Regime change invariably resembles an exercise in training a child to cross the street: Look both ways before crossing.
The ceremonial two-press conference transition from Ben Cherington as Red Sox general manager to Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations that took place on Wednesday at Fenway Park represented an exercise in looking both to the past and the future. That’s not only reasonable but essential, in that the organizational pivot resulted from the abject on-field failure of the past two years and a belief that there is a better way going forward under Dombrowski.
Of course, from Dombrowski’s vantage point, much of the promise of what looms going forward stems from what Cherington leaves behind. Dombrowski gushed about the young talent that the Red Sox possess, a group cultivated and fiercely protected by Cherington.
Dombrowski suggested that the Red Sox have a pitcher who looks like a future No. 1 in Eduardo Rodriguez. He said the team won’t need a shortstop for years thanks to Xander Bogaerts. He described centerfield as being on lock for some time (presumably thanks to Mookie Betts, though Dombrowski’s mention of the promise shown when the trio of Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Rusney Castillo is on the field together proved noteworthy), even as he noted that there are other impressive centerfielders in the minor leagues. He noted that the team “[doesn’t] need another catcher with [Blake] Swihart.”
And he expressed excitement about being armed with a top farm system, the likes of which he did not possess in Detroit, in part because he faced a perennial win-now “pedal to the metal” mandate from his owner that prioritized trading prospects over retaining them.
In other words, a significant amount of the appeal of the Red Sox for Dombrowski was the infrastructure constructed by Cherington and the members of the baseball operations department who attended both the introduction of their new boss and the parting words of their former one. With the right moves on the big league surface, it’s not hard to envision that the Red Sox aren’t that far from sustainable contention.
Of course, that was always Cherington’s vision. As Tim Britton notes, Cherington’s tenure truly began on August 25, 2012, when the completion of the blockbuster deal with the Dodgers led him to pronounce a new defining purpose for the organization: The construction of the next great Red Sox team.
The next year, the Red Sox won the World Series, accomplishing something both great and enduring, particularly against the backdrop of the emotions that prevailed in Boston in 2013. Yet that championship did not represent the achievement of Cherington’s vision for a new core of sustainable excellence, with young players intended to complement the veteran cornerstones of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Jon Lester.
The failure to re-sign Lester – mentioned with a hint of regret by Cherington in his media session on Monday – contributed to the inability to navigate the transition from one core to the next smoothly. A number of high-priced mistakes in the construction of the major league roster subsequently sent the Sox spiraling to last place again and, in the end, forced the Red Sox to remake their organization, and led to Cherington’s departure. As Britton writes, Cherington built one great Red Sox team but he didn’t build the next great Red Sox team.
That mission falls to Dombrowski. He built a sustained contender in Detroit, a team that won the AL Central for four straight years from 2011-14 and had the sort of elite talent base that made World Series ambitions legitimate.
Of course, it took Dombrowski nearly a decade to achieve that sort of sustained success. In the Sox, he’s afforded the resources – both the money and, thanks to Cherington, the brimming young talent base of players 25 and under that is matched by few organizations in baseball – that have a chance to hasten the creation of that next great Red Sox team.
As Scott Lauber writes, Cherington’s legacy is thus complicated and unfinished. Despite the Sox’ modernized version of the Impossible Dream Season in 2013, he leaves behind a major league team that has fallen to startling depths unseen in nearly a half-century, yet one where he’s created a tremendous foundation upon which Dombrowski can build.
In Dombrowski, the Sox added an executive who is viewed universally as one of the best in the game. Nick Cafardo gets a cross-sampling of opinion about the new Red Sox president of baseball operations.
Dombrowski’s hiring offers a new sense of direction and the expectation of better days that are to come. Yet the speed with which Dombrowski succeeds in reversing the organization’s big league slide will be determined in no small part by the assets that Cherington leaves behind.
“The shame of it,” lamented one organization source, “is that Ben won’t be here to see it all happen.”
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.