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Ben Cherington on M&M talks Bobby Valentine, Theo Epstein, rabid Sox fans

12.02.11 at 12:41 pm ET
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Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington joined the Mut & Merloni show Friday morning, one day after introducing Bobby Valentine as manager.

Cherington took the hosts through the process of how Valentine was selected, explaining why he was added to the list of candidates late.

“I met with Bobby, I think it was the first week of November, third or fourth, somewhere around there,” Cherington recalled. “I had a couple-of-hours meeting with him where we really just talked baseball, talked about the managing job, talked a little bit about our team. That was the first time I had met him. And I was impressed. He struck me clearly as a really smart guy, engaging, passionate guy, cared a lot. And he really wanted another shot at managing in the big leagues. And he was particularly interested in Boston, he fit and the chance to win and all those things.

“After that meeting I began to think about it more, but still focused on the candidates that we were bringing in formally. I think a couple of things happened as the process moved forward. No. 1, we got to know a lot of candidates and really enjoyed that process. Everyone we talked to would be capable of being an excellent manager. Certainly, Dale Sveum‘s going to get that chance in Chicago.

“But we did feel as we moved deeper into the process that experienced mattered. I think [it was] when we went from thinking about our next manager in sort of a theoretical sense to thinking about it in more of a practical sense and a real sense. It’s not just philosophy and qualities and the sort-of softer subjects, but the guy’s got to hit the ground running and know how to navigate the land mines that exist in a clubhouse and put our team in a position to be good right away. We did start to emphasize experience more as we got deeper into the process.

“As that happened, we talked to Gene Lamont. And as we were doing that, I was doing more research and doing work on Bobby and getting to know him better through other people. At that point we decided to include him in the process formally. And as I said yesterday, there was an interest on our part to sort of shorten the window that he was included as a public candidate because of the position he was in at ESPN and the potential conflict there. I just thought it would be uncomfortable for everyone, including Bobby and certainly ESPN, to have him out there publicly acknowledged as a candidate while he was doing that job.

“So, there was a variety of factors for it. In the end we felt that Bobby and Gene were the best two candidates for the job and worked a lot on it, again over Thanksgiving thought a lot about it, that weekend after Thanksgiving. And ultimately, I can’t remember exactly when it was, but sometime Monday I recommended to ownership that we offer him the job.”

Cherington said that while Sveum was a solid early candidate, in the end he might not have been the right fit for the Sox this year.

“I don’t think so,” Cherington said, explaining: “As we got deeper into it and we actually got into formal interviews and talked about X’s and O’s and talked about what actually would you do in this situation and this situation, what would you do on May 15th when this happened — those sorts of questions, the real questions –  it sort of came to light for me that experience really did matter in this particular situation for this team at this moment. Given where we are, that became more important. So, I do feel like we were going to be sort of headed in that direction. And ultimately that’s why Gene and Bobby ended up being the finalists.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

On Valentine as a disciplinarian: “I think there are very few people out there, very few managers that are sort-of true disciplinarians and only disciplinarians. I think most people, certainly including Bobby, are much more complex. I think he’s certainly capable of applying discipline to a clubhouse or a player if needed. But he’s a much more complex guy than just being called a disciplinarian.

“He’s got a strong voice, he’s got strong opinions. He’s also a teacher. He cares about players. He’s passionate about the game, he loves to win. He cares about doing things the right way. And in all the research that we did on him leading up to this decision, it was clear that whether it be players or front office or coaches, those people that want to be good — who have talent and want to be good and are willing to work at it — generally have responded pretty well to him. And I think we have a lot of players in our clubhouse who have those qualities — that have talent and want to be good and want to work at it. So, ultimately, we just felt like it was a good fit.”

On reports that players were told the team would not hire a Bobby Valentine-type of manager: “I have reached out to several players and talked to some. But that hasn’t come up. I don’t know where that came from. I didn’t say that; I certainly don’t remember saying that. So, I can’t speak for others, everyone else in the organization whenever that supposedly happened. I don’t remember that happening, and I haven’t spoken to players about it.”

