One of the most tumultuous periods in Red Sox history will come to an end this afternoon when Ben Cherington is named general manager.
A 37-year-old New Hampshire native who started with the organization as an amateur scout in 1999, Cherington is expected to lay out his plans for hiring a new manager, ending clubhouse misbehavior, and returning the team to the postseason after consecutive third-place finishes in the AL East.
Cherington takes over for Theo Epstein, who today will be introduced in Chicago as the president of baseball operations with the Cubs.
It is expected that Cherington will name vice president of player development and amateur scouting Mike Hazen as his top assistant.
The news conference at Fenway Park will be the first step in turning the page on an embarrassing chapter in team history.
The Red Sox blew a nine-game lead in the AL wild-card race, going 7-20 in September. Manager Terry Francona fled the scene two days after the season ended, quitting his post of eight years before owner John Henry could fire him.
Francona said poor team chemistry led to the collapse and his resignation. Further investigation revealed that pitchers were drinking beer in the clubhouse during games, veteran players were interested mostly in self-preservation, and that Francona was beset with personal issues.
Epstein followed Francona out the door less than two weeks later, accepting a five-year, $18.5 million deal with the Cubs.
The days since have included confessional interviews by some players, angry denials by others, and the launching of an investigation by Major League Baseball into the clubhouse drinking.
Instead of playing in the World Series this week, which many expected would be the case, the Sox have become a soap opera. The team was even unable to come to terms on compensation with the Cubs for Epstein, finally agreeing to table the issue and allowing Epstein to resign late Friday night.
Enter Cherington, a quiet-but-determined executive whose immediate task will be to soothe the frayed nerves of fans.
In an op-ed piece published in today’s Globe, Epstein wrote that his plans were to leave the Sox after the 2012 season and groom Cherington to succeed him. But that changed when the Cubs offered him the kind of challenge he was seeking.
Epstein wrote that he was torn about leaving in the wake of the collapse but felt Cherington was ready to take over.
“September was a wake-up call to those of us in management as well; there are plans to raise standards in several areas, and Ben will work hard with the new manager to ensure those standards are met,’’ Epstein wrote.
“If not for the complete confidence I have in Ben to address these issues, I could not in good conscience leave the organization at this time. But there is no one in baseball more qualified to be the next general manager of the Red Sox.
“Ben is infinitely more prepared than I was when I took over nine years ago. He’s been an area scout, an international scout, an advance scout, a farm director, and he’s supervised drafts. Ben is honest and insightful, fearless and friendly - and he is ready to lead this organization forward.’’
Cherington and Epstein face a Nov. 1 deadline to negotiate compensation for Epstein leaving the Sox with a year remaining on his contract. They also could compete for the same managerial candidate in John Farrell.
Farrell was the Sox pitching coach for four seasons before going to manage the Blue Jays. The Sox had hoped he one day would succeed Francona.
Farrell, who was 81-81 in his first season in Toronto, has told reporters in Canada that he is focused on the Blue Jays. But he did not squash the idea of managing the Sox.
If Epstein fires Cubs manager Mike Quade, Farrell would be high on his list of possible replacements.
If Farrell elects to stay in Toronto, candidates to replace Francona could include Dale Sveum, Tim Wallach, Dave Martinez, and Mike Maddux.