Three hours after the Cubs introduced former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein as their new team president, the Red Sox today introduced Ben Cherington as the team’s 11th general manager in a press conference at Fenway Park. Cherington takes over during a trying time for the Red Sox organization, but he also takes over for one of the most successful executives in team history.
“We’ve let our fans down in some important ways recently,” said Cherington, who sat on the podium next to Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino. “The last few weeks have been painful and difficult. But what I’m left with is an incredible conviction that the Red Sox will be the best organization in baseball.”
Cherington wished Epstein well and said it would be his job to balance what the Red Sox already do well with a need to move forward from a troublesome year.
“There will be changes,” said Cherington. “There will be small things we do differently, but we’re going to continue to build on the culture that Theo helped create with the Red Sox. I wish him great fortune in his next venture, other than on June 15, 16, and 17 of next year [when the Red Sox play the Cubs]. But he’s a great friend and we wish him well.
“That said, I think Theo would tell you that there comes time when it’s time for a change. 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 exactly what’s worked in the past. And 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, and our ownership deserves.”
A 37-year-old New Hampshire native, Cherington actually preceded Epstein in the Red Sox organization, starting with the club as an amateur scout in 1999. He’s a graduate of Amherst College and has a Masters in sports management from UMass.
“Ben is infinitely more prepared than I was when I took over nine years ago,” Epstein wrote in a Globe op-ed piece. “He’s been an area scout, an international scout, an advance scout, a farm director, and he’s supervised drafts. Ben is honest and insightful, fearless and friendly — and he is ready to lead this organization forward.’’
The Red Sox missed the playoffs this season after leading the American League East for a good chunk of the year, leading to the ouster of manager Terry Francona and the eventual departure of Epstein. Among Cherington’s major tasks are hiring a new manager and changing an undisciplined clubhouse culture that contributed to the team going 7-20 in September.
On a new manager, Cherington said, “I want someone who’s got a strong voice. I want someone who cares about players but is also willing and ready to have a tough conversations 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.”
Cherington said he would not rush the hiring process, and that the Red Sox have not asked for permission to speak to any candidates. He said the Sox already have a short list of potential manager candidates.
One of the main themes of the press conference concerned how Cherington would be different from his predecessor. One of the main criticisms of Eptein was his track record of free agent signings, with Julio Lugo, Carl Crawford, and John Lackey being a few examples.
“There are players on this team now that we signed as free agents that we still feel strongly about, and that I was a proponent of signing,” said Cherington. “But I’m a different person [than Epstein]. My management style’s different. I think we need to listen to lots of voices, in the baseball operations office and otherwise … Our backgrounds are different. My path was more of a scouting, player development path. His path was more of a baseball ops, front office path.”
Asked to characterize the team’s track record with free agents, Cherington said, “Not good enough … it’s an area we need to get better at.”
Following the team’s collapse, many fans and media members have been calling for the possible purging of the current roster. Addressing other possible personnel changes with the current roster, Cherington said, “We have a bunch of players that are really motivated by what happened at the end of this season. I don’t believe that anybody — player, coach, front office, any of you — should be judged on one moment, one episode, one piece of behavior. We need to judge people on the body of work. And I believe we have a lot of players in our clubhouse whose body of work is really good and are going to be a part of really good Red Sox teams moving forward.”
Cherington dropped a mini-bombshell toward the end of his press conference, revealing that Lackey would be undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He’s expected to miss the upcoming season.
“John Lackey pitched through circumstances this year that I don’t think any of us can fully understand, and he got beat up for it along the way,” said Cherington. “He was dealing with some stuff both on the field and off the field that were really difficult. I thought he showed tremendous toughness pitching through that. That game he pitched in New York at the end of the season where he helped us as we were grinding away for every win we could, I thought got overshadowed by how the season ended.
“He’s really excited about the future. Certainly anxious about the surgery and getting that done and the rehab. He knows that he’s a much better pitcher than what he showed in 2011. I believe he’s going to be much better pitcher than what he showed. We look forward to having him as a part of the staff, likely in 2013.”
The injury announcement seems to end speculation that the Sox would try to cut ties with Lackey. While Lackey looks to be staying put, the Sox have several players who will be free agents this offeason. David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon are two of the team’s current free agents Cherington said he’d like to bring back.
“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. We’d like to have both of them back. We’ve had some initial talks with them and we’ll see how that plays out.”
Cherington said the team also has interest in picking up shortstop Marco Scutaro’s option, though the final decision will be made after the World Series.
Lucchino revealed a previously unknown nugget of information on Cherington’s past influence with player signing, saying that Cherington had a large influence in bringing third baseman Adrian Beltre to Boston for a one-year deal in 2010. Beltre hit .321 with 28 home runs and 102 RBIs for the Red Sox that season.
Lucchino praised Cherington throughout the press conference and said that ownership’s decision to hire him was an easy choice.
“Theo made it clear that he thought Ben was a worthy successor for him,” said Lucchino. “We had plenty of experience with Ben. We certainly knew his performance and on-field history. It was a consensus that was formed.”