Critical eye turned to Red Sox baseball ops – Boston Herald
Red Sox fans do not necessarily need to know how the sausage is made in order to enjoy the sausage.
But because the Red Sox chefs have churned out spoiled and inedible batches of sausages to their patrons three of the last four years, it’s time for a thorough inspection of the premises to find out if they are buying the wrong ingredients, can’t agree on the right recipe, have storage issues or keep managing to use a teaspoon of this when a half-cup of that works better.
Does the Red Sox baseball operations department know what it’s doing? Is it set up the right way? Are the right chefs in charge?
After considerable reflection and inspection, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington believes he has spotted where the problem lies. Correcting it is what occupies most of his waking moments these days.
Since he has the support of his ultimate bosses, John Henry and Tom Werner, it is important to point out first that the recent revelation of the pending removal of Larry Lucchino as his current boss is not driving his mission. Cherington is unconcerned about whether Lucchino will be replaced by someone new whom Cherington could answer to going forward.
If it takes a fresh set of eyes and ears to help him pinpoint solutions, Cherington is ready.
“I don’t think it’s threatening at all” to bring in a new voice in baseball operations, Cherington said late last week. “Whatever stake you have in the Red Sox, after what you’ve been through the last two years, you don’t even have a choice but to try to find solutions to this after awhile of doing it our own way. It’s going to mean different things to different people, but that’s what we’re trying to do around here.”
The chain of command that Cherington has been working under, with him answering to Lucchino and the other two primary owners, is a set-up with which he, unlike his predecessor Theo Epstein, is comfortable. However, just because he was comfortable with it does not necessarily correlate to it being the best way, especially given the recent string of results.
“That doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it,” said Cherington. “I think it’s better for an organization if baseball ops is fully embedded into the organization, and that includes having someone in a strong position who’s got oversight. We all have bosses. I don’t think any team wants baseball ops to operate on an island.”
Here, Cherington paused to chuckle before continuing.
“I don’t think that’s best for any team or for baseball ops — it may make it easier sometimes, but I don’t think it’s best. That’s not what I would want.”
As far as the structure of baseball ops at Yawkey Way is concerned, the major change introduced by Cherington was to integrate its increasingly vital international scouting efforts more deeply within baseball operations. That has worked, said Cherington, who lauded the work done by the department’s director, Eddie Romero.
It is not unheard of in baseball for internal squabbles to emerge between the player development side and the scouting department, which drafts and signs players.
Cherington sees no signs of such a division within the Red Sox.
Speedy, clear and trusted channels of communication are vital to a baseball operations department. An area scout in the Pacific Northwest needs to know that his findings are being heard, just as the decision-makers at the top of the flow chart need to trust what they’re hearing from Puget Sound.
Information flows freely within the Red Sox system, said Cherington. Communication is not a problem. He listed job titles — scouts, analysts, administrators — and of them all, he said, “I believe to my core that we have really good people, who work their tails off, are really smart and are good at what they do.”
So the structure is sound, the right people are in place.
Perhaps Cherington does not have enough resources at his disposal.
“Investment, money, that’s not an issue — we’ve got plenty of money,” said Cherington.
The Red Sox farm system is stocked with draft picks — higher than usual the last few years thanks to the failures of the well-financed big league payroll. And their highly paid international signing crop is, by most accounts, one of the top two or three in all of baseball.
So, what’s wrong?
By now, through the process of elimination, you get the picture.
The Red Sox’ foundation is solid.
It’s the ultimate product — the major league team — that’s the problem.
Fixing that is job No. 1 for Cherington. If only he could say now how he will get the job done.
“Our issues, simply put, are major league performance, that’s what I see,” said Cherington. “And that’s obviously the most important thing at the end of the day. We have to figure out how to improve that.”
Unfortunately, said Cherington, there’s “no magic bullet, so you’ve got to do a lot of different things that come together and make for a good, winning team. And even that, in today’s game, the margin between what’s good and what’s not good is much thinner than it used to be.”
Cherington’s loyalty to his entire supporting crew will certainly be tested in the coming weeks and months, as Henry and Werner powwow and conclude their own gut-checks.
