Eight years after helping to assemble what he terms the “magical collection of players and personalities’’ who became 2004 world champions, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said candidly he believes the front office in recent years strayed from its successful team-building model. Now it’s his charge to restore it, right the course of a franchise that just last week wrapped up its worst season (69-93) in a half-century.
“I hate to use this word, because it gets thrown around so cavalierly, but I don’t think we were disciplined enough,’’ said Cherington, zeroing in on what went wrong with the club after winning its most recent championship in 2007. “I don’t think we were disciplined enough getting past, or continuing what we had done to build those teams in 2007 and 2008. I think we got away from some of our core values — and there were reasons.’’
In an hourlong interview earlier this week with the Globe as he enters his second year on the job, Cherington repeatedly noted the club’s failure to maintain its model of acquiring valued veterans — the likes of Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, and Curt Schilling — and blending them in with some of the club’s brightest young prospects over the years such as Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis for what proved to be a wildly successful, championship formula.
“When we have been really good we have found the right veteran players,’’ Cherington said, “guys who have fit Boston and fit what we are trying to do at the major league level, and we have been able to integrate the right young players in with them to create a team, and played together as a team.”
It’s that blend of experience, swagger, and youthful enthusiasm that the 38-year-old Cherington hopes to infuse again in a club that finds itself in desperate need of a reset following its historic collapse of September 2011 and near-slapstick failures of this season.
While a tested, edgy Red Sox Nation impatiently awaits the fix, Cherington and crew are working on ways to make it happen.
■ ■ Interviews to hire the next manager in the wake of Bobby Valentine’s dismissal last week are scheduled to begin Friday. The list of prospects is lengthy, noted Cherington, and he expects the club will interview but a handful.
“I can tell a manager that he is going to have a terrific opportunity to be part of building something in Boston,’’ said Cherington, “and when we do that, and when things are going well, this is a fantastic place to be — there’s no better place to be.’’
■ A rehabbed John Lackey, who sat out the 2012 season following Tommy John elbow surgery, will be counted on as one of the five starting pitchers. Cherington said he also will explore the free agent and trade markets to add at least another starter to the mix, acknowledging again his failure last winter as a rookie GM to provide sufficient pitching.
“Lackey will be pitching in 2013 healthy for the first time in a while — clearly he was pitching hurt in 2011,’’ said Cherington, the Amherst alum and ex-Lord Jeffs pitcher. “He may have been pitching hurt in 2010, too.’’
■ Lineup spots will await David Ortiz and Cody Ross, provided both free agents like the amount of money they’re offered. Cherington said he wants them back, and is continuing to talk with both about new contracts. Cherington said he also expects to approach Jacoby Ellsbury about a contract extension beyond the 2013 season.
The season may have ended less than two weeks ago, but in Cherington’s day planner, the rebuilding began on Aug. 25, the day he shipped some $250 million in salary to the Dodgers in Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto.
Oft-criticized by the media for his deliberate, slow-to-react ways, Cherington orchestrated the biggest dollar dump in the game’s history, leaving him with a 2013 payroll of some $50 million and at least twice that sum in available funds to fill out the roster.
“I suppose for a time there I did not react and was patient,’’ said Cherington, reflecting on criticism in the weeks and months leading to the deal with the Dodgers. “But it came at a time that it was clear there was a deal to be made, and we didn’t waste any time. And I mean ownership, too. As soon as there was a deal we liked, we pounced on it.
“There have been times when I’ve looked back on my decisions, not just as GM, but previous to that, there were times when I felt like I reacted too quickly and made a mistake, and other times when, sure, I’ve been patient and it’s led to a good decision,’’ he said. “Ultimately, all that matters to me is that the decisions we are making are the right ones.’’
When discussing past deals, Cherington has what he terms “an allergy’’ to discussing them in detail.
“Not because I’m not willing to take responsibility for a particular decision. In fact, I like to be the first to do that, [because] I am sort of the constant,’’ he said, laughing in part because he was hired here by then-GM Dan Duquette, which means he predates even the John Henry ownership group. “I was here for the decisions in ’09, ’10, and ’11, and I was right here as GM last season when we didn’t get everything right. So I put myself right in the middle of it.’’
Cherington had his thumbprints on the Crawford contract that backfired so badly, although Theo Epstein was the GM who cut the deal. Crawford, injured and ineffective, turned out to be the showcase example of bringing in a veteran who did not help perpetuate success.
‘’I can tell you that there is no one who worked harder to make it work in Boston than Carl Crawford.’’ said Cherington. ‘’I would bet on him moving forward. He was a great player once and he’ll be a great player again.’’
In one of his first moves to help a bullpen that lost closer Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies, Cherington swapped Josh Reddick to the Athletics for closer Andrew Bailey. Not only did Bailey struggle because of injury, but Reddick, projected as a spare part here, turned in an impressive 32 homers and 85 RBIs in 156 regular-season games with Oakland.
Is there a lesson in the deal?
“I think the lessons are, simply, you look back,’’ said Cherington. “If there are ways to fill a hole and find a solution for a team where you’re not giving up talent, or not giving up much talent, then that’s always optimal. Reddick’s had a good year. Give the A’s credit for recognizing that.’’
And of course there was the hiring of Valentine, a move few believe was fully endorsed by Cherington.
“I believe we both made a really good effort to make it work,’’ said Cherington, again opting not to answer whether Valentine was his pick. “If we are truly moving forward, and if we truly are talking about a fresh start, and truly talking about building the next team, we felt we needed to start in that office, too.’’
The Yawkey Way renaissance is underway. A couple of veterans here, a rookie or two there, a new manager with some pluck and strum, and maybe Cherington gets it all back to bountiful.
“I know we will be better next year than we were this year,’’ he said, when asked how fast he can turn it all around. “We’ll work our tails off . . . there is no one offseason road map to building a perfect team. We’ve just got to try to make the right decisions.’’