Ben Cherington hit .400, won the Triple Crown for general managers, and then won the World Series.
He picked the right manager, the right players, and still had an eye for the future. He traded only redundant players, such as Jose Iglesias in a three-way deal for Jake Peavy, knowing he had Xander Bogaerts.
Cherington deserved the bucket of champagne, let alone the bottle, as the architect of the 2013 World Series champions.
“He did an outstanding job and he’s a great human being,” said Sox chairman Tom Werner.
Other GMs inherit some and add some, but Cherington had his hands all over this season. From the core players who came here or were drafted while he was the farm director or an executive, such as Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz, to the seven free agents he signed last offseason, all of whom performed some magic, some small miracle en route to a dream season.
Cherington should get the majority of the credit pie, really from the Aug. 25, 2012, deal that sent poisonous players Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers and dumped $264 million in future salaries in the process, while acquiring big arms in Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa. Cherington used the money as wisely as any GM has in years.
“It was the first step,” Cherington said. “When we made the deal it wasn’t so much the trading of the guys, but it was just a recognition of the fact that what we had wasn’t working. It allowed us to reshape it. You can do that in small ways or you can do it in big ways. The guys we brought in came together.”
The deal was done in large part from the ownership level, but Cherington worked out the compensation from the Dodgers.
The rest of the credit pie should go to the manager, John Farrell, and the players who performed so consistently from the first day of the season through the last. So, give Cherington 51 percent, give Farrell 25 percent, and give the players the other 24 percent. Divide it any way you want, but Cherington should get the majority.
Without obtaining the right players, none of this would have happened.
“Ben did an outstanding job and I was rooting for them through the postseason,” Cubs president Theo Epstein wrote in a text a few days ago.
Cherington tossed aside some of the numbers and metrics, and stressed chemistry and good-value players who had been through baseball battles and who had something to contribute.
Cherington’s staff, under fire last season, did its homework, and the work got them Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Koji Uehara, Shane Victorino, David Ross, and Ryan Dempster.
He wanted a second center fielder in right, and Victorino produced a Gold Glove, not to mention clutch hitting in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series when he hit a grand slam, and Wednesday night when he hit a three-run double to basically win it in the third inning.
Cherington wanted a spirited chemistry guy, a veteran leader in the clubhouse, and someone in the outfield who could hit lefthanders. He brought in Gomes.
He wanted stability at shortstop, and while Bogaerts and Iglesias developed, Drew more than fit the bill.
He wanted to stabilize the catching from a defensive standpoint, find that Jason Varitek type who could calm down a pitching staff. He brought in Ross.
He wanted a late-inning reliever who threw strikes and who would be a bridge to his closer. He brought in Uehara, who was not only a very good setup man, but proved to be a great closer.
He wanted a righthanded power bat in the middle of the order. He brought in Napoli and then had to rework a three-year, $39 million deal into a one-year, $5 million pact with $8 million in incentives after a physical detected a degenerative hip condition that turned out never to be a factor.
He needed a veteran starting pitcher who would be a good influence on Lester and Buchholz and be a good clubhouse presence. He brought in Dempster.
Daniel Nava continued to blossom.
Cherington picked up Mike Carp, who had been designated for assignment, and Carp became a force off the bench. We forget that Cherington also signed Lyle Overbay, who exercised his release at the end of spring training and went on to have a nice season with the Yankees.
And he survived losing two closers — Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey — but came up roses with Uehara.
“When you’re around it you feel the group coming together,” Cherington said. “I don’t have any doubt it’s valuable. I just don’t know how to engineer it.”
But it was textbook chemistry and Cherington was the professor.
Other than some of Brian Sabean’s brilliant in-season moves (Cody Ross and Marco Scutaro) that brought him two championships with the Giants, you’d be hard-pressed to find a GM who performed better in any season.
Cherington may never do this again, but the fact is he’s also got a farm system that will yield future stars or can be used to make significant deals.
Cherington will have his hands full this offseason, and this team may look significantly different next season. But that’s a story for another day, long after the glow of the team’s third championship in the 21st century, all of which Cherington has been a part of.
While the perception is Bobby Valentine was forced on him, Cherington was able to decide to fire him and deal for Farrell, the manager he wanted all along. He allowed Farrell to name his coaching staff and continue pretty much what Terry Francona had done with the team prior to the September 2011 collapse.
Cherington cleared out the poisonous players. And then he watched it. Maybe it wasn’t completely like he mapped it out, but close, real close.
“Once we got into the season you don’t know what the outcome was going to be, but this was a different group of people,” said Cherington. “They were completely selfless. It was a lot of fun to be around. It’ll sink in two weeks from now.”
He combined the desire to prove everyone wrong, the players with chips on their shoulders, with some new chemistry. He hit the jackpot.
“I don’t have the answer as to how it came together but we had a group of guys, a combination of guys returning who were so motivated and weren’t happy with the way things went,” Cherington said. “They wanted to prove that’s not who they were. We had a group that completely got it. It meshed so easily in spring training. I can’t compare it to anything else.”
And Cherington was motivated, too. “We earned the scrutiny and criticism, and I’m happy for the [baseball operations] group that lived through that,” he said.
The pie was sliced last night. The players and manager shared.
The first and biggest piece, however, was cut for Cherington.