There were some — fans, media, opposing teams — skeptical about Ben Cherington’s offseason acquisitions, and some who thought Cherington hit it right. The ones who sided on hitting it right, take a bow because Cherington has done just that and time will tell whether he’s hit the jackpot.
The Red Sox general manager on Wednesday trotted out his first-round draft pick, 6-foot-6-inch high school lefthander Trey Ball, the seventh overall selection. It was a huge pick for the Red Sox, who were in the uncommon position of drafting high while being in first place in the American League East. Because of the pitching depth in the organization they were able to take a gamble on a high school pitcher and have the patience to wait for him to develop.
It’s a nice position to be in, as opposed to last season at this time, when organizational confidence was low. What the success since then has done has vindicated all of their moves — from the firing of Bobby Valentine after one year to the hiring of John Farrell, a move that has paid off big time so far.
All the things Cherington didn’t hit on last year, he’s hit on this year. He stuck to his convictions on how to build an organization and now, unless the Red Sox collapse again, it’s going to be a full-season pennant race.
A lot of that, Cherington pointed out, is staying healthy, pitching well, and making in-season adjustments. Cherington has his scouts positioned everywhere around baseball. As the draft has ended, teams now begin their search for trade pieces that will elevate them in the second half. This is where divisional titles and playoff berths are won and lost.
“We’re always trying to get better,” Cherington said. “Overall, the effort has been great. Our players and staff worked really hard every day and we’ve been prepared every night and we’ve come out on the winning end more often than we haven’t. Our guys have put us in a position here in the middle of June to be right in the thick of things.
“The teams that stay on top are going to be the healthiest, have the best starting pitching, make the best in-season adjustments. We’re going to try to do that. Time will tell.”
The Red Sox are in position to upgrade or replace.
As an organization, they are deep at shortstop, catcher, and pitcher, and they have redundancies at some positions. So, they are in perfect position, for example, to acquire someone like Cliff Lee, who has a hefty price tag, but one the Red Sox could afford; acquire a closer like Jonathan Papelbon; and perhaps make a blockbuster deal for someone like Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton.
They are really in position to do something big if they feel that one piece puts them in position to win it all.
“We’re beginning to have those conversations,” Cherington said. “It’s still gathering information and learning about ourselves and what other teams are doing. It’s our job to stay on top of those opportunities. Sometimes there’s a clear hole to fill. And sometimes you try to see if you can upgrade.
“We think we have a strong enough farm system that if it makes sense for us, we can do that and still have a strong farm system at the end of the season. It’s too early to know what opportunities will come our way.”
And there’s always that long-term/short-term dilemma.
“We have to weigh and balance the long term and short terms,”Cherington said. “We have a number of guys in our system that are sought after and have value by other teams. We’re trying to make the right calls, hold on to the core guys as much as we can, but be open-minded.”
While Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Ryan Dempster, and Stephen Drew have all worked out to some degree, the Joel Hanrahan deal didn’t yield the closer they were seeking. Even prior to Hanrahan’s season-ending Tommy John surgery, he was ineffective. The job has gone to Andrew Bailey, and he’s been shaky in an important position.
“With the Hanrahan acquisition, we were trying to add as many options as we could and strengthen the entire bullpen and not just the ninth inning,” said Cherington. “Obviously for Joel and us, that didn’t work out. Thankful we had other guys to step in. [Bailey] has had a couple of tough outings here recently. Overall, he’s had a very solid year. Obviously, everyday players go through slumps, it doesn’t get as noticed much. When a closer goes into a slump it gets a lot of attention. We’re confident he’ll be back on track and close out games.”
If not, Cherington could just stay inside the organization with Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, or the intriguing Andrew Miller.
“Certainly, [Miller] has the stuff [to be a closer]. He hasn’t been in the role yet,” Cherington said. “But confidence is growing and he is executing and getting righthanders out as easy as he gets lefthanders. He has the attributes to pitch at any point in the game. A lot is made of the ninth inning. It’s the last three outs of the game. I’m not trying to diminish the importance of those outs. We need to get outs from the time the starter comes out of the game.”
The injuries to Clay Buchholz and the ineffectivenes of Jon Lester are all things Cherington must deal with in a tight divisional race in which only seven games in the loss column (entering Wednesday night) separates first-place Boston from last-place Toronto.
Cherington also has options at Triple A. Could Xander Bogaerts help the team?
“Once you’re at Triple A you’re either ready to help the big league team or you’re not,” said Cherington. “We’re finding out about the guys at Triple A now — who’s ready and who isn’t. We felt Xander had done enough in Double A to warrant the promotion. We know he’s a threat with the bat. He’s going to take ground balls much like we did with [Jose] Iglesias. He’ll take grounders at second and third just to protect in case of a scenario. That will happen sometime soon.”
Cherington also believes the three-players-for-two-positions on the left side of the infield remains a positive.
“[Farrell] is trying to put those guys in the best position to succeed. We felt we’re a better team with all three of them. It’s a challenge for the players. John has done a good job communicating with them. We need all three of them to be good,” Cherington said.
And Cherington commended the work done by Jarrod Salatalamacchia, another free agent-to-be.
“He has taken a step forward all around,” Cherington said. “Getting feedback from pitchers on the job he’s doing behind the plate managing the game. The respect he’s getting from pitchers and umpires. The improved game-calling. His throwing has improved. More consistent at-bats. The overall game has taken a step forward. He did an unbelievable job [Tuesday] catching 10 hours of baseball, or whatever it was.”
It’s a thumbs-up for Cherington so far.