Commentary

Ben Cherington must restore confidence

Updated: October 25, 2011, 1:54 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Ben Cherington went to work Monday, and not a single mini-cam showed up to capture the moment. No one tweeted where he had lunch, or the make of the vehicle in which he left. No one teased the 6 o'clock news with his mug shot.

On Tuesday, Cherington officially will take over Theo Epstein's job as Red Sox general manager, but he is not Theo Epstein, who in his first hours in Chicago is filling up some of the celebrity void left in that town by Oprah.

At 37, Cherington is too old to be regarded as another wunderkind, the way Epstein was when he was hired at age 28 in 2002.

He's not the obvious rising star in the office, not when two of Epstein's other assistants, Jed Hoyer and Josh Byrnes, both landed GM jobs ahead of him. Hoyer has been summoned to Chicago from San Diego to rejoin forces with the original sponsor of his success.

He comes absent the talent search that preceded Epstein's hiring, when the Red Sox swung for the fences and landed Billy Beane, turning to Epstein only when Beane changed his mind and opted to stay on the West Coast.

In Cherington's case, there was no search at all. One day Theo was here, the next he was gone, and Cherington was told to make plans to change offices.

His may not have been a hiring of convenience -- that would insult the résumé he has compiled in a dozen years in the big leagues, 14 if you count two rounds of internship. But neither does it smack of turning over every stone looking for the absolute best person for the job. Everyone said Andrew Friedman would never leave the Tampa Bay Rays, but there was Friedman last week, interviewing for the Angels' job. We'll never know if he would have been tempted by Boston.

And minority candidates? Epstein's exit triggered a chain reaction impacting three franchises -- Red Sox, Cubs and Padres -- and all three will soon have new men in charge without so much as paying lip service to Bud Selig's decade-old push for clubs to consider minority candidates.

[+] EnlargeBen Cherington
Darren McCollester/Getty ImagesNot a wunderkind or result of an exhaustive search, Ben Cherington nonetheless has a lot on his plate.

Epstein was embraced in Boston by an audience eager to be enchanted by a fairy tale, the hometown boy of uncommon gifts returning to find the end of the rainbow in his own backyard.

Cherington is a local lad as well, hailing from the village of Meriden, N.H. But he is facing a fan base first spoiled by two World Series wins in four seasons, then soured by a September collapse compounded by smears, beers and the abrupt departure of two linchpins of the team's success: first, manager Terry Francona, and now Epstein, both retreating with the flaws of mortals fully exposed. Francona admitted that he no longer could impact the clubhouse the way he did in glory years, while Epstein's Midas touch has been tarnished by a series of dubious big-ticket free-agent signings.

There are many pressing tasks awaiting Cherington following Tuesday afternoon's unveiling at Fenway Park.

Hiring a new manager. Making potential franchise-changing decisions on free agents Jonathan Papelbon and David Ortiz. Deciding on how best to dispose of John Lackey. Rebuilding the starting rotation, which may well involve rehabilitating the image of the disgraced Josh Beckett and converting setup man Daniel Bard into a starter. Stabilizing the bullpen, which may need a major overhaul if Papelbon leaves and Bard starts. Assuring Carl Crawford he has a valued place here, even if the owner said he didn't want him. Deciding if the Sox want to take a run at another top-shelf free agent such as shortstop Jose Reyes, which may be the course to take if they decide Jose Iglesias won't hit in the big leagues.

None of these are easy decisions. All pale compared with the No. 1 job awaiting Cherington, one that a decade and a half of learning the game and all of its nuances is not enough to prepare him or anyone else for. Cherington must find the words, and the carriage, and the convictions, to restore confidence in a franchise that remains solid at its core but is deeply wounded by its recent failings. Owners, players, media, fans will be subjecting his every move to an uncommon level of scrutiny.

They all knew what they had in Theo. They're all unsure what they have in Ben.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE