Chatting with Cherington

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington took some time out of his busy schedule on Wednesday morning to talk with MLB.com about his first Spring Training in his new job. Here are some highlights from the interview.

After spending the winter building a team, what is Spring Training like? “Spring Training is the fun part, no doubt. It’s an opportunity to get back to what , I think, most of us got in the game in the first place, just to watch players play, watch the team play and see the collective work that’s been done when we get out on the field. You can start to see some things happening. Some good things, some not so good things. You react to the not so good things and try to react to them. Spring Training is a great time of year because it’s sort of the culmination of the offseason, which is typically a sort of frenetic pace. You get to now watch the game and that’s what we all want to do.”

What issues regarding the team keep you awake at night these days? “Well, the things that sort of stand out are the obvious ones. We need some guys to step up on our pitching staff. We’ve got a lot of guys here who are capable of doing that. We get to see them more. We’re optimistic because we believe we have guys that are capable of taking advantage of that opportunity. We have to see them do that. It’s march 7 – we haven’t seen enough of it yet. We’ve tried to build some depth in the outfield in the event that Carl wasn’t back at the beginning of the season and it looks like he may need a little more time. We’ll continue to look at that collection of outfielders and figure out works. As with every spring training, we’re going to cover every other team’s camp and see if there are guys available that might help us. I’d say that the primary focus is on trying to figure out who from that group of pitchers is going to step up and take advantage of the opportunity.”

What about shortstop? “We feel confident in what Aviles can do and the protection that Punto gives us. We think very highly of Iglesias and the player he’s going to be. He’s shown some good things already this spring and he’s making progress. I think I’ve said, there’s a competition. It doesn’t mean that competition is on equal footing. Some guys are going into the competition with an advantage but we’re not going to limit anyone. We’ll see how things evolve. Again, we’ll keep our eyes out but we feel confident that we have he answers here.”

How has life changed being the GM? “I guess I get recognized a little more but I don’t feel any differently, really. I’ve had the privilege of working here for a long time so I know … and growing up in new England, so  I know how passionate Red Sox fans are and that’s why this is such a great place to work and it’s such a great place to do our jobs. I’ve gotten recognized a little bit more but it’s nothing like what I saw from Theo all those years because I think the way that Theo came into the job and the success that he had – the sort of historic achievements put him on a level that no one else will or should. For me, I’m comfortable with that aspect of the job – people recognizing me more, but it doesn’t feel that different.”

Is it any different dealing with players in your new role? “I think one of the most important things I learned from Theo is that you can have a good relationship with a player and you can still make a hard decision. He did that I think as well as anybody. I’m a different person but I do think it’s possible and I think it’s important to have a good relationship with players but also to make it clear that that there are still decisions to be made and we have to make decisions that are in the best interest of the team. Some of those decisions, players won’t agree with but along the way, we can treat each other with respect and get along. Look, we’re all trying to achieve the same goal.”

Parting ways with Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek? “That was one of the most challenging aspects of the offseason really, even though in the end, it didn’t translate into anything on the field this spring. Both those guys are guys that I have a great deal of personal respect for. Their accomplishments on the field speak for themselves and certainly the organization holds in really high regard. We made a decision that we weren’t prepared to guarantee them a job on the team  and based on that, we then had a long period of conversation about what that would mean and left the door open because we wanted to give them a chance to have a say in the outcome and the final decision. But it was hard, you have guys that have left that much on the field and given that much to the organization. There were times this offseason that I had to deliver news that they didn’t want to hear. We tried to do that in as respectful a way as possible. I also know that there will always be a place for Jason and Tim in the organization and we hope that we can work with both of those guys for a long, long time.”

From the outside looking in, you seem unflappable: “I don’t think I’m unflappable. I think I probably show my emotions a little bit less than some others. When things don’t go well, it bothers me as much as anyone else. I may internalize that more than some others.  I think that being a farm director for as long as I was was good preparation for this job in the sense that what you’re trying to do is create a system that works the best for as many people as possible. It’s not ever going to be perfect for everybody. Being a farm director helped me understand that the goal is to provide the best opportunity for as many people as possible and to help as many people as possible. Within that, there are going to be things that happen that you don’t like and people that are disappointed because players are human beings. I think in that sense it’s helped me a little bit.”

Tuning out public perception, particularly when it’s negative: “Some of it we don’t have a choice but to remove ourselves from it and just focus on finding solutions, finding answers. I understand, I have a great appreciation for the importance of the attention that the team gets, whether it’s positive or negative. We wouldn’t be the Boston Red Sox and this wouldn’t be such a great place to work if that attention wasn’t there. At different times, that attention can come in different forms. Last offseason we made some really big moves and felt reall good about our team and a lot of other people did too and it didn’t end the way we wanted it to. This year, our offseason was different, the way the season ened, the attention on the team was taking on a bit of a different flavor but I think if you take one step back, and sort of look at what’s actually on the field, in hindsight, there were some questions about last year’s team and there were questions about this year’s team and questions about 29 other teams in baseball. We’ve just got to do the best we can to get this team ready and look for solutions as we need them as the spring goes on, as the season goes on.”

