The year 2015 has been a difficult one for the Boston Red Sox. They came into the season as a trendy pick to return to the top of the American League East following an offseason that saw them spend heavily on offensive upgrades, and mostly ignore the starting rotation in favour of lower-cost options and the promise of a farm system likely to bear fruit on the pitching side in the near future. I myself was one of those people who picked the Sawx to win the AL East this year, thinking the offensive thump would allow them to outhit any struggles them might have on the run prevention side, and further believing the East was such an unbelievably mediocre (not to mention tightly bunched), division this year that it wouldn't take a huge win total to push into the playoffs.
Well, sitting here as August begins to wind down and autumn creeps ever so slightly closer with each day and night that passes, some of those things predicted have come to pass. The AL East was extremely tightly bunched for much of the season, and while it was maybe a tick better overall than anticipated, it was still a profoundly mediocre division. (Of course, the Blue Jays then flipped that script around a bit with their midseason spate of trades that appears to have transformed them into something much more impressive than they were at the season's outset, but for much of the year they were pretty much treading water along with the rest of the division.) The Red Sox did, in fact, pitch about like we expected, which is to say very poorly, but for much of the season did not actually outslug the opposition night after night, bludgeoning teams into submission like some time-traveling late 90s group of baseball-playing Scotts Bakula, hoping every time the next homer would be the one to propel them home.
All of it added up to a rather terrible season for Boston. The season is not over yet, obviously, but even so I feel completely comfortable using the past tense there, rather than past participle or even simply qualifying it with 'so far'. The 2015 season sucked for the Red Sox. They are ten games under .500, 11.5 back of the East-leading Yankees (who have miraculously risen from the dead to somehow be a real contender this season, holding off Toronto to this point), and have accumulated the third-worst ERA in all of baseball, better than only the historically bad Phillies' staff and Colorado, who as usual appear to be playing some other game, one where outs are at best optional and at worst purely accidental.
And this horrorshow of a season, in which the Red Sox look likely to finish last in the AL East for the third time in four seasons (the one exception being the increasingly-miraculous-looking 2013 championship season), has cost Ben Cherington his job. Cherington was the General Manager of the Red Sox, having taken over the position when Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein left for Chicago, and Cherington was the guy who ultimately took the fall for this run of poor results. Dave Dombrowski is the new President of Baseball Stuff/Czar of Trading Prospects for Established Superstars/Whatever Other Title You Want to Throw on Him in Boston, and while there may be some debate over whether Cherington was fired, quit before he could be fired, or simply left seeing no place for himself in a Dombrowski-led front office. the end result is the same: Ben Cherington is on the market, looking for a new job.
It is also thought Ben Cherington will likely not be on the market looking for a job for all that long. As rough as his former club's run of records has been of late, Cherington retains a remarkably solid reputation in the industry, known for leading one of the more forward-thinking and analytically-minded front offices in the game over the past several years. His reputation goes much further back than his time as a GM, also; Cherington rose through the ranks of the Boston front office on the player scouting and development side back in the Epstein run.
There has been some speculation Cherington might end up as part of the Super Friends out in Los Angeles, as the Dodgers seem to be collecting former General Managers in a way that suggests Andrew Friedman might have the world's first documented case of Allan Quatermain Syndrome. There's been some thought he might rejoin Theo and Jed in Cubland. There are a handful of other teams looking for GMs at the moment as well (even if we don't necessarily know they're looking for General Managers), and Cherington's name has been bandied about for most of those, too. Milwaukee. Seattle. (Yeah, I know Jack Z is still there. The Mariners are on the GM market.) Maybe Miami, if Emperor Nero down there decides Dan Jennings is neither the on-field nor front office leader his team needs to continue embarrassing baseball properly.
The last nail in Cherington's coffin seemed to be the club's most recent signings; namely, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval this past offseason. And, really, considering how poorly those have worked out, perhaps Cherington deserved to be shown the door. Particularly when it appeared so many people outside the Boston organisation had so many questions about the signings (Sandoval especially), even before they were made. If there were that many doubts before, then why didn't Cherington and the Red Sox see the pitfalls? Rick Porcello falling apart was not something anyone really foresaw, even if they thought the contract was too steep for his level of production, but Ramirez and Sandoval came with concerns built in.
Then again, a whole lot of us thought this latest Boston gambit would turn out swimmingly for them, since I opened this column admitting I picked the Sawx to win the AL East, and was not alone. So while there were concerns, there were also reasons to think what Cherington did this past offseason could pay big dividends, if in a somewhat unconventional way.
My question is this: could Cherington be a fit for the Cardinals?
Now, yes, I know the Redbirds have a General Manager, and they seem to be perfectly happy with him at the moment. I can't say I disagree, either; there are things about the way this organisation is run that I disagree with, and even occasionally drive me to drink, but I can't name very many, if any, General Managers I would rather have than John Mozeliak. I doubt Mo is looking to move up to Vice President of Whatever full-time, either, as the impression I get from him is that he is still very much invested in the General Manager role with this club. So the thing is, if Ben Cherington is devoted to the idea of immediately being a GM again, of continuing to be The Man wherever he goes, then St. Louis is probably not the place for him.
