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Alex Speier

View of Ben Cherington’s work may require some revision

A lineup comprised entirely of players who were in Boston when former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington left is marching to a very different drumbeat this season.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/File 2012

In his time as Red Sox GM, Ben Cherington understood the volatile nature of perception about decision-making. The wisdom of a strategy or choice is not apparent at any single fixed point in time.

Even in baseball, it can take months or years or decades to know whether the chosen path was a sound one. Before a final verdict is rendered, the merits of each individual roster decision can be cast in a thousand different shades of light that color whether they look sound or horrific.

And so, as he taught his class on leadership in Columbia University’s Sports Management Program, Cherington emphasized the need to look beyond an individual dot on a timeline.


“I believe when you’re thinking about this topic – this leadership/management topic – history is really helpful. A long arc of history is really helpful because it’s hard to evaluate today what will really prove lasting,” said Cherington. “There are opinions out there about what is going on today in sports that, six months from today, might look very different.”

When Cherington left the Red Sox following the hiring of Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations nine months ago, his record looked … puzzling. The World Series – achieved on the strength of a host of successful free-agent decisions in 2012-13, a winter that featured what has proven to be a terrible free-agent class across the game – seemed like an aberration amidst a run of three last-place finishes in four years.

Now, a lineup comprised entirely of players who were in Boston when Cherington left (save for the addition of fourth outfielder Chris Young) is marching to a very different drumbeat. On Sunday, the Sox wrapped up a seven-game homestand in which they scored 73 runs to improve to 24-14 – the team’s best opening since its 26-12 start to a championship campaign in 2007.


In the 20 non-strike years of the wild card era, 49 of 70 (70 percent) teams that started the year with a record of 24-14 or better reached the playoffs. This Red Sox team – constructed around a young core that started its collective liftoff almost precisely at the time of Cherington’s departure last August – appears as if it has a chance to maintain cruising altitude for not just months but years to come.

“When I got to the plate, the catcher for the A’s he told me that guy right now might be the best hitter in the game. He was talking about [Xander Bogaerts]. You hear people talking about Mookie [Betts], [Jackie Bradley Jr.], [Christian] Vazquez,” David Ortiz told reporters on Sunday morning. “Talking about guys in their 20s. Not even late 20s. This organization’s future is in good hands.”

That on-field stewardship is in turn a product in no small part of Cherington’s from the front office. He was held responsible for a slew of decisions that backfired in the short-term in a way that crushed the Sox’ major league performance in 2014 and 2015 – a responsibility that he understood and accepted.

But the inventory that he accumulated and preserved – not just Bogaerts and Betts but also Bradley, Vazquez, Travis Shaw, and Blake Swihart, not to mention below-the-radar trade acquisitions such as Brock Holt, Steven Wright, and Eduardo Rodriguez, and coming prospects such as Andrew Benintendi (promoted to Double A Portland after Sunday’s game), Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, and Anderson Espinoza – has the Sox positioned to flourish.


Even at times when there was no demonstrated evidence of big league success, Cherington swatted away numerous proposals related to Bradley, some of the prospect-for-prospect/change-of-scenery variety, some for solid (non-closing) bullpen options. He turned away inquiries about Rick Porcello last summer (typically of the underperformer-for-underperformer variety), believing that there would be payoff for patience.

The payoff is coming now. Part of his plan, at least, appears to be coming to fruition.

“We knew two or three years in advance of, say, 2013-2014, there was going to be a turnover in our roster,” Cherington recalled. “There were sort of three elements to that turnover. We were going to try to identify the players we wanted to retain, to keep long-term – that being, roughly speaking, Ortiz, [Dustin] Pedroia, [Jon] Lester. We were successful with two of them, unsuccessful on Lester. That was part of the plan.

“We were going to continue to embrace, nurture, try to develop the young players. We felt like we had a group of young players that could turn into the next core and were a potentially impactful group of young players, and we wanted to commit to that.

“And then we wanted to build out the rest of the roster with as many prime-age players as possible, just to win today and preserve tomorrow. We wanted to try to do this turnover in as seamless a way as possible. Win today, preserve tomorrow – do both.


“I think we did some things well in terms of preserving tomorrow. We tried to win today and we didn’t execute well enough.”

But tomorrow seems like it might have become today. In the half-season’s worth of games since Cherington’s departure from the Sox was made official last August 18, the Sox are 49-32 (.605), a half-game behind the Rangers for the best record in the AL in that time.

It’s worth noting Dombrowski’s role in taking the pieces Cherington left behind and immediately setting about the business of finding a better fit for them. Nonetheless, it’s also necessary to note that nine months removed from his departure, the view of the former Red Sox GM’s work with the Sox may require some revision.

Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @alexspeier.

Clarification: Ben Cherington’s role in constructing the current Red Sox lineup was mischaracterized in an earlier version of this story.