Your first few months working with Bobby Valentine? “It’s been good. I’ve learned a lot from him. He sees the game about as well as anyone I’ve worked with. He sees the game differently then I do. We come from different backgrounds and I think that’s helped. I see some things differently that may help him sort of gain a new perspective. Hopefully the combination of different backgrounds can help us together make decisions. He’s got a ton of energy. He’s actually got – there’s a lot of things he has in common with tito. He lives and breathes and sleeps baseball. He wants nothing more than for players to perform well and for the team to win. He has a true passion for the game. He’s a baseball lifer in eveyr sense of the word. Their styles are different. There are certain things they’re going to do differently on the field and the way they go about things but ultimately there are a lot of core elements that are similar and the end goal is certainly the same. My job has been to get to know him and work with him and hopefully complement him as well as I can and develop that relationship so that when we get into the season and go through those inevitable tough times we both know we’re in a position to rely on each other and make the tough decisions if we need to.”

Biggest things you learned from Theo? “Well as I said, really, if I could point to one thing, it’s that sense of humanity that he showed in the way that he made decisions. You could make tough decisions and do it in a respectful, humanistic way. And that was the right thing to do, — it was the right thing to do sort of on moral grounds,  but it was also  the right thing to do on professional grounds. It helped give players the security of knowing that even when there was going to be a tough decision, when there was going to be bad news delivered, it was being done with as much respect as possible and it was being done in a way that helped the team and gave guys the best chance to win possible. If I had to point to one thing, I’d say that. There’s a lot of other things he taught me. Certainly I think he knows he knows as much about evaluating players as anyone in baseball. He’s got I think a very unique combination of feel for the objective side of player analysis and the subjective side. I don’t know too many people, if anyone, who are as good at sitting dfown and watching a game and seeing a player and evaluating them subjectively and also you can look at performance history and know exactly what he’s seeing there and being able to combine those two things. There are people that can do that. There are people that are good at one or the other . they’re may be people, but no one that I know as well that can do it like he does. So I learned a lot from him in those areas. I don’t think I match him in that respect. But I certainly learned a lot about how to balance those two things.”

Dan Duquette said the other day you always wanted to be a GM. Is that true? “I think when I first got the opportunity to work in baseball – first with the Indians and then with the Red Sox, Dan gave me an opportunity to scout, which is something I wanted to have the opportunity to do. I wanted to learn how to scout. I think I got into the game wanting to be a GM but also knowing that there’s a lot to learn and I was thrilled to have a chance to work in the game. As time went on, the goal of being the GM was still there. But really it evolved more into – what’s most important to me is not the title, it’s to be part of a group that’s doing something special and has a chance to put together and be part of a winning team, a winning organization. That’s what’s most important to me. When I was offered the job in Boston, I took it as much because I wanted to be part of something special and part of a winning organization as I did because of the tittle or because this was something I aspired to. Yeah, I had that goal in mine and I was lucky to … Dan gave me a chance to scout and learn and make some mistakes and learn from mistakes both in domestic scouting and Latin America. Then when Theo came aboard, I was given opportunities by him too. I’m very lucky to be given those opportunities and get the training and experience necessary to be able to do this job now.”

How excited are you to get to Opening Day, when you start getting measured every day by wins and losses? “It’s exciting. I think we’ll be facing Justin Verlander and it’s probably going to be about 40 degrees. I don’t know if that’s something you really look forward to. But it’s exciting because I think more than anything, I know the group of guys in the clubhouse are really ready to go be the Boston Red Sox again. Another thing that Theo taught me is that nobody should be judged by one moment. No team should be judged by one moment either. It should be judged by a longer time span, a longer period of peformance and behavior. I think the Boston Red Sox are much different than Septmeber of 2011 and I think our individual players are much different than what the perceptions of September of 2011 were. I think they are motivated to go show people that. So that’s what I’m looking forward to, more than anything else.”

9 Comments

Just wondering, on Opening Day will Wakefield make one final pitch on the rubber at Fenway and throw out the first ball to Varitek? I’m guessing we’ll see both walk out of the Green Monster. How cool would that be?

One thing that will change for Cherington is he’ll take the losses more personal as GM of the Red Sox.

Obviously, it is too early to grade Cherington and Larry L. has more power than him and that was obvious when it came to choosing the next manager for this team. For some insane reason, Cherington wanted Dale Sveum in the dugout. My opinion I felt Sveum was a carbon copy of Francona and you needed to go in the opposite direction when choosing the next skipper. Especially how the season came to a close. Bobby Valentine was clearly not Cherington’s choice or even on his radar. Larry L. was pushing for Valentine the entire way and got his wish. It will be interesting to see how Valentine will mesh with Cherington during the season. Right now, they are in there honeymoon and everything is roses right now. What happens during the season when the teams hits their first bump in the road? How will the first controversy be handled? We all know Valentine will handle it the way he wants too. Valentine has been known to rub some people the wrong way and that was the reason he hasn’t managed in the big leagues in such a long period of time. Nobody really wanted to take that risk with Valentine. Another thing, how will Valentine and Larry L. get along? After all their personalities are very similiar. They are two feisty individuals that are not afraid to rock the boat and create controversy.

