First, a word about Ben Cherington. Red Sox fans won’t want to hear it, given all of Cherington’s recent mistakes, but their outgoing GM is one of the classiest, most honest people in the entire sport.
I actually learned that the hard way, early in Cherington’s tenure, when I reported the possibility of a trade even after he told me that it was not true. This happens sometimes, when a reporter isn’t sure whom to trust. I trusted the wrong people. Cherington reacted with exasperation, a rare emotion for someone so even-keeled. And I never made that mistake with him again.
Why even bring this up on the occasion of the Red Sox naming Dave Dombrowski their new president of baseball of operations, with Cherington stepping down? Because the episode demonstrates again that baseball is blood sport in Boston — and in the entire industry, really. The Tigers were downright tactless in dismissing Dombrowski two weeks ago, barely even thanking him for reviving their franchise.
Not that this is the wrong move for the Red Sox — Dombrowski is one of the best GMs of this generation. But Sox officials signaled for weeks that Cherington was safe, even as the team stumbled toward its third last-place finish in four years. In fact, owner John Henry said in June that he expected Cherington to remain GM for “years to come.” I know what Henry will say now: “Well, we offered Ben the chance to stay.” Offered him the chance, with his legs cut off.
For all the Red Sox’s misdirection, we all should have seen this coming, given that Dombrowski was Henry’s GM with the Marlins from 1998 to 2001. Even the Sox’s statement on manager John Farrell’s diagnosis of lymphoma four days ago portended change. The statement made no mention — none — about Farrell possibly returning in ’16.
This is Dombrowski’s show now, a sea change from the Theo Epstein-Cherington succession that produced three World Series titles in 10 years. Henry is a strong proponent of analytics; Dombrowski historically leans more toward scouting. His replacement with the Tigers, longtime assistant Al Avila, said upon taking over that the team needs to “catch up with the industry” in its use of data.
Cherington had to leave, knowing that Dombrowski — like Epstein with the Cubs and Andrew Friedman with the Dodgers — will be in complete control. Dombrowski will hire a GM — former Braves GM Frank Wren is a leading possibility, as first reported by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale — and almost certainly a new manager, too.
The Red Sox will not completely abandon the numbers; these days, all teams blend the subjective and objective, only to different degrees. Dombrowski’s first task will be to undo some of the mess that Cherington created, whether it’s dumping Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, just one of them, maybe others. But once Dombrowski gets rolling, the Red Sox could be formidable again quickly, considering their vast resources and wealth of young talent.
Most teams would love to start with a core of 25-and-under players that includes Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Blake Swihart, Christian Vazquez, Eduardo Rodriguez and eventually, Yoan Moncada. The Red Sox have other prospects coming, too, not to mention players in the 25-to-30 range such as Brock Holt, Rusney Castillo and, ahem, Sandoval.
The team is far from perfect, particularly on the pitching end, but Dombrowski will look for his beloved hard throwers wherever possible, and eventually remake the staff. It will be very surprising if the Red Sox again finish last in 2016. Frankly, it would have been surprising if they had finished last under Cherington, too.
Yes, Cherington made mistakes — it’s an occupational hazard, all GMs do. But ownership drew the line on re-signing Jon Lester, and ownership approved the club’s biggest expenditures, surely intrigued by the potential for Ramirez and Sandoval to boost NESN’s ratings and the overall bottom line. When a team falls as hard as the Red Sox have since winning the 2013 Series, there is plenty of blame to go around.
Dombrowski undoubtedly will thank Cherington one day for developing the core of the Red Sox’s next championship club. Cherington undoubtedly will land with another club and make a positive contribution, though perhaps not as a GM.
It’s the right move, but not exactly cause for celebration.