BOSTON (CBS) — You are Ben Cherington. You are coming off arguably one of the worst seasons in the history of your beloved franchise. You have a manager that won’t listen to you and some players that don’t want to be here or are all about themselves. You are in charge of this mess after watching it all unravel in September of 2011. Your franchise hits rock bottom.
You vow to fix it.
You bring in players that one, want to be here; two, can handle playing in Boston; and three, don’t mind showing younger players what being a big leaguer is all about.
You bring in Shane Victorino, a player who gives everything he has, body and mind. Mike Napoli, a veteran who can provide some power behind David Ortiz and loves to play the game. Stephen Drew — professional hitter, steady defensive presence when healthy. Jonny Gomes — a great clubhouse presence, who plays on teams that simply find a way to win. Koji Uehara — a veteran reliever, who as long as you keep healthy has as nasty stuff as any reliever in the game. David Ross — a Jason Varitek-like catcher with a great mind to help the pitching staff.
Add those players to the likes of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, etc.
You hand the keys to John Farrell, who won here as a pitching coach, knows these players (especially Lester and Buchholz), brings in a great staff, and knows what the Boston market is all about.
Ben Cherington struck gold in 2013.
This, unfortunately, is 2014.
Are you surprised?
The Red Sox had everything go their way last season — everything! Radio play-by-play voice Dave O’Brien summed up the first half best when he cited the fact that the 2014 Red Sox have been swept in a series six times. Last year? Once.
In fact, THE greatest stat from last season is and will always be that the Sox never endured a losing streak of more than three games. Remarkable, consistent play.
Last year, there were come-back wins, led by solid pitching, underrated terrific defense, and timely hitting. They showed up every day to the park excited to play and expecting to win. And they did. They also had a Boston Strong mantra that they embraced.
This season? Basically, just solid pitching. The effort and positive attitude has been there, but the Baseball Gods simply aren’t smiling upon this team this season.
Is the 2014 season over for Boston? Nope. There’s still time. The a Sox are an eight-of-10 or 15-of-20 win streak away from putting themselves squarely into the thick of things.
Will it happen? I won’t rule out anything for this core group … but … .
Meanwhile, it seems only fitting that Theo Epstein’s Chicago Cubs were recently in town, because what Theo uttered in the offseason of 2009-10 about a bridge year or two is happening now.
And, it’s OK.
Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Will Middlebrooks, Jackie Bradley Jr, Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa. They are all here trying to secure a big part of the Red Sox present, but more importantly, future.
And they are just the first wave.
Get ready for the possibility of seeing Garin Cecchini, Deven Marrero, Sean Coyle, Travis Shaw, Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart, Manuel Margot, Rafael Devers, Anthony Ranaudo, Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, Brian Johnson, and more. They will follow.
And, many of these prospects will be used to acquire veteran talent.
It’s an exciting time for Ben and his organization. We are seeing all the hard work of the baseball ops, scouting staff, and minor league coaches, as well as the money spent by ownership group, pay off.
Will this infusion of talented youth be smooth? Nope. Easy? Nope. Exciting? At times. Worth it? You hope.
We all have seen when homegrown youth combined with trades and free-agent signings can produce. Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera guided the Yankees to greatness for years.
However, the hard part may be identifying just who those players are and then being patient with them. Then, they’d have to use the others as chips on the trade market.
One thing Red Sox fans have going strongly in their favor? Ben Cherington is the right man for this job. He is as patient a baseball man as I have come across in my 30 years covering this team. He never panics — a tough thing to do in today’s “win now and only now” world.
As for which players on the big league level should absolutely stay to be a part of the future, as in this season, next year, etc? Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey — and maybe Koji Uehara.
Most of that group is under agreement for a while. And, if I’m the Sox I sign Jon Lester today to a five-year, $100-120 million deal. He is the guy that you want to lead this franchise’s pitching staff over that bridge.
Now, that’s NOT saying that Ben needs to blow things up right now. I understand what this group was able to accomplish last season. It was truly special. And, I think we tend to look ahead too often in this market instead of enjoying each and every game of the season. And, it’s not just the Red Sox. We do it with the Pats, B’s and C’s too.
So, as we sit here around the midway point of the 2014 season – it has been frustrating to watch this team – but if you follow along and watch Ben with an eye towards the future, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about this franchise.