Then again, at least some of those jobs we've heard him mentioned in connection with are not The Man sort of jobs, either. Certainly not LA, where Friedman and Farhan Zaidi are the brand names, and a guy like Stan Kasten is always sort of hanging around avuncularly, ready to pitch in with a negotiation or to help some media type craft their latest story about how brilliant the Dodgers and their collection of brains in jars are. In Chicago, Theo and Jed are pretty much legends in the making, as they've already crafted a future dynasty the likes of which none of us have ever seen before, apparently, and while Cherington rejoining them could be spun with Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town" playing behind clips of handshakes and press conferences (which would force me to watch that video package, unfortunately, since my love of Thin Lizzy might actually exceed my hatred of both the Red Sox and Cubs), it would certainly still feel like a return to second- or more properly third-banana status for Cherington himself. So, really, outside of taking over an organisation in a terrible position (which he might very well be willing to do), it's likely that Cherington will have to take a step back as he tries to move forward in his career.
And here's the thing: the Cardinals may not have a General Manager spot open, but they do, in fact, have one rather high-profile front office position open at the moment. One that became available rather...unexpectedly, to say the least.
I'm talking, of course, about the club's vacant Scouting Director position, most recently occupied by Chris Correa, before it was discovered he was the guy who rather foolishly went snooping around the Houston Astros' computer database, for reasons petty or legitimate, and was shown the door. (A shame, too, as I found Correa's sole draft in charge of the department to be remarkably exciting.)
Cherington's background is in scouting and player development. He worked as an area scout for the Red Sox. He worked in international scouting. He served as director of player development in the early 2000s, as part of the front office that built the late-2000s Boston clubs. During his tenure in that part of the Boston front office, players like Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, Hanley Ramirez, and Kevin Youkilis were turned out by the Red Sox system.
Even now, as dark as things have been at the major league level for the Red Sox this season, they have one of the very best farm systems in all of baseball. At least top five, and probably closer to top three, with both impact talent and depth that very few other clubs can measure up against. Of course much of the credit for that system has to go to the current Boston scouting director, player development staff, and pretty much a whole litany of people who have their hands in drafting, signing, and developing players. But the fact remains, Cherington was the ultimate arbiter of how things went in the Boston front office over the last several years, and he leaves behind a minor league system as rich as any in baseball. That seems meaningful to me.
I will admit, the idea of possibly hiring Cherington to take over the Cardinals' scouting operations would seem to go against the organisation's recent seeming emphasis on promoting from within. Mozeliak served directly under Walt Jocketty before being promoted. Correa was Dan Kantrovitz's deputy before taking over as Scouting Director. Kantrovitz himself was hired from Oakland, but had ties in the Cardinal system, both as a player and in scouting/analytics after his playing days were over. Gary LaRocque, the club's current Director of Player Development, served under John Vuch before Vuch moved up and LaRocque took over his duties. In other words, the last major front office hire the Cardinals made of an individual who had absolutely no prior ties to the organisation before taking over a major spot is probably....Jeff Luhnow, back in 2004. The Cardinals like to promote their own people, who know the culture and know the system, up the ladder.
However, given the way Correa's tenure with the club ended, I have to wonder if the organsation might consider looking outside the insular confines of their own office for the next candidate to lead the scouting department. I'm not saying I think some other hire from within the office would go snooping around Luhnow's old passwords too, just because he was originally hired under that regime or anything; I'm just saying some new blood coming in from a different environment might not be a bad idea sometimes, and the ugliness of Correa's departure might make the brass feel as if the scouting office needs a bit of an airing-out overall. Perhaps. I could also be talking out my ass, for all I know, and the Cards are already set on another rising star in their own scouting department to run things. (I'm also holding tight to my dream of seeing the Cardinals be the first club to have a woman serve as Scouting Director, but I have a feeling that's not realistic, at least right now, for both reasonable and just plain shitty reasons.)
Like I said, if Cherington is looking to immediately again be in the GM chair, then his only opportunities will likely be in possibly taking over one of the really terrible franchises in the game right now and trying to build from scratch. Which might appeal to him, for all I know. Otherwise, he's likely going to be joining some front office with an already-entrenched General Manager, and either serving in some lower-profile capacity. If that's what he's looking for, as a way to reestablish himself as a GM candidate or just to join a front office where he can be part of a fully functional, somewhat less-drama-filled organisation than that of the Red Sox, then there are much worse fits than St. Louis.
Ben Cherington has a background in scouting and player development, and honed those tools while serving as part of one of the more successful farm systems of the 2000s. He leaves the club he recently ran in as good a shape as any organisation in baseball, from a prospect talent standpoint. The Cardinals have need of an individual to head their scouting and drafting efforts, somewhat unexpectedly. Given Correa was not in the position long enough for a chain of succession to have perhaps clarified behind him, an experienced outside hire might be in the cards this time, in spite of the way the club has seemingly preferred to do things in the recent past.
Seems to me like there might be a fit here, no?