NEW YORK — Ben Cherington is stressing the “can’t have too many good players” theme, and he’s not stressed about where all of the organization’s center fielders will play.
The Red Sox general manager, who spoke on a variety of topics before the Sox and Yankees squared off in the second game of their series at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night, would rather stockpile talent now and sort it out later. But at some point he will have to sort it out.
Cherington believes he has three major league caliber center fielders in Cuban defector Rusney Castillo, 21-year-old Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr., who struggled in his rookie season. Cherington indicated that Bradley will be back in the majors after Pawtucket’s season is over (although top pitching prospect Henry Owens will not, according to Cherington).
Bradley never made adjustments to a swing that is characterized as “long” by evaluators. That ultimately got Bradley demoted Aug. 18.
“The decision to send him down was based on our feeling at the time that he needed to develop a routine that worked for him, and it was going to be easier for him to do that in Pawtucket,” Cherington said. “I know that every player is going to respond differently to guidance. We know that Jackie has had a ton of success in his life as a baseball player. It hasn’t come as quickly for him, at least on the offensive side, at the major league level, and that’s not easy for a guy to deal with.”
Cherington said it wasn’t because Bradley didn’t work hard enough on his swing.
“There’s never been an issue from the Red Sox’ perspective of whether he’s willing to work or whether he cares — anything like that," he said. “We’re trying to find the right way to reach every player, including Jackie, and then the player has to have a responsibility, too. That’s a relationship that we strive to reach. We want to build a good, functional relationship with any player. And if one is struggling it means we still have to work on that . . . but it had nothing to do with sending him down to Pawtucket.”
But Cherington did say Bradley needed to modify his routine and his work to better adjust to the majors.
“On the one hand, there is work, and then there is finding a way to excel and finding what works for you and what works for a player to excel at the major league level,” the GM said. “Jackie has a routine that has worked for him to this point. And now he just has to find the way for him to be a little bit more successful offensively at the major league level.”
The attention is on Castillo, who will play a five-game, first-round playoff series for Double A Portland. Cherington said that “barring something unforeseen,” Castillo would play for the major league team this month.
“What we want to do is try to maximize the number of at-bats he gets and sort of balance that with the transition back to playing, so maybe there will even be offdays mixed in,” Cherington said. “It’s been a while since he’s had a lot of game activity. He needs at-bats.”
Castillo didn’t exactly dominate Gulf Coast League pitching in his first two games. He went 1 for 5 with a single and a bases-loaded walk. He had no chances in the outfield, so there was no indication of what type of fielder he could be, other than the fact that he played shallow, meaning he had confidence in his speed to run for a ball over his head.
“He’s working hard, attitude has been great, soaking stuff in,” said Cherington. “We’re more interested in watching him integrate into the daily routine and get comfortable with things we’re asking him, and he’s done that very quickly.”
As for Betts, Cherington didn’t see any drastic position change in the offing. He thought Betts would finish off this season as a center fielder and then there might be an offseason conversation about his future. The reason nothing’s been said is because the team hasn’t seen Castillo perform yet. It would be premature to say Betts will be moved back to the infield, say to third base. But a lot can happen between now and spring training, including a deal that could involve Betts.
Cherington was asked if any of the coaching staff would pay the price for a poor season.
“No matter what the year, there’s an appropriate conversation to have at the end of the year about the staff,” he said. “I want to talk to [manager] John [Farrell], and we want to collectively talk to the coaches to get a feel for where everyone is. I can tell you that I feel like our coaching staff is a strength in the organization. It’s the same group that was a part of great success last year, and I don’t see any reason why our coaching staff can’t be part of a lot of success moving forward.”
It appears that bench coach Torey Lovullo will get consideration for the managing job in Houston, though no permission has been sought by the Astros to speak to Lovullo yet. If he gets the job, Farrell will have to hire a new bench coach.
Cherington reiterated his desire to keep Koji Uehara in the closer role.
Uehara has allowed runs in four of his last five appearances, and he allowed three inherited runners to score the lone time he didn't allow a run during that stretch. He’s surrendered eight runs on a dozen hits in his last 4⅓ innings.
“He’s certainly someone we’d like to have,” Cherington said. “He’s obviously set a very high bar. He could come off that bar and still be good. He’s obviously been a huge part of our success last year and our team this year.”
Cherington said the pitching staff will be made up mostly of pitchers currently on the team, but he is open to obtaining more starting pitching. He has positive vibes about where Clay Buchholz’s season is going and how well Joe Kelly has pitched. He seemed nonchalant about whether he would acquire a No. 1 starter, but he’s not about to give away Boston’s offseason strategy, either.
The whole world knows he needs one, maybe two, starters, just like the Rangers, the Yankees, and the Blue Jays do.
And everyone knows that who is playing center field will be the least of the Red Sox’ problems in 2015 unless they get two front-line starters.