Red Sox GM: Out with the Old, In with the New
Eventually the Red Sox and the Cubs will work out a deal to send Theo Epstein to the North Side of Chicago, possibly with one or two current members of the Red Sox organization. In return since Theo still has one year remaining on his contract, the Red Sox will likely get back a couple middle tier prospects, names like OF Brett Jackson and RP Chris Carpenter. These types of players could help the Red Sox in some fashion in 2011 and beyond, but the Red Sox will not be receiving anyone back who projects to be a star.
In return, the Cubs will get a GM whom much of the Cubs faithful is already pegging as their savior. Epstein has proven his value over his 9 years as GM of the Red Sox, bringing the organization starving for a championship two World Series Trophies. He declared that he would turn the organization into a “scouting and player development machine” and he did just that. Current Red Sox such as Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Daniel Bard, Kevin Youklis, and Jacoby Ellsbury were all developed into very good major league players during Theo’s reign. That is exactly the type of system the Cubs expect him to bring to Chicago.
The next question for the Red Sox and their fans is who will replace Theo as the Red Sox GM? 2011 Red Sox draft pick and centerfield prospect, Jackie Bradley Jr., was asked on Twitter what he knew about the man that has been widely publicized as the heir apparent:
Twitter follower: What do you know about Ben Cherington?
@JackieBradleyJr: I just googled him so as much as you.
That response sums up a lot of what Red Sox nation is thinking when Cherington was pegged as the guy to replace Theo, the hometown hero. So who is Ben Cherington exactly? What is his background that makes him such a perfect fit to replace Epstein? What can we expect from him going forward, and will his style differ from Epstein’s?
The 37 year old New Hampshire native is currently a member of the Red Sox front office staff in a role which is basically being Epstein’s right hand man. His official title is Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager. His role now is mostly to oversee the baseball operations of the major league club, which includes assisting with contract discussions, trade talks, and all other things involved with the major league product on the field.
Just as important as what Cherington’s current role is where he came from. A GM’s role is to oversee all aspects of the baseball operations of a team, and doing so requires a wide range of skills and experience. This will mean there are times where a GM’s skills will be more like an amateur scout with a narrow focus, and times where he needs to think like a high ranking executive, focusing on the big picture.
The begging of Cherington’s baseball life was that of a player. He pitched for Amherst College (MA) under very well respected coach and evaluator, Bill Thurston. He never possessed the physical talent of a major leaguer, but when WEEI’s Alex Speier spoke to Thurston, he admitted Cherington instantly showed a maturity beyond his years and a vast knowledge of the game.
Though his collegiate playing career may not have led to a role as a major league player, it was this experience that directly led to his first job in the game when Thurston recommended him to friend Dan Duquette, GM of the Red Sox at the time. Duquette did not have an opening, but in turn recommended him to another Amherst alumnus, Neal Huntington, who gave him a job as a video scout for the Cleveland Indians.
That Indian’s baseball department was known for their incredible depth of front end talent, and Cherington made enough of an impression that when an Atlantic scout job opened up for the Red Sox, Cherington was Duquette’s first call. Again, it did not take long for Cherington to make an impression and within 6 months he moved into the baseball operations department, eventually assuming the role of coordinator of international scouting, a job he held for about 2 years.
Duquette recognized Cherington had the qualities required to be a GM and soon it was time to move on and gain further experience in another aspect of a MLB front office. The opportunity afforded itself when the Red Sox changed ownership in 2002 and much of Duquette’s front office was let go. The new owners recognized his talent and instead promoted Cherington to assistant director of player development, but he would not be long for that job, because when Theo Epstein was announced as the new GM, he immediately promoted Cherington to the head of player development.
This was a clear sign of Theo’s trust, as he had made it clear that scouting and player development would be the focus of his new regime. The player development machine went in to mass production mode under Cherington’s watchful eye, and many of the home grown stars currently on the Red Sox were developed during this period.
In 2005, when Theo battled with ownership about a new contract and famously left under darkness and a gorilla costume, it was Ben Cherington (along with current Padres GM Jed Hoyer) who took the reigns as interim GM. This showed that ownership believed that this was a role these two would have in their future, and at the time were the most capable of handing the rigorous demands.
After one more role change, a promotion to vice president of player development and assistant GM, we arrive at today, on the verge of yet one final title change. Cherington has earned the respect of everyone he has worked with along the way, and garnered the reputation as an even keeled, hardworking, and detail oriented, often times seeking out every possible bit of available information before making a decision.
More than that, it is the variety of titles he has held that gives him the perfect insight into all those various roles. He has done the job of video analyst, scout, player development executive, and even that of a player and that should give him the ability to relate and understand all those different aspects of the game.
When thinking about what to expect, I do not think Red Sox fans should expect too much of a change from the Theo Epstein years. It is clear Ben Cherington understands and values the importance of building and maintaining a “player development and scouting machine”. His even keeled nature and patience may make him a little easier to work with than the occasionally abrasive Epstein.
More than anything, the trait I think should give the most comfort to Red Sox fan’s and ownership is Cherington’s relentless search for any available information that can help formulate the best decision, even when that information does not come from a traditional source. It is this type of thinking that leads to the progressive approach that has made today’s Red Sox a winning organization, and can continue to foster and grow that success.