NEW YORK — Ben Cherington has his own kind of bucket list.
There’s the buyer bucket. There’s the seller bucket. There’s the tweener bucket.
Right now, with the Red Sox getting close to rock bottom, albeit tweaked by the call-up of 21-year-old Mookie Betts, Cherington believes he’s very much in buyer mode and has his scouts deployed to concentrate on 2014, not 2015.
The reason for optimism? The Red Sox have good pitching. And if that is indeed what drives good teams, then the second half could be different than the first.
And right now that’s the way Cherington should proceed.
He shouldn’t cave in to the negativity of the fans or media. He needs to believe there are better days ahead.
“Absolutely,” Cherington said. “The simple thing is we need to score more runs. We’re trying to find every way to do that. If we do, we look at the deficit that we have in the division and in the standings, and we look at the talent we have here and the team we still think we can be, and we see that as a deficit that we can manage.
“But [we’ve] got to get going, too. Everyone knows that. We have to score runs. Hopefully we’re getting closer to giving John [Farrell] more opportunities to create better matchups. If there are other things we can do, we’ll pursue those.”
Cherington said the trade market hasn’t quite developed, citing it was too early for teams to engage. So he needed to do something to ignite the offense, and Betts was the best option right now.
Cherington said internal discussions on Betts had taken place over the last couple of days and intensified following Friday night’s 6-0 loss to the Yankees.
“When a guy is performing at a certain level and doing it the way he’s doing it, controlling the strike zone, performing in all different areas of the game, that guy deserves consideration and we happen to have a need for as many good players as we can get, especially guys who can move around at different positions and cover different spots on the field,” explained Cherington.
There was not much debate in the organization about Betts. Words such as “electrifying” have been used to describe Betts’s at-bats in the minors this year.
“You want to be sure it’s the right time,” Cherington said. “You ask all of the questions you need to ask, but the answers were yes from the minor league staff around him and people here. It seemed like the right thing to do and we’re excited to have him here.”
No one can truly predict how Betts will perform at this level. The Sox’ offensive projections for Jackie Bradley Jr. were off. Xander Bogaerts is now taking his lumps.
“Nobody can predict exactly what will happen but we’re confident that he’s gonna come here and be himself,” Cherington said of Betts. “This will be a great experience for him. He’ll go through his transition like everyone else. We’re at a point we’re looking for as many good players as we can get. He’s one of them, so he’s here.
“It’s a credit to him and what he’s done. It was a little over a year ago we were talking about how good his at-bats were at [low Single A] Greenville, but the numbers hadn’t shown out. He had control of the strike zone, hit the ball hard, but wasn’t getting results.
“I remember talking to staff about how well he was handling that and they were confident the numbers were going to show up and they did. As he got into the season he kept going and hasn’t looked back. He does some things that give him a good chance to come up and be here. He’s one of 13 position players and we need all 13 to perform.”
The Red Sox certainly wondered if the timing was right for Betts. What a fast track this kid has been on.
“I don’t think we can be gun-shy about calling up a young player we believe in,” Cherington said. “We also wouldn’t call someone up who we didn’t feel could be successful right away, and that goes for all of our young guys.”
Cherington indicated the Red Sox would continue to pursue trade opportunities for a hitter. They have roster flexibility because Daniel Nava and Bradley have options. Shane Victorino suffered a setback in his injury rehabilitation (and received an injection to his back), though Cherington believes he will return this season. Cherington sees better days ahead for Bradley.
“We actually think there’s been good signs from Jackie on the road trip,” he said. “His at-bats have looked more competitive. He’s made some adjustments. We’re trying to put the best team out there day in and day out.
“We’ll see where we go. We know we have to get better.”
Cherington is aware of the overall failure of the offense. He’s aware the Sox never replaced Jacoby Ellsbury.
“I think the total results clearly aren’t what we wanted them to be so I take full responsibility for that,” Cherington said. “It’s hard to assign that to any particular player or decision. It’s the sum of everything that’s gone on. We’re trying to make it better. We don’t expect to replace one for one but replace the overall production and still win. We have to find a way to do that.”
He’s the GM of the defending World Series champions. Some fans may have given up on the season, but Cherington can’t and shouldn’t. The Red Sox’ next 81 games could be far better than the first 81.
Cherington indicated that if the improvement he expects doesn’t manifest, there may come a time to switch to the seller bucket.
The tweener bucket could also be in play. Guys like Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy could go no matter which bucket Cherington dips into, just to break up a pitching logjam that has resulted in the demotion of Rubby De La Rosa, who has been one of the Sox’ best starters.
“We’re looking realistically at where we are and it’s not where we want to be,” Cherington said. “The deficit is something we can overcome. We feel we can be a good team this year so that’s what we’re concentrating on. If that picture changes, it changes, but that’s not where we are right now.”
Good for Cherington for not giving up.
His words send a positive message to the team. The Red Sox have very good pitching. The team chemistry is still good.
Nobody is pointing fingers. It’s not like 2012, when the pitching and chemistry were bad and there was no hope.
So there’s only one bucket in play right now. It’s the buyer bucket. And right now that’s the only bucket on Cherington’s list.