On Cherington’s differences from Theo Epstein: “There’s a lot of things that we share in common as far as our beliefs in building a team and the things that we value in players and that sort of thing. I think our personality’s a little bit different. Theo’s a great deal-maker. I can make deals, but maybe a tick more methodical in how I go about things. Theo’s an incredibly creative and intelligent guy, aggressive. I’m going to probably work more with the people around me and really try to solicit opinions from our scouts, from our people in the office and use that information to try to make the right decisions.

“There really aren’t significant differences; it’s just subtle differences in personality. The things that we’re trying to do are very similar. More than anything, the differences will be more related to the fact that we have different challenges now than we had when he took the job. Each offseason is different, and the things that our team needs moving forward are different than the things that the team needed when he was here. So, the actions will be different, but in large part those will be influenced by the reality of what our team needs.”

On free agency: “It’s something we need to look at, certainly, and find ways to be better at that. It’s an area that we haven’t done as good a job in. Some of that story is unwritten still. Because I think still some of the more recent free agent signing will still really pay dividends. ‘€¦ In Boston, we’re going to be involved in free agency. It’s just a reality.”

On Jonathan Papelbon and the search for a new closer: “He accomplished a lot here and I’ve known him personally since he signed and saw sort of his evolution into being a top major league closer. He worked extremely hard on it and he put himself in a position to go into free agency and get the deal that he did. I’m happy for him. And he was a big part of our team, certainly. It’s always hard to see guys like that go. I think that the thing about closers, as you guys know, there’s very few that keep doing it at an elite level over a long, long period of time. There’s very few Mariano Riveras and Trevor Hoffmans out there. So, the key a lot of times is finding the guy at the right point in his career when he’s ready to sort of go on a run and do it.

“That’s our challenge moving forward. We feel like we have some internal options. We’ll continue to explore external options, both through trade and free agency. But it is a position that sometimes evolves from areas that you’re not even expecting. The Cardinals went into this season with Ryan Franklin as closer and I’m not even sure if he was in the ballpark when they won the World Series. It is a position that has turnover and is harder to predict, but it’s important and we know that for a team like this, as we go into the season, it’s important to have a closer defined. I’m not sure it’s important to have one next week or two weeks from now.”

On why Papelbon didn’t owe the Red Sox a chance to match the Phillies’ offer: “In this case, I don’t think he owed us that. I had plenty of conversations with his agents after the season and just the way it evolved, we weren’t going to match up with what the Phillies did. I think his agents knew that and there was just a mutual understanding as he got closer to signing with the Phillies that we probably weren’t going to match up. I don’t think he owed us that. And again, as I said, I’m happy for Pap that he got the deal he did, he’s worked extremely hard for it.”

On Daniel Bard’s role next season: “We’re still working on it. I had a chance to talk to Bobby about that prior to the press conference and then again last night after the press conference. We’re going to keep talking about it. All I know is he’s ready to take on more responsibility. He’s an incredibly prepared, accountable guy, a cerebral, smart guy. He certainly has the build, the repertoire, the stuff to pitch in more than one role. And we do feel like he’s ready to take on more responsibility. He’s a guy that we need to talk about a little more, and then we have to talk to Daniel and include him in that conversation and then that will allow him to get prepared for spring training in the right way.”

On if Bard can start: “Yeah, I think he could. That doesn’t mean that that’s what’s going to happen here. But I think Bardo’s really developed and come a long way. He’s clearly gotten a lot of really good hitters out in high level situations. If he can do that in Boston, I think he can pretty much pitch in any role. As he said, he’s a guy that takes care of himself, he’s mature, he’s an intelligent guy, he cares. I know whatever role he’s in in 2012, it’s going to be an important one and he’ll be prepared for it. We have to look at what’s best for him, we have to look at what’s best for the team and figure out the right situation for everyone and that’s something again we’ll talk to Daniel about before we make the decision.

On where the Red Sox stand with David Ortiz: “We’ve continued to talk and I expect we’ll meet with his agent again in Dallas when we get to Dallas. But it’s been a very good, consistent, cordial dialogue. Obviously, we made the decision to offer him arbitration. When you do that, it’s sort of the most official example of our interest in bringing him back. It sort of puts a stamp on it, when you offer a guy arbitration you want him to consider coming back, and we do want him back. We want him on the team, he’s a force still in the lineup. He’s certainly meant a lot to the organization over the time that he’s been here. So we want him on the team and we’ll keep talking about it and find a way to bring him back.”

