Red Sox make Ben Cherington GM
BOSTON -- Now it's officially Ben's turn.
The Boston Red Sox introduced Ben Cherington as the organization's newest general manager Tuesday afternoon, replacing Theo Epstein, who earlier in the day was named president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs.
A new chapter began on an absolutely beautiful day at Fenway Park as the 11th GM in Red Sox history sat next to team president/CEO Larry Lucchino and both promised to turn the page on 2011 and focus on 2012 and beyond.
"I think Theo would tell you, and he already has in his own way, that there comes a time when it's time for a change, and it's my job, as part of that change, to preserve what we are good at and also serve as a catalyst for the change that we need," Cherington said.
"What's going to work moving forward is not necessarily what has worked in the past. It's my job to manage this transition, and it'll be the job of baseball operations and the entire organization to move forward and identify the things we need to do differently to have the kind of success Red Sox fans deserve and our ownership deserves."
While owners John Henry and Tom Werner did not attend the event because of scheduling issues, Lucchino spoke on ownership's behalf and gave Cherington high accolades, saying the decision to promote the 37-year-old was a "quick consensus" once it was known that Epstein was leaving town.
"I have the proud duty today to announce a major appointment. While not a major surprise, that fact does not detract from its importance or our excitement," Lucchino said.
In fact, Cherington has been with the Red Sox longer than current ownership. During nearly 14 years with the Red Sox organization, Cherington has served as an advance scout, amateur scout, pro scout, international scout, farm director, vice president of player personnel, assistant general manager and now GM.
"His mastery of baseball issues, particularly Red Sox baseball issues is exceedingly impressive," Lucchino said.
"Ben and the Red Sox organization are inextricably intertwined and I cannot, at this point in Red Sox history, imagine Ben with any other organization, and I have trouble imagining the Red Sox without Ben Cherington."
Now Cherington has some serious work to do for a team that missed the playoffs after a 7-20 September collapse and has been involved in a whirlwind of reports of clubhouse disorder centering on talk of starting pitchers drinking beer and eating take-out fried chicken on their off-days.
His first order of business will be to hire a manager to replace Terry Francona, who left the organization earlier this month. Cherington said there is no set deadline as to when he wants a manager in place, but admitted there already have been internal discussions and due diligence to form a short list of possible candidates.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Cherington said he has not contacted any organization or person about the managerial vacancy.
"We will hire a manager who embodies our ideals, who has a strong voice and helps shape the culture that we need for the next generation of Red Sox teams," Cherington said.
"I want someone who has a strong voice. I want someone who cares about players, but who is also ready and willing to have tough conversations with them. I want someone who can collaborate with the front office and with ownership, but is also willing to make arguments when he disagrees.
"I want someone who has a passion for the game. I want someone who can create a culture in the clubhouse that allows everyone in the clubhouse -- players, coaches, medical staff, support staff -- to feel empowered to do their jobs and put the team in the best position to win and make sure we're more prepared than the other team every night."
Cherington said he will move swiftly but diligently and will be methodical in the managerial search.
Cherington already has dealt with major issues this offseason, and he announced that veteran right-hander John Lackey will have Tommy John surgery this offseason and will not be available in 2012. Lackey received an MRI and was examined by Dr. Lewis Yocum in Los Angeles recently and it was decided the pitcher would undergo the procedure at an undetermined date.
Cherington explained that Lackey, who also dealt with off-field issues this season, had intermittent elbow soreness but was able to pitch through it. He compiled a subpar 12-12 record with a 6.41 ERA in 28 starts in the second year of a five-year, $82.5 million contract, drawing the ire of Fenway fans, and was at the center of the beer-drinking reports.
"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 a little bit," Cherington said. "This guy was dealing with stuff both on the field and off the field that were very difficult and he showed tremendous toughness pitching through that."
Cherington has big decisions to make with both David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon set to hit the free-agent market after the Red Sox's five-day window of exclusivity following the conclusion of the World Series. Cherington said he hopes to have both back.
"We've had some initial dialogue with both," Cherington said. "We'll talk more with both and we'll see how it plays out. In a vacuum we'd like to have them both back on the team."
The Red Sox also have a decision to make on shortstop Marco Scutaro. The club holds a one-year option on his contract. Scutaro had a solid season and Cherington believe other teams would covet Scutaro during the offseason.
Then there's Carl Crawford.
The Red Sox left fielder hit only .255 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs in 130 games during his first season in Boston after signing a seven-year, $142 million contract.
"I was one of the strongest proponents of signing Carl last offseason," Cherington explained. "I pitched hard for that because I believe in him and I believe in him the same amount now that I did then. This guy has been an impact player on both sides of the ball for a lot of years in this league. He had a down year. He admitted that and he took full responsibility for it."
Watching how Crawford dealt with the adversity proved to Cherington that he will be better in 2012 and beyond. He plans to visit with Crawford at some point during the offseason.
"We need to find out if there are some things that we can do to help him fully transition to Boston," Cherington said. "When he's comfortable and feeling good, he's one of the best players in the league. It's our job to help him do that and it's his job to learn something from what happened this year and what he went through and put himself in a position to be that guy again. I'm betting on Carl Crawford moving forward."
There's also the business of Cherington's staff. Current vice president of player development and amateur scouting Mike Hazen likely will be promoted to assistant GM.
"We hope to have a series of announcements on the front office and there will be promotions from within," Cherington said. "We have a lot of talented people that are ready for more responsibility, so we'll have announcements on that soon.
"I don't know if anyone is going to Chicago. Theo hasn't asked me about anyone yet. I know we have a lot of talented people here and I have a very good group to go to war with."
One of Cherington's major strengths is his ability to develop a strong minor league system, especially given that he's worn many hats, working in the organization's farm system for much of his career with the Red Sox.
"I know we have a baseball operations staff that will continue to strive to build advantages to find better ways to do things," Cherington said. "I know we're going have a scouting staff -- domestically, internationally, the pro level and at the major league level -- that will help us identify and acquire the best players at every level from around the world. We will have a player development staff that is dedicated to getting the most out of every player we sign and helping the next generation of Red Sox who get to the big leagues be a part of our next World Series team."
Earlier in the day, Epstein was introduced as the newest member of the Cubs family, and during his opening statement he simply wished Cherington "luck" moving forward. Cherington thanked Epstein for his guidance and friendship and admitted the two had in-depth discussions over the last few weeks while they were still officially co-workers.
"The easiest way to start to change the culture is in the front office and that essentially involves a lot of hard work," Epstein said. "It involves setting high standards. It involves coming together around a common vision for the organization and getting everybody to buy in is the most important thing in the world to us.
"Essentially working so hard that it creates a culture of responsibility, a culture of achievement, a culture of high standards and if you're not ready to buy into that you're probably not going to be along for the ride."
Epstein said he believes Cherington will successfully lead the Red Sox into the future with his own vision and style.
"I helped train Ben Cherington, who is more than capable of taking over as my successor," Epstein said. "Once we got through the season, all of a sudden we were in a position that the Red Sox needed to hire a new manager and I thought that was something best done by Ben because he was going to be there for the long haul."
Now all the baseball operations decisions in Boston belong to Ben.
"He will hit the ground running and no one will outwork him," Lucchino said.
Cherington is only one man. It will take more than just him to right the wrongs of recent seasons and make the Red Sox perennial winners again.
"I know that we have the players in our clubhouse who are committed to winning, who have the talent to do it and are motivated to put 2011 behind them and prove to everyone that they are worthy of the fans' trust," Cherington said.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
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