FORT MYERS, Fla. — Mike Hazen is watching Will Middlebrooks take grounders at third base and Jose Iglesias take them at shortstop. They are two players who grew up in Hazen’s minor league system when he served as Red Sox farm director. They are the successes.
Now the assistant general manager, and one of Ben Cherington’s confidants, Hazen finds himself in a different role, helping to make the decisions that affect the Sox at a time when the focus of the organization has shifted directly toward the baseball operations department.
Hazen, who grew up in Abington, Mass., the son of schoolteachers, doesn’t shy away from the responsibility of a major decision-maker. He is extremely hard on himself, critical of some of the moves he’s been a part of since the collapse of September 2011.
While the Sox have fired managers, coaches, and members of the medical staff, the baseball operations department has remained intact, and has been added to. Hazen is aware of the scrutiny the front office will be under this season.
Have they made the right calls for 2013?
“Look, we haven’t been very good from September of 2011 on,’’ Hazen said. “We haven’t had major league players coming up. We’ve had injuries, but part of having injuries is having guys underneath those guys to fill in, but just not to fill in, but be able to win in the American League East with.
“We need to do a better job of that, more so on the pitching side. It’s something we need to continue to improve.
“We face that pressure every day and have every day for the last seven years. We want to be right. Whatever has happened on the field, I think we’ve taken as much responsibility as anyone. We continue to.
“Last year’s season is no exception. We probably made some choices and decisions we shouldn’t have made. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get it right, to be right more often, whether it be improving processes, coaching staffs, whatever goes into it. We feel the ultimate responsibility, as we should.’’
Hazen still calls farm director and scouting director the two hardest jobs other than GM. He feels uneasy taking credit for some of the Sox’ successes because, “As a farm director or scouting director, it’s never your anything.
“It’s certainly rewarding for the scouts and coaches to see these kids make it on the major league stage, like Middlebooks and [Felix] Doubront. They haven’t 100 percent established themselves but they did a good job for us last year. It’s rewarding to see them in the mix here with the next wave of players coming.
“Unfortunately, you look at it ultra-critically. You say for each guy who makes it, there’s four or five guys you wish you could have done a better job with so they could help the major league team.’’
One of the deals Hazen was a part of was the Josh Reddick trade to Oakland that netted the Sox Andrew Bailey.
“You develop relationships with players, but everyone understands at the end of the day it’s a business in terms of making deals,’’ Hazen said. “It’s always tough trading away Josh Reddick and Kyle Weiland [to the Astros in the Mark Melancon deal], guys like that. You have to evaluate objectively or you’re not doing your job.’’
Hazen is part of a troika in Cherington’s inner circle, with Allard Baird and Brian O’Halloran. Each has a different expertise. Hazen is player development-oriented. Baird is the player evaluation man, and O’Halloran has dealt with rules, administrative tasks, and contracts.
Hazen said that much of his job is information-gathering for Cherington, perhaps playing devil’s advocate, and also giving his input on players and deals and possible free agent signings. He also oversees the farm director, but his major focus is gathering information about the major league teams the Sox may be dealing with.
Hazen’s work is far from over this spring.
Before the end of camp, the Sox must wade through their outfield/first base options. They must adjust if David Ortiz isn’t ready to start the season because of his Achilles’ tendon issues. There are bullpen slots that have to be determined. There may be more injuries to contend with.
As camp continues and then as the season starts, the baseball operations staff must adjust if it finds the team it assembled isn’t what they thought it would be. If the team isn’t contending, then comes the biggest decision of all — whether to trade veteran players and let the kids play.
Hazen knows this: “You’ve got to develop players into the farm system that can go up and either become starters or fill vital roles on your team. We have to be committed to that and make sure our people are doing the best they can to put the players in a position to perform.’’