BALTIMORE — Ben Cherington said he was not “manipulated” by the media or pressured to sign Stephen Drew, and he said he would do it all over again.
Cherington doesn’t care about criticism directed at him, but he does care about the unfairness of judging a player — who helped the Red Sox win a championship — after four games.
Baseball’s executive of the year has been ridiculed for re-signing a player he felt he needed and moving Xander Bogaerts to third base. Bogaerts, a 21-year-old star in the making, had defensive metrics that were among the worst in the majors for a shortstop.
“I was really surprised to see that today,” Cherington said concerning the “manipulation” comment that was tweeted by Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons. “We know Stephen Drew really well. We signed Stephen Drew because I made a recommendation to ownership to sign Stephen Drew.
“And it came about because we’ve been talking internally for a little while. And then on a Friday our third baseman [Will Middlebrooks] got hurt. Based on our medical information, we knew it was going to be a good amount of time. I felt like where [Drew] was physically at the time of the signing that it wouldn’t take him a long time to help our team,” Cherington said.
“There’s a difference between being at maximum capacity, or at full speed, and having that perfect timing and all that. We felt like Stephen made us a more complete roster, even if he was working on some things. We signed him with the understanding that he would be on the team as soon as he could. We also knew we had to manage his playing time. All the reasons we signed him are still in place. We’ll see how it works out.”
Cherington also said if the Sox didn’t sign Drew to a fair contract based on the qualifying offer Drew turned down, they would have had to make a deal with another team and give up talent.
“We were 20-20 and scratching and clawing for every win, but we were at least in the mix,” he said. “If there was an area of the team that we wanted to add depth to it was the left side of the infield. It wasn’t a reflection of the guys we had here, we just wanted as many good players as possible for every position.
“Drew was still out there. If we didn’t sign him, we would put ourselves in a position to have to make a trade at some point, give up talent to address an area of need. So we had a guy who we trust, who we like, he’s a trusted player who had been there and done that so we did it. I would make that recommendation again,” Cherington said.
Cherington needs to do more and he knows that. He doesn’t feel other teams are ready to engage in trade talks yet, and he said the team has the resources to make a deal.
“We’re fortunate we have a lot of support from ownership and fans [that] if there’s a deal that makes sense, we can do it,” he said.
There is a caveat: The Red Sox must show they can stay close.
“We have to stay in it and [be] close enough,’’ Cherington said. “If we do that, I’m betting on a core group of players that would motivate us to make improvement if we could. It looks like there are a couple of teams that have a bunch of wins — a huge scrum in the middle. We’re not that far from that huge scrum in the middle. If we can stay in that huge scrum, we’re going to be motivated. We have to give ourselves every chance to win.”
Cherington didn’t know what to make of the Phillies scouting the Red Sox the past seven series. But it seems obvious the Phillies are gearing up for a major fire sale if they continue to be out of the race and they know Boston has a lot of chips they’d like if players such as Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels becomes available.
Cherington certainly has a lot on his plate. He has to deal with a slumping team and the criticism of Drew. Hanging over him is Jon Lester’s contract negotiations, which he said he would like to revisit.
He’s also had to respond to talk that John Lackey might retire (as told to Fox’s Ken Rosenthal) rather than play for the minimum salary as his contract states next season.
Cherington says he has the go-ahead from ownership to make deals that will help get the team back into the hunt.
And part of that was signing Drew, will likely help the Red Sox as he did last season, when he provided tremendous defense, hit in the clutch, and hit righthanded pitching. He gives them a dependable major league player at the toughest position on the field.
After helping to construct three World Series teams, Cherington still has to hear and endure the static of the restless Red Sox fans, who still don’t seem to understand why Drew was such an important cog on a championship team.