Cherington understands that this type of scrutiny would not be happening if the club had found its ace somehow, somewhere last season.
The Rick Porcello acquisition has been a stunning failure.
“My personal belief is that the answer is not as simple as saying ‘it’s this person,’ or ‘move this person and replace him with this person and that fixes everything,’” Cherington said. “That’s not how I see it. I see baseball issues as much more complex than that and solutions tend to be much more complex. If you all of a sudden have Cy Young on the mound next year, of course, yeah, that would be a big part of the solution, but how do you get that? If you just focus all your energy on that and try to force that, what are the odds you actually come up with it and what do you risk in trying to do that?”
Cherington and baseball ops must find an answer.
On the topic of which baseball operations departments hold the most respect and admiration around the game, Cherington cited the Giants and the Cardinals in the National League as standouts. In the American League, he cited the Rays and Tigers for having continued success, yet he had to qualify each since Andrew Friedman left the Rays for the Dodgers last year and Dave Dombrowski last week left the Tigers for who knows where — perhaps Toronto, Seattle, Anaheim or even Boston.
Wins are the ultimate determinant of how baseball operations departments are viewed among their peers, but there’s more to it than that.
Keith Law used to work in the Blue Jays front office and now works for ESPN. In addition to assessing transactions and performances at the major league level, Law spends much more time than most other baseball analysts exploring the minor league systems of all 30 teams, ranking their prospects and dissecting their draft picks.
He is as clued in as anyone to which teams have good baseball ops setups. Yes, wins and championships at the major league level are hard to ignore but more often than not, those baseball ops departments have happy employees who tend to stick around.
And that’s invaluable.
It works in San Francisco, and it works in Minneapolis, even if the Twins have been out of the winning loop of late, said Law.
“Whether you agree with what the Twins have done on the baseball side or not, they have no turnover — no one ever leaves,” said Law. “They treat people well and they love where they work. People I talk to at the Giants are happy.
“You’re putting so much trust in people at the bottom of the ladder, like area scouts and pro scouts, and trusting their evaluation. Like, the eighth-round pick; the area scout’s probably the only guy who’s ever seen him. Having guys who have been there a long time, there’s lots of mutual trust and there’s strong communication — I think that’s incredibly important. I don’t know how you put a price on it. There’s probably value in that over everything else. Communication is huge, because it’s a business of information, but it’s a business where the people at the bottom have the information and the people at the top are the ones who need the information to make the decisions. There needs to be open lines of communication to the top and laterally.”
Law looks at the Red Sox and sees the same thing Cherington does — a problem with the big league team. He liked the Porcello trade at the time, but wonders, like everyone on the planet, why Porcello has been unable to perform. He did not like the John Lackey trade last summer — “Joe Kelly can’t start,” said Law. “I could’ve told them that, most people knew that.”
Law noted that problems with trades and free agents did not begin with Cherington’s reign in 2012.
“That goes back to Theo — major league free agents was basically where they were the worst,” said Law.
But because their foundation is so solid, Law does not see a long-term problem with the Red Sox.
“The farm system is the best in baseball and I don’t think that’s really debatable — it’s really loaded and they’ve done a pretty good job, especially on the international side, Eddie Romero’s really good,” said Law. “I liked their draft this year, there’s tons of talent in the system. I think that there may be a little bit of a disconnect between what they’re expected to do at the major league level and what they’re trying to build in the farm system. If that’s a communication issue, that can be solved by the organization and how you organize.
“I like the way they’re set up going forward, that’s the main thing.”
A few tickets remain available for Saberseminar 2015, the annual Jimmy Fund fundraiser devoted to sabermetrics, scouting and the science of baseball. The event will be held on Aug. 22 and 23 at Boston University’s Jacob Sleeper Auditorium. Among the featured speakers expected are Cherington; Romero; Red Sox manager John Farrell; Ben Crockett, the Red Sox director of player development; Jared Scott, the director of professional scouting; Gus Quattlebaum, the assistant director of amateur scouting; plus well-known specialists including Dr. Alan Nathan; Dr. Christopher Geary; Dr. Dan Brooks and Chuck Korb. For more information, go to saberseminar.com, or e-mail email@example.com.
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