On Ortiz’s production over the last few years: “He’s been very consistent. David has been durable, he’s been consistent, he’s been a performer. He doesn’t play in the field and that’s, when you try to sort of poke holes, that’s really the only one there is. So, that’s something we sort of have to work through when we’re trying to find a deal that makes sense for him and the team. He’s a remarkable guy, he’s a remarkable hitter. And again, we’d love to have him back if we can figure out how to do it.”

On if there’s a mental deadline for him to deal with guys like Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield: “I think those two guys in particular, given what they’ve meant to to the organization over a long period of time, they certainly deserve to hear from us and get honest and direct feedback on where we see things. We would not do anything else in the market that would block their ability to come back without talking about it first. I think they deserve that. And we’ve had some of those conversations. I also know that both those guys have a lot of pride and I think that they’d want to be back, only if there’s a real role on the team, an important role on the team, and that’s something we’re still working to determine.”

On Valentine and/or himself sitting down with Josh Beckett to talk about last year: “I’ve spoken with Josh several times since the season ended. I really have a great deal of respect for Josh. He’s carried us at certain points during his time on the Red Sox. I certainly, when he’s on the mound, I trust him and trust that we have a good chance to win the game when he’s out there. And as you guys know, he’s got a lot of pride and he’s competitive. I don’t believe that anyone should be judged by one moment. We should judge people by the body of work and the larger sort of picture. And through that lens, Josh has been an incredible pitcher for us, an incredible part of our time for a long time. We’ve achieved things as a team in large part because of his contribution. I think Josh just wants to pitch, he wants to win, he wants to be part of a winning team. And I know he’s really motivated toward 2012 to get back to that, get the team back to that.”

On Valentine possibly trying to change Carl Crawford’s open stance based on his comments as an ESPN analyst: “As I mentioned, I think back at my press conference, I really believe that Carl Crawford’s going to be a great player for us. As you said, he has been a great player, and as part of the interview with Bobby, we talked a lot about Carl. And I think one of the things that stood out from that conversation was how strongly Bobby felt about Carl, how strongly Bobby believed in Carl as a player. You guys are well aware of this, but when you’re getting paid to do a job on TV or the radio, or you’re getting paid to analyze the game, part of that is you need to criticize players. ‘€¦ Bobby was getting paid to do his job. I don’t think it’s fair to hold that against him. That said, hey, they have to get know each other. I know Bobby wants to do that and will work to start doing that this winter.”

On when and how compensation for Theo Epstein to the Cubs will be resolved: “It’s that thing that you know you have to do at some point but you’re just working on other stuff. It’s like cleaning the garage. You know it’s out there and you have to do it, but you’re going to do everything else that’s on your list first. I think that’s how we’re both approaching it. We’ve both had a lot of other stuff to do. We just frankly haven’t spent a lot of time on it. We’ve had a couple of conversations, I guess two or three conversations about it. We talked a little bit about the GM meetings and we just felt like given what we were both up against with the manager search, with the early part of the offseason, getting things stabilized, that there really wasn’t any harm in just delaying it. Let’s pick it up at the winter meetings, let’s pick it up right after the winter meetings and work it out then.”

On sounding like Epstein: “I never thought so. And people that work here and have been around us, I think they’re a little surprised by it because they kind of see us as much different people. I suppose when you sit next to someone, 10 feet away, for eight years it’s hard not to pick up on some of the inflection. I’ll have to start taking some speech classes before spring training to make sure I differentiate myself. But if they’re comparing me to Theo Epstein, that’s a compliment in my eyes.”

On being second-guessed by the fans: “We knew this was part of the job. This is where we live here in Boston, and that’s what makes the upside so rewarding, is that people care so much.”

On his mother getting upset about talk radio callers: “I’ve got to keep my mom out of the media. That’s been one of my first challenges on the job. No, I’m kidding. She’s a big fan. As Lou knows, when you grow up around here and then you end up being part of the Red Sox, you have rooting interests that’s more personal than some other folks.”

Read More: ben cherington, Bobby Valentine, Daniel Bard, David Ortiz
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