Ben Cherington had his failures as the general manager of the Red Sox, and with him resigning from his job with the introduction of president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, you're going to hear an awful lot about them. Ben Cherington also had his successes as a general manager, though, and they go beyond the unassailable "flags fly forever" mantra that 2013 afforded us all. Like with any GM -- Dombrowski included -- Cherington had his highs and lows and plenty of in between, and it's a shame he's no longer part of the organization.
His legacy will, in many ways unfairly, be that of the GM who made a mess that Dombrowski needed to clean up. The rotation just wasn't good enough, and expensive additions like Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, from the point of view of more than a few fans and analysts, have not done enough to justify their continued presence on the roster.
Digging deeper, you'll see many mentions of trading Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey, when Reddick was dealt because Boston's outfield was supposed to be fine, the team was in need of pitching -- Felix Doubront was the player Billy Beane wanted, if not Reddick -- and a bullpen upgrade had to come through trade because Theo Epstein left Cherington with a spent budget and inflexible roster.
That situation is how Daniel Bard ended up attempting to start, and how Aaron Cook ended up as one of the major pitching acquisitions of the winter. Cherington is not without fault in these things, but placing the blame squarely on his shoulders is as dishonest as giving Epstein all the credit for 2004.
You'll see complaints that Cherington gave up on Mark Melancon far too soon in order to acquire Joel Hanrahan, ignoring that many of those same complainers didn't want Melancon on the roster in the first place, either before 2012 or after it, and that the move also brought Brock Holt to Boston's 40-man roster. You're sure to see people wince at every ground ball Jose Iglesias fields with the Tigers, forgetting or simply living in forced ignorance of the fact that trading Iglesias brought the Red Sox Jake Peavy, rotation stabilization, and an eventual World Series championship in 2013.
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Bringing those acquisitions up is fair game to a degree, but they aren't everything that Ben Cherington was to the Red Sox. He was also the general manager who solved the problems that Epstein didn't stick around to fix by using Adrian Gonzalez's excellent extension to rid the team of Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and roughly a quarter-of-a-billion dollars in future contracts. The move not only reset the roster, but also put the Red Sox under the luxury tax threshold, giving them a break from the penalties that kept ownership from wanting to give Cherington much financial flexibility at the start of his GM career in the first place.
The move cleared space to sign Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster, and Koji Uehara. It made adding Peavy at mid-season in 2013 possible, whereas back in 2011, when the Red Sox desperately needed pitching, they only had the available budget to bring in the sometimes-functional Erik Bedard. The result was a World Series victory over the Cardinals, a worst-to-first finish -- like with Epstein in 2004, the core was there, and Cherington successfully built a winner around it for his first championship.
The 2014 roster was sunk by a the kids, as Xander Bogaerts' rookie season, while not bad, was less than what was needed. Will Middlebrooks failed to secure third base, and Jackie Bradley was as horrendous at the plate as he was transcendent defensively. The plan for 2015 was to fix this by adding veterans, making it so the team relied less on its youth while still giving it a chance to develop, but that backfired, too.
David Ortiz didn't hit much until mid-June, and while he's more than made up for that by now in his stat line, that doesn't change Boston's earlier losses. Dustin Pedroia has only played in 75 games. Boston was forced to call-up Blake Swihart well before he was ready, because the only veteran catcher on the roster, Ryan Hanigan, broke his finger. Victorino couldn't get healthy, Napoli collapsed against right-handed pitching, and both Hanley and Panda have failed to impress in year one of their deals.
It's hard to blame Cherington overly much for parts of this -- there was an insurance plan in place for Victorino in the form of Rusney Castillo, but he didn't look nearly as ready as he did last year, and no one believed a total collapse of Ramirez, Sandoval, and Napoli was incoming, and especially not all three at the same time. (As for Castillo, he seems to be coming around, and now Cherington won't be able to enjoy the best parts of that long-term deal.)
The rotation, though, was a known risk. One with upside, but one that needed and still needs actions taken to correct it. Wade Miley has been the mid-rotation arm the Sox hoped they were getting, with almost 6-2/3 innings per start and an ERA slightly better than the league average since May began, but he is also the rotation's greatest success. Clay Buchholz was wonderful on the mound once more, but also hurt, and that's the sort of thing that should be assumed will occur, just in case it does.
Rick Porcello has been a disaster, and while he's not a lost cause and the Sox can certainly afford his $82.5 million extension, like with Ortiz's early struggles, the early losses of 2015 still exist. Justin Masterson was a worthwhile buy-low candidate given he was healthy, but the stuff just wasn't there anymore. Joe Kelly is still a starting pitcher, which should have been corrected this winter or at least in May, depending on your level of patience. Given all the rotation questions, the bullpen should have been addressed more emphatically: failure to re-sign Andrew Miller sticks out, especially with neither of Koji Uehara or Junichi Tazawa guaranteed to be long-term options.
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Kelly represents the most frustrating aspect of Cherington's tenure, and is part of the reason why someone like Dombrowski, who has such a strong scouting background, was brought on board. Cherington has his own scouting credentials, of course, but Kelly was a serious misstep: we don't know exactly what went down with the Red Sox and John Lackey that caused them to think trading him after trading Jon Lester made the most sense for everyone involved, but that has little to do with the insistence on using Kelly as a starting pitcher in the American League.
Yes, his fastball velocity is impressive, and there are times where his secondaries look good. The command just isn't there, though, and even though the Red Sox just lived through a bunch of younger Joe Kellys they couldn't wait to deal in Anthony Ranaudo, Rubby De La Rosa, and Allen Webster, Kelly was still given a significant role in the rotation that he has yet to fully relinquish. And let's not forget that Allen Craig was attached to that deal, too: it was two significant risks brought in, and their presence cost the Red Sox rotation stabilization.
Travis Shaw carving out a role on the 2016 Sox
Shaw wasn't expected to do much this year, but he's exceeded all of our expectations and could be around for a while.
As with the other negatives, though, that's not all there is to Cherington on scouting. The Red Sox minor-league system was not impressive when Cherington took over, with most of its intriguing parts contained in the lower levels, far from the majors and full of developmental questions. Under Cherington, inherited low-level prospects like Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, and Henry Owens all made the majors, and he also added Eduardo Rodriguez, Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Anderson Espinoza, Andrew Benintendi, Michael Kopech, Michael Chavis, Sam Travis, Brian Johnson, Deven Marrero, and more to the system.
Dave Dombrowski gets to inherit all of this now, which seems perfect for him: as a general manager, he was fearless when it came to trading prospects if it meant the big-league team was better. He's had to makeover far worse rosters in far worse situations than this one in the past. Like Cherington before him with Theo Epstein's Red Sox, Dombrowski is now in charge of a mix of good and bad to make his own.
And like with Cherington and Epstein (and Epstein and Dan Duquette) we shouldn't forget that, when the team gets back on its feet, that credit belongs to Dombrowski's predecessor as well. The 2015 Red Sox look broken, sure, but the Red Sox as a whole are stronger than when Cherington took them over, and that's what Dombrowski will now take control of.
Building a roster is a team effort, and it's a shame that Ben Cherington is no longer part of that team in Boston. He's sure to head off somewhere else by this offseason, put fully in charge of another organization's front office, and will undoubtedly find success again. Even if he somehow does not succeed elsewhere, though, what he left behind in Boston will surely thrive in the near- and long-term future. While he won't be able to take all the credit, not by a long shot, we shouldn't forget just how much of the next great Red Sox team came to be during Ben Cherington's time at the helm.