“Lots of phone calls,” assistant general manager Mike Hazen said. “We tried to find out as much as we could.”
Cherington said the Red Sox relied on manager John Farrell, his coaches, and the incumbent players as resources, encouraging them to contact friends in the game who knew the players they were targeting. Little scraps of information about their personalities were taken into account.
Cherington also sought the opinion of former team captain Jason Varitek, one of his special assistants.
“What Jason has brought to me is a deeper level of understanding how players think and operate, not just in any big league clubhouse but in our clubhouse,” Cherington said. “I ask Jason how what I do as a GM will register in the clubhouse.”
After Ross was signed, the Sox landed Gomes, Victorino, and Dempster. Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara made the bullpen stronger. Mike Napoli added power and Stephen Drew a veteran presence at shortstop.
The Sox did not land every player on their list. But they believe they succeeded in creating a team better suited for Boston than they have in recent years.
“I don’t think we did any less work in the past on trying to get to know who the people were,” Cherington said. “I think we may not have emphasized the desire to be part of the market in some cases enough in the past and maybe emphasized other things more.”
This was Cherington’s way of diplomatically acknowledging the Red Sox failed to properly assess how Crawford would fit in. He was signed to a seven-year, $142 million contract as a free agent based almost entirely on his skill as a player and history of success.
That Crawford was largely shielded from criticism in Tampa Bay and sensitive of public scrutiny was brushed aside. He was uncomfortable from the day he arrived in Boston and it showed in his performance.
To a lesser degree, the same was true of Gonzalez, a gifted hitter with a swing seemingly made for Fenway Park. But he also had a talent for making excuses and since joining the Dodgers has complained about his time in Boston.
“Listen, this place is not for everybody,” Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester said. “I think we found that out.”
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said identifying players who can handle New York has long been one of his priorities. It’s one of the reasons the Yankees chased CC Sabathia as hard as they did and traded for Nick Swisher.
“Sometimes you learn that the hard way,” Cashman said. “The reality is that it’s different in some cities than others.”
But being lauded for good character can be a little insulting for a player.
“Ross and I were talking about this. We don’t take offense by it or anything. But we’re always described as being good guys,” Gomes said. “It’s like calling a fat guy ‘big-boned.’ Hopefully people consider us being good players.”
Ross does like the approach Cherington took.
“What happened to them last year wasn’t cool. Baseball needs the Red Sox,” he said. “They were doing a lot of character checks and I was obviously OK with that. It felt good for me knowing I was coming into a situation where some other good guys would be. Ben said they wanted to work from the clubhouse out. I’m a huge fan of that idea.”
The question now is whether it will work. Did the Sox get a sweet mix or another toxic brew? Farrell believes the plan was sound.
“There’s a lot to be said for the people in our clubhouse. Guys want to be here; they like being around one another and they work well together. From what we’ve seen so far, that side of it has been outstanding,” he said.
“The character of the individuals is equivalent to their talents. That was certainly by design.”
Farrell has noticed players policing themselves in the clubhouse and veterans talking about the finer points of the game with younger players during games.
“Those conversations, those small moments, that is what chemistry is,” he said. “A player saying to another one, ‘Hey, man, this is what we’re expecting here.’ To see that go on like it has been, that is how we want to play as a team. My belief is that will pay off with success on the field.”