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Cherington's Tough Talk Has Limits With Red Sox

Ben and Dave

Ben Cherington, the man who never got enough credit for Boston's World Series Cup in 2013, showed a little bit of spine this week. But even his courage had its limits.

The question remains is whether or not he's going to be allowed to to actually make unpleasant decisions as the trade deadline approaches. The track record there around Yawkey Way remains dubious. His first manager was forced on him. Every time the Red Sox make a questionable deal [see Stephen Drew - Part Deux], word always seems to seep out that the GM was somehow a victim of greater forces.

The 39-year-old-yet-still-baby-faced GM out of Amherst gets the "Good Job, Good Effort" trophy for simple common sense when it comes to his stance on John Lackey. Lackey, who has resembled a king if not an ace this season (8-4, 2.96 ERA), is slated to be paid the league-minimum of $500,000 next season because he missed all of 2012 due to Tommy John surgery and his ensuing recovery.

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Cherington was asked on WEEI's "Dennis and Callahan" Thursday about renegotiating Lackey's deal in light of rumblings that Lackey may either bolt to Japan and/or retire before next season if he doesn't get a new deal.

"The contract is the contract," Cherington said. "We agreed to a contract back in 2010, whenever it was, and when you agree to a contract, both sides venture into it. There's really not much more to say about it. We're glad he's with us and we expect him to continue pitching next year."

Lackey was at the epicenter of 2011's demise. He even won the first-ever "Negative 10th Player Award" that season, beating out tremendous competition from Carl Crawford, J.D. Drew and Dice-K. Our voting was done before the infamy of Sept. 28-29, the completion of the Great Collapse or anyone had linked "chicken and beer" to the Red Sox.

Lackey became the living embodiment of all that was wrong with the Red Sox. The sports rage against him continued during the Bobby Valentine Error, even though he was absent during that disaster, save for a few cameos in the locker-room.

Lackey completed the greatest on-field, redemptive transformation in the history of the Red Sox in 2013. Yet, when Lackey became the first Red Sox pitcher to win Game 6 of the World Series since Rick Wise, his spreadsheet with the Red Sox was still not in balance.

The Red Sox, up to that point, had paid him $65.15 million of his $80.4 million, five-year deal he had signed before the 2010 season. Lackey went in knowing, more or less, he'd get paid about $16 million a year over five years. When the Duck Boats rolled last November, he had been paid for four years but only pitched for three.

To protect themselves, the Red Sox put in a team extension for the league minimum at the end of the deal in case they lost a year of Lackey's services due to injury. Cherington was part of Theo Epstein's leadership team when that deal was signed and, therefore, played a role in it. This is no doubt business and personal. Lackey signed the deal with the blessing of his agent. The league and union approved it. End of story.

Rumblings of Lackey not pitching for that league-minimum of $500,000 next year began back in spring training. Somehow it was assumed the Red Sox would cave and offer up a new deal to Lackey, upping his compensation for next season.

There's always some wiggle room for the team to offer Lackey an extension starting in 2016, but Cherington left no room for the Red Sox when it comes to Lackey and what he'll make in 2015.

To sum it up: "$500,000. Take it or leave it."

It's very, very easy, of course, to draw a line in the Fenway infield dirt when it comes to Lackey. For one, he has no other option if he wants to pitch in the majors next year. Even if the Red Sox sign him for 2016 and beyond for more money, he will pitch for $500,000 or he won't pitch at all, at least in this hemisphere.

While the citizens, legal residents and undocumented aliens of Red Sox Nation will forever be grateful to Lackey for his postseason performance in 2013, he still remains a pitcher who made more than $15 million in 2012 while he rehabbed, double-fisted and didn't pitch.

Lackey would be foolish to believe the Red Sox are going to cave on this, even though they've given David Ortiz a pair of Lifetime Achievement Awards. There's probably have stipulation in Ortiz's latest deal that he plays until age 60, or 2020, whichever comes first.

The differences between how the Red Sox feel about Lackey and Ortiz were glaringly self-evident during Cherington's "D&C Show [Kirk Minihane has to get an "M" in there somewhere] appearance on Thursday.

While Cherington was going all "Mr. Gorbachev: Tear down this wall!" over Lackey, he was caving in quicker than 1940 France when it came to Ortiz's latest act of self-centered foolishness.

Cherington wrote off Ortiz's outburst over the official scorer at Fenway Park Wednesday as a product of his "emotions."

"David's done a lot of good things for the Red Sox through the years. He's an emotional guy. You can't ask him to be emotional in all the best ways, which he's been over and over without some emotion coming out in other ways, too, but ultimately he's up there in the ninth inning with the game on the line and delivers as he has so many times, and we win the game, so I guess it makes it a little bit more OK to talk about a scoring call."

Ortiz can put himself and his stats front and center because he hit a game-winning home run Wednesday and many more in his Red Sox past. Lackey, on the other hand, will make less next season than Edward Mujica come Hell or Dan Snyder.

The slide in Ortiz's numbers this season has been precipitous. Entering Friday's game, he had 15 home runs and 43 RBI in 301 plate appearances with a .245/.349/.471 [.820 total] slash line. Through 301 plate appearances last season, Ortiz had 17 home runs, 61 RBI, and boasted a line of .318/.405/.598 - which is .183 higher than this year's total. His slugging percentage is down a whopping .117 during that same span. He was off Thursday night but was back in the lineup Friday night at Oakland.

It's hard to blame all of that on the Fenway scorekeepers. Cherington knows full well how absurd it was for Ortiz to complain about a lone single during a season where his average has fallen nearly 25 percent off last year's pace. Meanwhile, the team's postseason hopes reside with the cotton candy of the second wildcard and the sterility of the A.L. East.

Cherington knows who's boss here. And it's not him. We don't even know for sure if he wanted Drew back this year. Cherington dare not going to say a negative word about what Ortiz did because Big Papi enjoys a status with the Red Sox not seen since Tom Yawkey fawned over Ted Williams.

Had Cherington spoken with the same conviction and firmness about Ortiz's foolishness as he did about Lackey's financial future, he would have really impressed us.

But it would have cost him much more in the process.

The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
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