Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington begins second roster overhaul

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For the second time in 22 months, Ben Cherington must find a way to turn a last place team into a winner — and fast.

Boston isn’t a patient place. Long, gradual improvements don’t go over well for a fan base which has enjoyed three world championships in the last 10 years and pays some of the highest ticket prices in the game.

Rebuilding? That’s for other teams in other cities.

In Boston, the turnaround has to be on-the-fly, with little time elapsing before an also-ran becomes a title contender again.

After the disastrous 2012 season, when the Sox finished with their worst record since the mid-1960s, Cherington took an aggressive approach to off-season.

He re-invested the massive financial savings that came out of the mega-deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers into solid major league free agents in their prime.

The plan worked like a charm then, as the Red Sox improbably went from last to first by winning the World Series in 2013.

On Thursday, Cherington began his second overhaul in much the same way.

He shipped out Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes, John Lackey, Andrew Miller and Stephen Drew, but instead of accumulating a host of prospects, mostly focused on obtaining proven, established players in return.

Throughout, Cherington was guided by one principle: “To be as good as we can, as quickly as we can.”

In the off-season that followed 2012, the Sox targeted the likes of Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, David Ross, Ryan Dempster, Gomes and Drew.

He wasn’t interested in stockpiling more potential and waiting to see if the talent evaluations were on-target.

It was the same approach on Thursday. He didn’t look for the best high-ceiling, low-cost prospect from the A’s in dealing Lester and Gomes. Instead, he received a 28-year-old power-hitting outfielder, who himself is under control only through the end of next season.

And when he shipped out Lackey to the Cardinals, owners of one of the best and deepest farm systems, he didn’t hold out for blue-chippers Oscar Tavares or Carlos Martinez or Stephen Piscotty. He opted for Allen Craig, 30, and Joe Kelly, 26, both part of the Cardinals team that faced the Sox in the World Series last October.

Why? Because Cherington was in a hurry.

The Red Sox aren’t the Rays, whose best return for ace David Price was an 18-year-old shortstop at Single A. No, the Red Sox intend to try to win next year.

Potential? The Sox already have plenty of that, especially starting pitching (Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Henry Owens, Brandon Workman) and left-side infield help (Garin Cecchini, Deven Marrero).

No, what they wanted was a short-cut. The two biggest trades that Cherington pulled off were old-fashioned baseball trades.

You have pitching? We need hitting.

You need hitting? We have pitching.

And so, deals were born, though they weren’t easy to execute.

“Prospect deals are typically easier to pull off,” said Cherington. “Most of the time, you’re getting calls from contenders and it’s tough to get proven major leaguers from contenders because it doesn’t typically make sense to give up proven major leaguers if you’re contenders.

“But I think the quality of our guys (being shopped) and the fact that they’re playoff tested and recently playoff-tested. As far as the return, time will tell. We’re happy with what we did. We think it fits with what we’re trying to do, which is to focus on major league or near-ready major league talent.

But as painful as it was to get to this point, we really wanted to see if we could take advantage of the unfortunate circumstances and make it into something better.”

There’s more to do, of course. Either by packaging some of their own prospects or by signing free agents, the Red Sox need more established starting depth this winter. It would be foolish to head into next season with the fragile Clay Buchholz and the still improving Kelly as their own experienced starters.

But this much is clear: the club’s offense is vastly improved over the last 24 hours and so is its own inventory of young pitching.

There’s no guarantee that they can execute another quick turnaround. But they determined Thursday that there was only one way to try: to do what worked when they were faced with the same challenge two years earlier.

Max Scherzer will not be ready for Opening Day

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Ten days ago Nationals ace Max Scherzer said he’d be ready for the start of the regular season. “I’m gonna do it,” Scherzer said.

[Ron Howard from “Arrested Development” voice] — No, he’s not:

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said that Max Scherzer is not on track to be the team’s opening day starter, and will most likely open the season as the third pitcher in the rotation.

He’s still projected to make it to the opening rotation, taking the hill, most likely, on Thursday April 6 against the Marlins. At least if the schedule doesn’t slip any more.

Scherzer, as you probably know, has a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger, which has messed with his preparation and has caused him to alter his grip a bit. As of now Stephen Strasburg will get the Opening Day nod.

Theo Epstein named The World’s Greatest Leader

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Fortune Magazine has put out a list of The World’s Greatest Leaders. Not the greatest business leaders, not the greatest leaders in a given industry, but the Greatest Leaders, full stop. The greatest according to Fortune: The Cubs’ Theo Epstein.

For some context, Pope Francis was third. Angela Merkel was 10th. Lebron James was the next greatest sports leader, ranked 11th. Take Fortune’s methodology with a grain of salt, however, given that it has John McCain above Merkel — what, exactly, does he lead now? — and Samantha Bee in the top 20.

So what makes Theo the world’s best leader according to Fortune?

The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.

I don’t want to take anything away from what Theo has done — he’s a Hall of Fame executive already in my view — but I feel like maybe one needs to adjust for the fact that this is a baseball team we’re talking about. They’re the whole world to us and their brands are nationally and even world famous, but as an organization, sports teams are rather small. There are guys who run reasonably-sized HVAC companies with more employees than a baseball team and they don’t get the benefit of an antitrust exemption and a rule which allows them to get their pick of the best new employees if they had a bad year the year before.

Really, not trying to throw shade here, just thinking that being the spiritual father for 1.2 billion Catholics or running a foundation that serves 55 million needy children — like the woman who comes in at number 14 — is a bit of a tougher trick.

But this will make a great framed magazine article on Theo’s wall in Wrigley Field.