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Ben Cherington Cares About Caring

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Jackie MacMullan has an interesting profile of Ben Cherington up over on ESPN Boston. It's got the usual good stuff on his childhood and how he found his way into the game, as well as a few comments on a couple of outfielders.

Let's focus in on that last bit, particularly the statements on J.D. Drew:"Drew is an interesting case," Cherington said.

"At his best he was a guy appreciated by both the objective and subjective camps. When he was at his best he had incredible physical skills that any scout could see. But if there was a failing, it was things like [the lack of emotion over the Ellsbury steal].

"I put a value on that. I prefer to have players for whom the game means something, as opposed to players who don't care so much about the game."

Well that's interesting.

J.D. Drew is a well-liked player here at Over The Monster as much for his hugely productive 2008 and 2009 seasons as for the disdain he earned from the general fanbase for the largely irrelevant lack of emotion Cherington mentions. So to see that particular bugbear brought up in an interview is a little...concerning.

I see three possible reasons for this:

1) Ben Cherington is really concerned about how much his players care

This is the one that worries me, because it's pretty clear that not caring isn't really a significant factor if the player can produce at the expected level. If a caring Drew could produce a 1.000 OPS instead of a .900 OPS, who cares so long as he's paid for the latter level of production and not the former? As much as people want to think heart and gritty determination win games, it all comes down to a hitter against a pitcher, and if the hitter hits because of a basic commitment to doing their job instead of a burning desire to be the best, it's a hit all the same.

It probably wouldn't mean too much long term either way. I hardly think that Cherington would pass on an Adrian Gonzalez quality player for a Marco Scutaro quality player (not that Scutaro is bad or that Adrian doesn't care) with that as the deciding factor.

Still, I don't want him being hesitant to sign a top free agent just because he doesn't fist pump when he drives in a run. 

 

2) Ben Cherington is concerned about what not caring means to a player's game

This would be a rather more legitimate reason for concern, and it's one I'd be interested in. Consider the oft-mentioned "contract year" situation. If a player is the sort who would go all-out for the money, but not the type to try and live up to the contract a la J.D. Drew, then it could set up a club for a very bad contract.

This isn't to say that all guys who perform particularly well in contract years should be ignored, but that maybe there's some way that the team can get a better grasp through interviews and other insights, and if so dodge a bullet. We know that Theo and co. did a good deal of investigation into Carl Crawford (let's hold off on the snarky comments about that proving the futility of the idea), and the Sox are always one to be interested in new methods of evaluating players, so it wouldn't be too shocking to see them taking a new approach to an old-school issue to try to improve their performance in free agency.

 

3) He's Pandering To The Fans

Honestly, this is where I think the truth lies, because immediately after that MacMullan quotes Cherington as saying:

"I don't believe I'm being stubborn about it, but I still believe we have a core of players who care about the game," Cherington said. "It's something we have to look at, but I really don't believe the end of the season is who we truly are."

The central focus of all this unrest after the collapse--aside from the collapse itself--is the way it happened. While cooler heads would point to the lack of pitching depth and that over the course of a six month season any starter is bound to run into a rough patch or two, the media has honed in on conditioning and--in a rather sensationalist matter--fried chicken and beer. However much it may or may not be true that the Sox could've been in better shape, the result is that the team at large is now suffering the same scorn that Drew endured for years.

So maybe you can look at this as Cherington offering up a sacrificial lamb in J.D. Drew. In one breath he gives many fans something they've been longing to hear in a condemnation of Drew's lack of enthusiasm and assures them that the team in general is not like that. He seamlessly transitions from seemingly going against the company line on Drew to towing the company line on the rest, and in doing so gives his statement greater credibility.

If that's the case than it sucks for Drew, but it's not unlike the Sox at all.

On the other hand, I could be reading way too much into a very short part of what may have been a much longer interview. But what else is there to do while the stove remains relatively cool?