When it comes to baseball decisions I hope Cherington does an equal job to Theo. When it came to building the farm system, that is something Cherington played a big part in and I’m guessing will continue to do so moving forward. Under Theo’s regime the farm system produced a fair amount of solid players that played in Boston or got talent to Boston.

What Cherington has to stay away from is those “moronic” long term deals that Theo handed out. The list is endless.

From what I’ve read about Cherington in regards to J.D. Drew he wasn’t a fan of that signing. Cherington probably shares alot of the same thoughts Epstein did when it came to evaluating players, but Cherington does have an extensive scouting background and that is something I like about him. I don’t have a clue if Cherington will be successful or if he’ll fall flat on his face. This just in, nobody else knows.

Remember when Ellsbury stole home off of Andy Petite during that Sunday Night game. It was Drew who was on deck and had no reaction when Ellsbury scored. Fenway was literally in a frenzy, except for Drew. I was at home (nearly 1500 miles away) and I almost jumped off the couch. Who says white men can’t jump? Cherington was amazed at Drew’s reaction to that play. How could someone have the best view of that play and have absolutely no reaction? That was Cherington’s thoughts and he wasn’t alone. The scout in Cherington watches something like that. Theo goes by numbers and numbers only. That is one of the differences between Cherington and Epstein when evaluating a player. I’m sure there are other differences, too.

This past off-season, Cherington’s hands were tied because of the long term deals Epstein handed out. Theo left the team in a financial bind because of his mistakes and there were alot of them over the last few years.

Lackey’s 16 million will be worthless in 2012 and Dice-K might help sometime this summer. That is roughly 25 million just sitting there. So Cherington had to bring in some of those “low risk” “high reward” players. Such as Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, and Carlos Silva just to name a few. I like to call those players “no reward” “high risk” players because those type of pitchers in the past never worked out in Boston. Personally, I’m hoping Felix Doubrount will come out of Florida as the 5th starter. Alfredo Aceves might be the best option towards the end of the rotation, but he helps this team more coming out of the bullpen. Aceves has that rubber arm and he showed he can pitch on the biggest stage. He was one of the few that showed up during the month of September and that is something that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Oh by the way, great interview Ian! The best one I have read since Cherington took over!

BosoxBrian, is that you? It’s been a long time, my friend. How have you been?

Ian’s blog is not what it used to be since MLB “improved” it.

I’m with you on Drew. The wax figures in Madame Tussaud’s museum showed more emotion than JD.

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Hi Arnie,

How is Colorado? Still living here in Florida, home of the “nearly dead” and the “newlywed.” God’s waiting room as some like to say and I wouldn’t disagree.

Good call on the “improved” system. My oh my. It was such a good system before but they had to change it and I’m not sure why.

I hope all is well with you.

Hi Arnie,

How is Colorado? Everything is good here in Florida, the home of the “nearly dead” and the “newlywed.” Others like to call it “God’s Waiting Room.” lol.

Improved system, you nailed it. Made no sense why they changed it. Then again, “change” has not worked out in this country! I hope all is well with you. The post I wrote you think DBenjamin (our lawyer friend from Ohio) wrote it.

I’m hoping the Red Sox give Jose Iglesias the young shortstop the job when Boston leaves Florida. Marco Scutaro was a “gritty” player but he was limited in the field. Mike Avilies and Nick Punto are okay, but it’s time to give the rookie the keys and solve this position that has been haunting this team.

Scutaro is now in your area with the Rockies. That was kind of an odd move(getting rid of Scutaro) by Cherington but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that trade. I would rather see a young player like Iglesias out there. You’ll never know if the rookies are any good until you give them a shot. Look at Pedroia back in 2007, he couldn’t hit the side of a barn in the first month or so. Then he exploded and never looked back. Give the kids a shot! That is what TB does and look at them in the last few years. Old players usually break down as the season gets deeper, while young players get better as the season progresses.

Good to see you back on the boards here, Brian! Glad you’ve been well during the hiatus.
I don’t like the “system improvements” on here much, to put it nicely. Not very “user friendly”, IMHO. Oh, well…
We Brownie Pointers (who have been corresponding via e-mail) were scratching our heads at the Scutaro trade, as it doesn’t save THAT much $$, and removes a steady player in the field and in the lineup. But Iglesias has been in the minor leagues, and we’ve been hoping his progress has been steady enough. So now perhaps he’ll get a shot, and he and Aviles (or Punto) will handle the SS position. We’ll see soon enough!
GO SOX!

Yeah, Brian, that last post was a pretty good impression of DBen! I wouldn’t mind reading some of his dissertations on here again! Hope you’re well, DBen! GO SOX!

HEY BRIAN!! LONG TIME NO SEE!! NICE TO SEE YOU AROUND!!
WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!
LET’S PLAY SOME BALL.
THE COUNTDOWN IS ON!!!

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