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Cherington would have work cut out

BEN CHERINGTON Prior experience BEN CHERINGTON Prior experience
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / October 13, 2011

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CHICAGO - Ben Cherington will likely become the new general manager of the Red Sox when Theo Epstein is officially announced as the new Chicago Cubs GM sometime in the next 48 hours.

What will Cherington inherit? And is he equipped to be the person to lead the Sox out of this two-year malaise?

“He’s a very smart guy and he’s learned a lot working under Theo,’’ said former Mets general manager Omar Minaya, who is now an analyst for MLB Network. “He’s been an assistant in the big market and I think that’s very important. He knows how to deal with the media and he’ll be his own man.’’

Cherington was originally hired by Dan Duquette from the Indians organization, where he worked for current Pirates GM Neal Huntington in the scouting department. Duquette said he tried to expose Cherington to all phases of the baseball operations and feels that he’s well-groomed for the task that awaits.

“Very bright, smart, definitely a guy who can evaluate talent,’’ Duquette said.

Cherington also worked under Mike Port, who took over as GM in Boston for Duquette on an interim basis.

“When he came with us, there was an ownership change,’’ said Port. “I assigned him to head our international effort. He coordinated the Latin American scouting while we were waiting for both David Chadd and Luis Ajala to come aboard.’’

After the international experience, Cherington worked with Doug Melvin, the current Brewers GM, who was a consultant with the Sox for a year, in evaluating the farm system.

“Diligent worker, solid ethics, low-key, and stable,’’ Port said. “Doesn’t get flustered about things and doesn’t aspire to be out front, but more focused on the task at hand.’’

When Epstein left the organization for a while in 2005 - the infamous gorilla suit departure - Cherington and Jed Hoyer were named co-GMs, though they got plenty of help from Larry Lucchino, Jeremy Kapstein, and Bill Lajoie.

“Ben has a good baseball mind, a good judge of talent. [He was a] steady and industrious guy back then,’’ Duquette said. “I’m proud of the fact he’d be another GM from Amherst College. He’ll do well.’’

Duquette surely knows the highs and lows of being a Red Sox general manager.

One thing for sure is that not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone is going to agree with your moves.

Cherington has been in on the signings of Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria, Matt Clement, Mike Cameron, Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew, Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, Carl Crawford, and John Lackey, and the decisions not to keep Johnny Damon, Victor Martinez, Adrian Beltre, and Jason Bay, but he has talked in the past about his frustration at not being able to hit on some big-ticket items.

Will his tenure be different? Because of his scouting/development background, will he try to rebuild the team with the farm system rather than devote so much of payroll toward expensive veterans?

Although he is linked to Epstein, he is also linked to Duquette. Some feel Cherington will do things his own way rather than follow the Epstein blueprint. We will not know his thoughts until deeper into the offseason when he begins making moves.

“I think he’s a good leader and developer of systems,’’ said Hoyer, now the Padres GM. “He’s done every job - scouting, farm director, been involved with major league stuff.

“He’s gone from department to department, which I think is a huge advantage. He’s incredibly respected by people in office.’’

Asked about their experience as co-GMs, Hoyer said, “We trusted each other. We never worried about the arrangement, which was unique, and who was getting the advantage over the other. We really liked each other, and that was the whole culture up there.

“The front office really worked so well together as a team. Theo was just the most prepared guy you’d ever see. He had a hunger for more and more information. Ben is very similar that way.

“The bottom line is, if Ben is the one who emerges for the job, I’m very happy for him.’’

Here are 10 items that would be on Cherington’s agenda:

1. The Epstein compensation. Cherington would be the point man in negotiating compensation for his boss’s move to Chicago. He is likely trying to find the right prospect to get from the Cubs. We said in this space that the Sox should shoot for the moon but sources have indicated the compensation will be more like a “quarter-moon than a full moon.’’

2. The manager. He must wade through many candidates to determine which one can turn the players he has into more dedicated, passionate ones. He needs the right leader in the clubhouse to quickly change the culture. It will be interesting to see whether he would be more open to a tougher, veteran manager over a younger one with less clout and presence.

3. Free agents. He will have two major decisions: DH David Ortiz and closer Jonathan Papelbon. Ortiz had an excellent season and seems worthy of a multiyear deal. In the recent past, the Sox have drawn the line on their own free agents (Pedro Martinez, Beltre, Bay) and gone overboard with those from other teams (Lackey, Crawford). Will there be a line in the sand with Ortiz and Papelbon? Will Cherington bring back Tim Wakefield or Jason Varitek?

4. A game plan for shortstop Jose Iglesias and catcher Ryan Lavarnway. Do the rookies start the season in Boston or go back to Pawtucket for more seasoning? The team could use some youthful energy, so perhaps finishing off their development in the majors may be under consideration.

5. Lackey. Can Cherington make a case for keeping him, given the negativity that surrounds him? Would he attempt to make a change-of-scenery deal and tell ownership they need to eat a good portion of the contract?

6. Rebuild the farm system. The Sox need to emphasize the scouting of pitchers and replenish their stock over the next couple of years. They do have a catcher (Lavarnway), shortstop (Iglesias), and third baseman (Will Middlebrooks) on the verge of being major leaguers if they don’t go in trades this winter. With Middlebrooks’s possible emergence, would Cherington try to deal Kevin Youkilis? Or would he consider a move to DH for Youkilis if the team doesn’t sign Ortiz?

7. Who’s in right? A very interesting issue. Do the Sox keep going with Josh Reddick? Do they allow Ryan Kalish to compete for the job? Do they try to find a free agent (Michael Cuddyer?) to fill the slot for a couple of years? Or could they make a deal for some righthanded power (Carlos Quentin?) at that position?

8. A starting pitcher. With Matsuzaka on the shelf until after the All-Star break, the Sox will need another starter. Will they throw their hat in the ring on Texas lefty C.J. Wilson or make a posting bid on Japanese star Yu Darvish? Would they try to make a deal with Oakland for Gio Gonzalez? Try to sign free agent Mark Buehrle? Or would they simply open up the fifth spot to Wakefield, Junichi Tazawa, Felix Doubront, Kyle Weiland, or Daniel Bard?

9. Transition to a new spring home in Fort Myers. Huge move for the Red Sox and for a first-year GM. All of the logistics with minor league players and staff have to be worked out, on top of everything else he has to worry about.

10. Jacoby Ellsbury. He will probably have to probe into a long-term deal for the center fielder, who is entering his final season of arbitration. Because the Sox gave Crawford seven years at $142 million, agent Scott Boras has an interesting place to start.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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