As it became clear that the Red Sox were not about to make a splash in the offseason, particularly in the starting pitching market, Ben Cherington came under a good deal of fire. Expectations were perhaps unreasonably high with a limited budget the sort of power that comes with the first year on the job, and the particular mess that Theo Epstein and the 2011 Sox had left him with. But, when all was said and done, the job still seemed woefully unfinished.
And yet, through 22 games, despite the .500 records, what Ben Cherington did do is looking awfully good right about now.
Consider his worst "failures" of the offseason. Marco Scutaro being dumped to the Colorado Rockies to give Mike Aviles the starting job? Well, 21 games in and Aviles is hitting .290/.330/.535 with a sustainable BABIP, taking advantage of the Monster, and playing some surprisingly nice defense up the middle. Daniel Bard as a starter? So far he's the best one on the team. Failing to grab that final starter? How's Felix Doubront been looking?
As it stands, the only real weaknesses in the Red Sox' rotation have been Clay Buchholz and April Jon Lester. The latter seems ready to go away on its own, the former...well, that's what all those depth signings were about. If the Sox feel he's not ready to cut it, they have Aaron Cook in reserve.
Then there's right field, where the Sox picked up Ryan Sweeney as a throw in and Cody Ross on the cheap. Ross is what he is, with hot streaks and slumps and all, but with enough of the former to outweigh the latter. And while he's currently doing better against righties than lefties, he hopefully won't need to be as the outfield starts getting healthy again towards midseason. It's not clear whether or not Ryan Sweeney will be able to keep up his ridiculous pace, but even with just half the production he'll be twice what most of us expected.
It's not been a perfect haul by any chance. Nick Punto is looking entirely pointless, even at his low salary, and the bullpen fix, however inventive the fix seemed at the time, hasn't really had the chance to show what it could be between injury and, well, Melancon. As far as I'm concerned, Bailey was a calculated risk likely taken because of the unfortunate financial situation and the need to fill so many holes in the roster, so the fact that it backfired seems less a matter of proper forethought than of simple bad luck. Melancon...well, we'll see how that turns out after a second opportunity.
Admittedly, a lot of the good is also based on the sort of limited sample sizes that can be used to dismiss the "mistakes," but there is something to the idea that Cherington chose options that had upside. The combination of Sweeney and Ross' splits and their swings in Fenway, Mike Aviles and his on-and-off history, and of course the arms of Bard and Doubront for spots four and five. It's the sort of moves that Theo Epstein rolled the dice on back in 2009--low risk, high reward--and while they didn't work then, that's hardly a condemnation of the theory behind the strategy.
Handed the keys to a totaled Ferrari, Cherington has managed to patch together a working Frankenstein of a team that, if not as good as we might like it to be, is still more than you would have expected given such a small working budget.
Now if only the driver weren't such a mess.