for a Boston Red Sox minor league team, its roster thinned to a point where pitchers had to bat for themselves.

Ben Cherington
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Ben Cherington’s personnel decisions have changed the Red Sox from a disaster to baseball’s best team in just one season.

The Associated Press

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THE 30-SOMETHING EXECUTIVE

WHO: Ben Cherington

POSITION: Boston Red Sox general manager

AGE: 38

HOMETOWN: Meriden, N.H.

HIRED: Oct. 25, 2011

FIRST JOB: Scout, Cleveland Indians, 1998

PLAYING EXPERIENCE: College pitcher (Amherst)

And now look at him, 11 years later, filling the roster gaps on the Sox and creating a division champion from a last-place team.

Cherington, now 38, was part of the crew of young guns assembled when then-General Manager Theo Epstein was hired in 2003 at age 29. Epstein is gone and so are a slew of high-priced free agents.

Cherington is this team's general manager and credited with turning around the franchise's fortunes this season. The Red Sox are entering the final day of the regular season with the best record in baseball, a spot in the playoffs and a renewed hope after two extremely disappointing seasons. 

"It's managing people and managing information," Cherington said. "And that is what a lot of what this job is all about."

Cherington also performed his magic in the minor leagues. Call it preparation for his current job.

He worked as Boston's assistant player development director. He later became director, traveling to Hadlock Field several times a season to watch the Portland Sea Dogs.

Back then Cherington was building a system, plugging holes and creating success out of a mess. At age 28, he figured out how to do it and the Red Sox became one of the best organizations for developing talent.

MORE FOR THE MONEY

It's not the only mess he has cleaned up. Cherington had to make decisions on how to fix the Red Sox after their epic collapse at the end of the 2011 season and failure to make the playoffs.

That team featured several high-priced players and also had a nine-game lead in the wild-card race Sept. 3. That team also lost 18 of its last 24 games and was eliminated from the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.

Boston had begun a trend of relying more and more on expensive free agents or trading prospects for veterans. Its minor league system became less productive, providing fewer players for Boston.

"We realized the major league team wasn't being supported the way it needs to be supported," said Mike Hazen, who replaced Cherington as player development director and is now a Cherington assistant. "That was the root cause for that 2011 (team) and we knew that."

Epstein left after the 2011 season, moving on to the Chicago Cubs.

Cherington took over. The 2012 season still featured underperforming free agents, as well as a new manager (Bobby Valentine) believed to be hand-picked by the team president, Larry Lucchino.

And 2012 was a disaster.

Eventually, high-priced players Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett were traded. Valentine was fired at the end of the season.

Cherington had plenty of work ahead. It soon became clear he didn't want to put all his faith and money in a few players.

So while the Angels signed outfielder Josh Hamilton (five years, $125 million) and the Dodgers signed pitcher Zach Greinke (six years, $147 million), the Red Sox spent $100 million on nine players -- pitchers Ryan Dempster, Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara, catcher David Ross, infielder Mike Napoli, and outfielders Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp.

"We had a number of holes to fill last winter. It wasn't like we were one player away," Cherington said. "There were a number of things we had to do to add resiliency and depth in areas that we could."

That was more important than signing a big-name player. These Red Sox were moving on from the days when they signed Gonzalez (seven years, $154 million), Crawford (seven years, $142 million) and Beckett (four years, $68 million).

(Continued on page 2)

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