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Choice of Cherington as GM signals more of the same for Sox

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  October 26, 2011 07:45 AM

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If you were in the State Street Pavilion yesterday at Fenway Park and you closed your eyes and listened to the timbre and verbiage of the new Red Sox general manager you would have sworn that it was the old general manager. It felt like Theo Epstein had never left, and in a way he hasn't. Theo has left the building, but his influence hasn't.

Epstein told the media in Chicago after his coronation as Cubs president of baseball operations that he wouldn't have departed the Red Sox if his assistant general manager and friend Ben Cherington weren't taking over as Red Sox GM. That makes sense because Cherington sounded an awful lot like his buddy, former boss and baseball ops frat brother during his introduction. Cherington resembled a colonial viceroy repeating the decrees of a far away monarch. It was clear that while Epstein is no longer here to run the Red Sox his imprint on the organization remains in spirit, along with a lot of his baseball philosophies.

"What he left with me was certain values we will carry forward as a staff," said the 37-year-old Cherington, who was co-general manager of the Red Sox for 38 days the first time Epstein left the Sox in 2005.

More of the same in a slightly different package might not be what Red Sox fans want coming off back-to-back third-place finishes in the American League East and the baseball equivalent of the 1929 stock market crash. It's probably not good public relations right now, but for once the Red Sox made a decision without trying to curry the favor of the public. In the face of turmoil and turnover, the team needed stability and Cherington looks like a level-headed, methodical, analytical hand at the helm, just like Epstein.

The easy thing for the Sox would have been to signify change by choosing a new general manager who didn't have a hand in building last year's roster and wasn't as Cherington declared himself yesterday, "one of the strongest proponents of signing Carl Crawford," a courageous admission considering the Sox' track record of collecting toxic assets in free agency.

There certainly could be a case made that the Sox should have at least inquired about Tampa Bay's Andrew Friedman if for no other reason than to pick the brain of a rival and get an external view of their operation, which is always helpful.

But the Sox have a proven model of success over the last eight years. A September swoon for the ages and a few tales of clubhouse beer guzzling and team disharmony should lead to some organizational self-evaluation, but it should not result in a total repudiation of the principles or the approach that have allowed the Sox to win the second most games (regular-season and postseason combined) -- 873 -- of any franchise from 2003 to 2011. Only the, you guessed it, Yankees have won more games during that time span (909).

More of the same isn't a bad thing on Yawkey Way. I'll take more Jon Lesters, Dustin Pedroias, Jacoby Ellsburys, Jonathan Papelbons, Clay Buchholzs and Daniel Bards. What the Sox need fewer of are free agent busts like J.D. Drew and John Lackey and unaccountable players (paging Josh Beckett).

Listening to Cherington it didn't sound like any major shakeups were in store for the Sox. He talked about finding a few more Alfredo Aceves types for rotational depth, said that Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick would compete for the right field job and made it clear that Beckett, the alleged ringleader of the Brew Crew, isn't going anywhere.

"He was one of the best pitchers in the American League this year," said Cherington. "He is someone we're counting on being a huge part of the team. If there were things that happened in the clubhouse this year that don't fit our standard of behavior and he was a part of then we got to address that with him and we will. ...I don't believe -- this is not specific to Josh; this is the whole team -- that any of our players should be judged on one month, or one moment, or one, perhaps, lapse in behavior. You got to judge them on the bigger body of work."

Cherington said he was sure Beckett would publically address his clubhouse transgressions at some point. We'll take him at his word.

Cherington was going to be a big league GM someday. If Epstein had stayed a succession plan was in place for Genteel Ben to take over sooner rather than later. He certainly has more experience then Epstein did when he took over as an energetic 28-year-old in the fall of 2002. That worked out pretty well.

All you have to do to realize how far the Sox have come since 2002 was witness the championship-starved Cubs fans and media throwing themselves at Epstein. His press conference was like Pearl Jam groupies interviewing Eddie Vedder. That palpable desperation used to belong to us, pre-Theo.

Ultimately, Cherington's most difficult task may not be restoring the Sox to the playoffs, or hiring a new manager, or unlocking the talents of Crawford or making the Sox' farm system fecund again. It may be differentiating himself from his forerunner enough to get credit for doing any of that.

Like Epstein, the Meriden, New Hampshire-bred Cherington is an affable, articulate, polished 30-something with New England roots who grew up rooting for the Red Sox and reading Peter Gammons in the Globe. Like Epstein, he believes that the shrewdest baseball evaluators combine statistical analysis with traditional observatory scouting. Like Epstein, he lapses into bureacratese -- more than once Cherington dropped "multifactorial" into a response.

The Amherst College-educated Cherington made light of delineating the differences between himself and Theo with bon mots about not playing guitar or owning a gorilla suit costume, but ultimately strained to provide a substantive answer to a fundamental question.

"I think we do share a lot in common as far as our general philosophy of putting a team together. ...The basic principles are largely the same," Cherington said. "But I'm a different person. I have a different management style."

Time will tell if Cherington finds his own voice. He isn't Theo Epstein, but he got his job because he's the closest thing the Sox have to him.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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