For those who are not confident in Ben Cherington, you are not alone.
There are plenty out there who view any move by the current front office with a healthy dose of skepticism. After all, it was just one year ago that Cherington embarked on an ambitious experiment that ended in disaster. Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey, Daniel Bard to the rotation--they're words that should haunt any Red Sox fan who followed the three players in question last year.
Consider that before Ben Cherington the last general manager to preside over a Red Sox team with a record as poor as 69-93 was one Mike Higgins in 1965. The next year the Sox had a new GM, and the year after that was, of course, the Impossible Dream season. Generally speaking, if you end with a winning percentage as low as Cherington, with a move as disastrous as the Reddick deal on your CV, you're not long for the team.
Well, for all that that deal was awful, it's not on the merits of 2012 that Ben Cherington should be judged. We've been over this before here, but for those who either were not here for that or do not recall, to make a long story short Cherington's back was against the wall. He was gifted a clubhouse in collapse and no money to work with and told to fill out a rotation two men short . He took a gamble, and while it didn't pay off, it was hardly a fair situation to begin with.
So then what about 2013? For those of you who are dissatisfied with the progression of this offseason so far--Victorino, Ross, Uehara, Dempster, and maybe Mike Napoli being the returns from the massive $270 million (give or take) unloading of contracts that took place during the season, I beg patience. Not because I am a Cherington devotee--aside from the aforementioned unloading, he certainly hasn't had the results to earn any loyalty--but in the spirit of fairness to a man who hasn't had a chance, and in the acknowledgement of the sacrifice we as a fanbase committed to when a majority of us supported the tabula rasa the team seized back in August.
After all, when the Sox shook hands with the Dodgers, there was an understanding that 2013 was not going to be the best year--not if the Sox were going to take full advantage of the opportunity presented them to return to their old heights. In order to avoid digging themselves back into the same hole we were so desperate to escape this year, we knew that the Sox could not afford to be the same big players they had been in December of 2010. If Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford were risky enough to sink the Sox, imagine them with Zack Greinke and his anxiety problems or Josh Hamilton and his off-field issues.
The middle ground, meanwhile, wasn't really an option for Cherington and co. Unfortunately, this is not the best free agent market of all time. There were a couple of really excellent players at the top (albeit with their major aforementioned issues), a pair of second-tier options who, thanks to the limited nature of the market, are entirely likely to be overpaid (and Sanchez' 5/$75 deal certainly seems to be around that given that he's more a 3.80-4.00 ERA guy than anything else), and a bunch of other options.
Now, those of you who are particularly disgruntled with the progress of this offseason to date will say that those options--the Napolis, Victorinos, and Dempsters of the world--are unacceptable. They are not the guys who will bring the Sox back to their former heights, and will put payoff risk in contention.
Well, yeah, we kind of knew that. This season isn't going to be a lock. It never was. The only situation where it would be one is when they signed up Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton and even then there's the shadow of 2011 reminding us that nothing is a sure thing, especially given the not insignificant risks each of those players carries.
The key is that this isn't a 2013 plan. And to judge Ben Cherington and co. on 2013 alone would be a mistake, because they're not playing the 2013 game. It frankly feels like something that shouldn't need to be said, but the Red Sox are currently not building towards competing this year or the next, but towards competing for a decade at a time, or until the league closes its doors if they manage to avoid draft busts and the like.
To achieve that, they need to avoid putting too many super-burdensome contracts on teams that can't support them. And to avoid that, they need to not sign the likes of Greinke, Sanchez, and Hamilton.
Ben Cherington should not be judged on 2013, because security in 2013 was the price we all paid for a chance to return to the best days of Theo Epstein's reign, when the Sox were expected to make the playoffs year in and year out. The chance to do both was lost, frankly, the second that Carl Crawford signed on the dotted line. The only thing is that the man who made that decision is gone, and we as humans have a tendency to focus in on the scapegoat still here rather than the more deserving one 850 miles away.
If in 2015 we're buried under new problems, or the farm system is on the other side of the country in exchange for overpaid veterans, then we can all join hands and call for Cherington's head as one happy family. But for now, even if things go horribly wrong in 2013 and we end up competing only for .500, ask yourself what you would have done differently. Given the same assets, the same (crazy) market, the same expectations of the Sox to compete not simply in 2013, but for years to come, ask yourself if you or even other GMs would realistically have done significantly better.
For now, though, just hope for success in 2013. The front office set out to provide a competitive product without falling victim to the same problems that beset the last years of Epstein's tenure, and right now they're at least trying to stay that course.