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Is Ben Cherington the Executive of the Year?

Ben Cherington was out of baseball until he signed on with the Jays last week. And yet he might have as good a case as anyone for the Executive of the Year Award.

Well, this is awkward.

Some 13 months after hiring Dave Dombrowski and effectively pushing Ben Cherington out in the process, the Red Sox are in first place in the East by four games with far-and-away the best run differential in the American League. It’s a season that should justify ownership’s decision to move on from the inventive Cherington to the more by-the-books Dombrowski.

And yet...the Red Sox are doing this with big help from a first baseman who Cherington signed, and a Cy Young candidate who Dombrowski traded to Cherington before 2015. Cherington is the guy who held onto Mookie Betts when he might have been a one-year wonder prospect rather than using him as just a piece in trying to restock ahead of 2014, and kept Jackie Bradley Jr. despite his struggles. He drafted Andrew Benintendi, and traded for Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriuez. His fingerprints are all over this team.

This isn’t to disparage Dombrowski. David Price might be playing second-fiddle to Rick Porcello this year, but he’s come around nicely later in the season, and I’m sure everyone’s quite happy to have him around now that the Red Sox seem to be headed to October. The Carson Smith trade hasn’t paid dividends just yet, but it certainly hasn’t cost them either, and seems likely to come through in years to come. The Ziegler trade was great, the Chris Young signing quietly perfect, the Sandy Leon addition remarkably successful, and the 2016 draft looks like quite the haul at the moment. It’s also worth noting that he didn’t do to Boston’s young core what so many accused him of before he so much as discussed any trades.

This also isn’t to whitewash Cherington’s mistakes, of which there were many. Hanley in left field was an unmitigated disaster, and may have contributed to some of his offensive struggles earlier in the season given that late-season Ramirez is suspiciously similar to pre-injury Ramirez in 2015. Porcello might well have had an easier time in his debut season with the Red Sox, too, if the left side of the field weren’t such a defensive disaster. And speaking of that left side, well, there’s a whole bunch of money still tied up in Pablo Sandoval and Rusney Castillo.

But it’s hard to look at this team and not see, by-and-large, Cherington’s Red Sox. If 2013 was an inspired short-term triumph, 2016 is the culmination of his long-term plan, even if he’s not in Boston to see it come to fruition.

If the calls for Ben Cherington to win his second Executive of the Year Award (of the Sporting News variety) have always been made at least part in jest, it's really not the most ridiculous of suggestions. But it's also not the most fair, either. In a winning season, the front office's good moves always shine through brighter than their bad ones. That's doubly true for Cherington since his worst mistakes have been all but jettisoned from the team since Dombrowski arrived. Meanwhile, he hasn't had the opportunity to screw up again. It's much easier to look good when you've got someone else painting over your biggest errors and taking all the risk for the new solutions.

Still, if Cherigton won't be winning any awards for the 2016 Red Sox, and probably shouldn't be, it's clear that he deserves a lot of the credit for Boston's successful season. And the thing is, with so much of Boston's best players under team control for years to come, there's every chance we'll be saying the thing in 2017 and beyond.