With the Red Sox falling to pieces for the second straight season, there have been no few calls for the end of the Ben Cherington era. Where the failures of 2012 seemed less his fault than Theo Epstein's, and those of 2014 were less about bad decisions rather than the absence of good ones (and, frankly, an unfortunate free agent market ill-suited to fill Boston's needs), those combined with the disaster that is the last offseason have proved enough to outweigh the World Series win and turn the ever-vocal Red Sox fanbase against him.
The thing is, some of Ben Cherington's worst failures are exactly why the Red Sox should want to keep him around. In 2012, faced with no money to fix a broken Red Sox team, Cherington attempted to move Daniel Bard to the rotation and find his closer elsewhere. In 2015, with plenty of rotation spots to fill but not wanting to meet the market for the top arms, he went all-in on a ground ball strategy. Bard, of course, failed miserably as a starter. Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, and Joe Kelly proved entirely incapable of producing ground balls, much less outs, despite their past results.
But if both experiments failed in dramatic fashion, Cherington actually should be credited simply for trying. In 2012, that was pretty much the only way the Red Sox were going to even have a chance to compete. They needed a miracle with their financial situation being so restrictive that they actually had to deal Marco Scutaro for salary relief, so Cherington went and found the route which might produce one. This past offseason did not require a miracle, but split between spending on offense and spending on pitching, Cherington elected to put his money in the field where the system is harder to game, hoping that synergy could make up for the lack of outright talent on the mound.
These are interesting ideas, and that's one of the biggest things Cherington brings to the table. In many ways, the same approach is what won them a World Series in 2013. Bet on a bunch of underperforming players with a history of production. If they bounce back, we'll enjoy a nice surprise in October. If not, so be it, the contracts aren't terribly damaging and the Sox weren't expected to win it all anyways. An experiment with big upside and downside largely limited to the year at hand.
The problem perhaps comes in a lack of restraint. When Hanley Ramirez made himself available for a seemingly bargain price, ostensibly to play with David Ortiz, did Cherington need someone there to hold him back? Perhaps not, but when it was clear they could also land Pablo Sandoval, forcing Ramirez into a position we have to assume the Red Sox had no reason to believe he could handle (given that, y'know, he clearly can't)? Certainly we wish someone had been there to keep the great, arguably unnecessary experiment that followed from happening.
Even with Boston's payroll, it's difficult to get by in this game with purely straightforward moves. Eventually the contracts start stacking up, the minor league talent diminishes as draft picks and bonus pools drop, and all those expected years of overpaid underperformance at the back end of the largest contracts weigh a team down, assuming said team does not have access to the magical fountain of youth as with the Yankees.
That's where someone like Ben Cherington thrives. In finding the angles that might otherwise be unexplored and unexploited. He brings a certain go-for-the-throat nature, too, which pushes the team to try to win 90 at the risk of losing 90 rather than playing it safe for a more guaranteed 82-80. It's that kind of thinking which, played out long enough, probably wins more World Series, even if it also produces more years like this, 2014, and 2012.
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But if Cherington has his positives, he obviously has his negatives as well. Whether it's his more outlandish ideas, or simply player evaluation, the front office as it's currently constructed has too often put their faith in the wrong players, or in this most recent season, over-invested in one of their grand strategies where a simpler option actually was available (say, not signing Pablo Sandoval and sticking Hanley Ramirez at third).
If Cherington is the brash young dreamer with big ideas this organization needed desperately in 2012 when most hope seemed lost, now that they've found themselves well-stocked with young players and, even with Sandoval, Porcello, and Ramirez, relatively fluid in terms of finances, this is a franchise in need of nothing so much as a boring steady hand to keep the crazier ideas in check.
Is that Dave Dombrowski, recently allowed to leave Detroit in search of different job opportunities? Maybe, maybe not. His is the "exciting" name, but really all the Red Sox need is a pretty run-of-the-mill decision maker with some evaluation skills to their name. They don't need a Billy Beane--though they'll probably take one. They just need to avoid the Jim Bowden's and Kenny Williams of the world who would drive the team into the deepest, darkest pits.
Seriously, Cafardo, what on Earth?