ST. LOUIS — After the Red Sox traded Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett in late August of 2012 and shed themselves of all of those key players and that money, the pressure was all on Ben Cherington.
The general manager put together a plan, executed it perfectly, and created a World Series champion team in 2013.
Well guess what? It didn’t take long for Cherington to find himself in a similar position.
Will he hit 1.000 again? Will he prove that rebuilding isn’t hard to do?
As Cherington now looks over a team lacking many of the players from the 2013 squad, the magnitude of his job from now until spring training is obvious.
He has to rebuild four-fifths of the starting rotation that won it all. He again has to piece together the bullpen. He must evaluate younger players — projecting them either in or out of the discussion for the start of 2015.
He has to factor in the injuries to Shane Victorino and Allen Craig and determine whether they will be healthy enough to have roles.
Although Cherington doesn’t believe the young player logjam is a major issue yet, what does he do with Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Devin Marrero, Brock Holt, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, Brandon Workman, and Henry Owens?
Whom do you commit to? Which youngsters will make it in 2015 and how many can you have on one team? Cherington found out the hard way this season that breaking in too many young players at once can be difficult.
Bogaerts and Bradley didn’t play well enough to stay in the majors under other circumstances, but they stuck because commitments were made to them and the Red Sox didn’t have enough to replace them. So the Sox bit the bullet and wound up with two inferior offensive players at key positions. Bogaerts has struggled at both shortstop and third base; the saving grace has been Bradley’s stellar defense in center.
Cherington already has revamped the corner outfield spots with Craig and Yoenis Cespedes. The GM indicated Wednesday that he sees no long-term injury to Craig, who hurt his foot in his first Red Sox game and was placed on the 15-day disabled list.
“Right now we’re going to use the next several weeks to find out about the guys we have,” Cherington said. “We have 8-10 young starting pitchers who are here, at Triple A, and Double A. We have guys who we feel will be major league starters. It doesn’t mean they’ll be ready by next year. We’re going to try and learn as much as we can about this group. In the offseason I’m sure we’ll look at starting pitching alternatives, whether it’s free agents or trades, and see what’s available to us. But we need guys in the organization to step up. We know some will and some won’t.”
With the trade of Jon Lester, Cherington doesn’t feel pressure to replace him with another ace.
“It’s nice to have an ace at top of rotation, but you can be good in different ways,” he said. “We’ve had really good teams without that. There have been teams that are contenders and in the playoffs that don’t have that.”
He’s right about that. The Angels have a good starting rotation but no real ace. The Orioles don’t have an ace. The Braves don’t have an ace. Nor do the Brewers.
The Red Sox will have one of the first few picks on a waiver claim because of their poor record. They possibly could claim Cole Hamels and try to swing a deal with the Phillies.
“We’ll certainly stay active in August and see what’s out there,” Cherington said. “There’s nothing on the front burner right now.”
The GM, who met with his coaching staff Tuesday to map out a plan for the young players, is confident Clay Buchholz will turn it around.
“He needs to be a piece of the puzzle and not necessarily the whole puzzle,” Cherington said. “He’s turned it around before. He’s healthy. The results are not what he wants nor what we expect from him. He’s not going to wake up tomorrow and it’s all better. He’s got to continue to work and get on the right track the rest of this offseason. We expect him to be part of the rotation next year.”
Cherington added, “I think we have a good handle on the reason he’s not having as much success. The feel for the secondary pitches is not where it has been in the past. He’s always gotten hitters out with his entire mix. He’s never been a fastball-dominant pitcher or relying exclusively on one pitch. He hasn’t had a feel for the entire mix. Why? That’s what we have to find out. Obviously we haven’t been able to snap our fingers and fix it. He’s going to be better again. I don’t know if that going to be tomorrow, a week from now, or a month from now, but he’ll be better again.”
Cherington also quashed the theory that Craig was damaged goods when the Sox acquired him.
“The long term prognosis is very good,” he said. “There are no long-term concerns of whether he’s going to be able to play. We just don’t want to put him in a position to compromise it in any way. He doesn’t feel like he’s that far away from playing. We’re managing a new case with a new player so we want to go through all of that before we make a decision. No red flags in the long term. We had access to [medical records] on everything.”
Cherington was not sure if Owens would come up to the majors. He said he’d rather see Owens lead Pawtucket into the playoffs and see that through. The GM said Betts likely would stay in the outfield, though there have been rumblings about him taking some grounders at shortstop.
Cherington said if he believes a younger player is getting short-changed of playing time, he likely would be sent back to Pawtucket. But he said manager John Farrell is going to try and rotate players in and out of the lineup to make sure everyone gets time.
It’s audition time for so many of these young players. The Red Sox probably hoped there would have been more of a staggered situation with the prospects, but they all seem to be ready at once.
Cherington can use some as chips in trades, as he has redundant players. Middlebrooks, Garin Cecchini, Holt, and Bogaerts all can play third. Bogaerts, Marrero, and Holt can play shortstop. Betts, Holt, and Bradley Jr. all can play the outfield. And when Victorino returns in spring training from back surgery, where’s he going to play?
Cherington added Ryan Dempster to the staff after 2012. He added Koji Uehara to the bullpen. But this time he probably needs two fairly significant pitchers to fill in the rotation. He may have to deal for one and sign another.
What happened in 2013 really showed what can occur when a GM is effective and visionary. And Cherington now has a successful track record. His first moves at this season’s deadline to improve Boston’s terrible offense have met with rave reviews in baseball.
But it’s the evaluations, the decisions, and the transactions to come that will make or break Cherington and the Red Sox in 2015.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.