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Cherington finally named Red Sox GM

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By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / October 26, 2011

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Ben Cherington arrived 12 minutes early for his own press conference yesterday, ducking behind a group of people waiting to hear what he had to say about the future of the Red Sox.

His eagerness to take a seat at the front of the room and get that process started was evident.

A 37-year-old native New Englander from Meriden, N.H., Cherington has wanted to run a baseball team since his junior year at Amherst College when a shoulder injury kept him from pitching and he sought other avenues for his competitiveness. Now, that dream has come true with the team he grew up rooting for.

“I realize how incredibly lucky I am,’’ said Cherington, the 11th man to be named general manager of the Sox. “This is one of the best jobs you can have.’’

A member of the organization since 1999 when he was hired as an amateur scout, Cherington was a popular choice to replace Theo Epstein among members of the baseball operations staff. Many of his colleagues showed their support by attending the press conference and applauding when team president Larry Lucchino introduced Cherington.

Conspicuous by their absence were team owners John Henry and Tom Werner. Although the press conference was announced Friday, Lucchino said they could not adjust their schedules and were out of state. Lucchino spoke in their place, praising Cherington for his intelligence, leadership skills, and loyalty.

“I cannot at this point in Red Sox history imagine Ben with any other organization and I have trouble imagining the Red Sox without Ben Cherington,’’ Lucchino said.

Only a few hours earlier, the Cubs introduced Epstein as their new president of baseball operations. Epstein left the Sox after nine successful seasons that included two World Series championships.

The challenge for Cherington will be to continue that success while putting his own imprint on the organization. His promotion comes at a time of chaos, with the Red Sox, a team with a $161 million player payroll, having collapsed in September and missed the playoffs for the second straight season.

That led to the departure of manager Terry Francona amid since-confirmed reports that players were drinking beer during games and had lost respect for authority.

“We’ve let our fans down in some important ways recently,’’ Cherington said. “The last few weeks have been painful, difficult. But what I’m left with is an incredible conviction that the Red Sox will be the best organization in baseball.’’

Cherington said the Sox are on solid ground, and following the blueprint left by Epstein makes sense in many ways. But Cherington also plans to make changes that reflect his background as a talent evaluator.

“I think Theo would tell you that there comes time when it’s time for a change,’’ he said. “It’s my job as part of that change to preserve what we’re good at and also serve as a catalyst for the change that we need. Because what’s going to work moving forward is not necessarily exactly what’s worked in the past.

“It’s my job to manage this transition, and really the job of the entire organization to move forward and identify the things we need to do differently to get the kind of success that the Red Sox fans deserve.’’

The first step will be finding a manager. Cherington, the de facto GM since Epstein agreed to a contract with the Cubs Oct. 12, has been researching candidates for several weeks. The Sox have not yet sought permission from other organizations to interview those candidates. That will start this week.

“We’re not looking for the next star manager, we’re looking for the right fit for the Red Sox in 2012,’’ Cherington said.

Cherington said he has a short list of candidates and that major league managerial experience is not a prerequisite. He said he wants to move quickly but be diligent.

“I want someone who’s got a strong voice,’’ he said. “I want someone who cares about players but is also willing and ready to have a tough conversation with them. I want someone who can collaborate with the front office and with ownership but also who is willing to make an argument when he disagrees.’’

The new manager will not be John Farrell. The Blue Jays squashed speculation that the Sox could hire Farrell by changing their team policy to prevent it.

“Due to the distraction caused by media speculation regarding our employee permission policy, the Toronto Blue Jays have amended their policy and will not grant permission for lateral moves,’’ team president Paul Beeston said.

Farrell was the pitching coach of the Sox for four years before joining the Blue Jays a year ago.

Cherington said the issues within the clubhouse would be dealt with once the new manager is in place.

“I think that we have work to do this offseason to restore the culture that we expect in the clubhouse, to restore the level of accountability,’’ Cherington said. “I don’t believe that there’s a silver bullet that will be the answer to that, it’s multi-factorial. Certainly we have an important hire in the next manager and he will be a big part of it.

“I know from talking to players there’s a great motivation to clean up whatever does need to be cleaned up in the clubhouse and move forward to 2012.’’

Cherington hopes to retain David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon, who will be free agents five days after the World Series.

“We know David and Pap really well,’’ said Cherington. “They’ve been huge parts of the team. We’d like to see if there’s a contract that makes sense for them and for us.’’

In initial conversations, Ortiz has voiced a desire to end his career with the Sox, while Papelbon is eager to test the open market. Cherington hinted the team was likely to exercise its $6 million option on shortstop Marco Scutaro.

Cherington also gave a candid assessment about the team’s track record with free agents from outside the organization.

“Not good enough,’’ he said. “It’s an area we need to get better at.’’

Cherington said he planned to hire more scouts and would rely more on personal observations than the organization has in the past when statistical analysis was a major factor in decision making.

“My management style’s different,’’ he said. “I think we need to listen to lots of voices, in the baseball operations office and otherwise.’’

One immediate task will be negotiating with Epstein to determine compensation for the Cubs having hired the former Sox executive, who had a year left on his contract. Cherington said the Sox expect “significant’’ compensation.

“The challenge has been agreeing on what that means,’’ he said. “The Cubs have their definition and we have our definition. It’s not a normal baseball trade.’’

Cherington believes he and Epstein can broker a deal before the Nov. 1 deadline set by commissioner Bud Selig. If not, he is comfortable with Selig breaking the deadlock.

“There’s a lot to do,’’ Cherington said. “Now we get started.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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