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Ben Cherington on Red Sox Hot Stove Show: Building the ‘next great Red Sox team’

11.02.12 at 8:13 am ET

Halloween enjoys a place of some infamy in the Red Sox front office. The memory of Theo Epstein resigning and leaving Fenway Park in a gorilla suit in 2005 still lingers, seven years later. Still, there have been no known repeats of such an incident, and this year, Epstein’s successor, Ben Cherington, opted for a look best described as “hard-working Red Sox front-office member.”

“My costume was a pair of khakis and a collared shirt, sitting around in the office very late,” Cherington said on the Red Sox Hot Stove Show on Thursday night.

There likely will be many more such nights given the goals articulated by Cherington and the challenge of achieving them. Now just over a year into his tenure as Red Sox GM and coming off the disappointment of a 69-93 record, Cherington talks often of what the end game is for a team in transition. He talks of building “the next great Red Sox team,” a goal that will require both considerable effort and, to his mind, patience to address the numerous deficiencies that emerged in 2012.

What, Cherington was asked, does he mean when he discusses his aspirations?

“It’s a team that gets on base more. It’s a team that’s strong up the middle. It’s a team with guys that want to be here. It’s a team with pitching that’s aggressive and attacks the strike zone. It’s a team that can do that over the course of a six-month season, and that grinds through the tough periods. All the things that made us good in the past. Our best teams I think had a lot of the qualities I mentioned,” said Cherington. “Those teams are not built overnight. If you lose 93 games, it means you’re a ways away from that team. We feel like we have some of the pieces necessary to be that kind of team. We think that we have more on the way in the farm system, so we’ve got to be protective of the guys in the farm system that we most believe in and we’ve got to be selective about the types of guys we bring in.

“When you try to do all those things, it really means that there’s no overnight fix. We don’t know exactly when that next great Red Sox team is going to crystallize. What we do know is that we’re going to work as hard as we can to put as good a team as possible on the field in 2013 and create a direction and a path towards that next great team, and I think that’s what fans in Boston right now, November looking into 2013, are looking for that. They’re looking for direction. They’re looking for a clear path to, okay, this is what we’re trying to do and this is what we’re doing to get there. I think fans in Boston are savvy enough to understand that the great Red Sox teams of the past did not happen overnight. They happened through a combination of good choices, good development, a little bit of luck and, at times, some patience.”

That suggests that 2013 is not the be-all, end-all in what the Red Sox are trying to construct. The team isn’t punting on next season, but it’s also not putting all its eggs in one basket, compromising seasons on the somewhat more distant horizon for the sake of trying to reinforce next year’s club.

So what does that mean for this offseason as the Sox do attempt to recover from last year’s disappointment? Cherington elaborated on a few areas that he and the team are working to address. Highlights of his interview on the Red Sox Hot Stove Show are below. To listen to the complete interview, click here.

On the status of negotiations with free-agent DH David Ortiz: “We’re working on it and we’ve been talking to David since the end of the season. It’s been a good conversation and everyone knows that we’d like to keep him. I think there’s mutual interest. We’ve had a lot of talks and we’ve made up some ground in some areas, but we still have some work to do. We’ll keep working on it. If we get past tomorrow night, we’ll continue to work on it. We remain hopeful we’ll keep him in a Red Sox uniform next year. … We have a guy who’s been here for a long time and he’s been an important part of the team and a guy we want to keep. It’s just a matter of trying to find a deal that works for him and works for us. We’re still working on that and hopeful we can get something done.”

On the status of talks with free-agent outfielder Cody Ross: “One of the things we talked about [when Ross signed last offseason] was wanting to put him in a situation where he could be in a better position this offseason than he was last year. … We wanted it to work for the team and work for him. … We didn’t get the job done on a team basis, but it did work out for him.

“He’s in a better position this year than he was last year. That’s good for him. It creates a bigger challenge for us in trying to find a deal that works for him and works for us. We have talked, and talked a lot. Time will tell. … He’ll have options. We’ll have to weigh what it would take to sign him versus alternatives in the market.

On whether the team is prioritizing the idea of players like Ross who seem comfortable in Boston: “Cody is comfortable here. There are other guys we think will be comfortable here, too. It’s just a matter of trying to determine what deal we might be able to strike for Cody, what he’s earned, what deal we might be able to strike for Cody and what he’s earned — that’s important, he’s put himself in a good position; that’s a good thing for him — and weighing that against the alternatives.”

On the possibility of re-signing Kevin Youkilis: “We’re not shutting the door to talent of any kind. You lose 93 games you’ve got to be open-minded about how to put it back together. He’s a guy who’s done well here in the past, but it’s part of an offseason landscape and we’re considering all sorts of alternatives at first base and at other positions. Beyond that, I really can’t comment on that, but we’re not going to shut the door on any potential player that has a chance to make us better. … He was good player for a long time and always played hard. We respect Kevin and Kevin, he’s a free agent for the first time, so he’ll have options. This is the first time in his career since he’s been in college, and before that, this is the first time that he’ll have a choice to make about where he plays.

“Guys that put in that time and earn that right, that doesn’t come along very often, so I think he’s got more control of the situation than he’s ever had before. But we respect Kevin and the way he plays. On a personal level, certainly nothing happened that would — there was no break in the relationship, I don’t think — but again, he’ll have choices and we’ll have choices and we’ll see where the offseason takes us.”

On the team’s approach to the rotation: We’d like to add to the rotation, whether that’s through free agency or trade, we’ll explore both options. We’d like to add someone externally to that group [Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Felix Doubront], and we’d like to protect if at all possible the younger arms in the system who may not be on the team in April of 2013 but who may be, can be part of a really good rotation moving forward. It’s a little bit of adding from the outside, it’s a little bit of protecting [pitchers] who need to develop, the younger core arms that we have, and then the biggest piece of all in terms of 2013 is to work to put Lester, Buchholz, Doubront, Lackey in the best possible position to succeed. If those guys are pitching up to or close to their capabilities, that’s going to make a bigger difference in our rotation next year, in the performance of our starters, than likely any addition we would make. It’s got to be all those things, but we’ve certainly got to be focused on helping the guys we have here get better.”

On whether the team will pursue bullpen reinforcements: “We think that’s one area of the team where we have some depth and some options, some different looks coming out of the bullpen both from the right and left side, guys who have pitched in the ninth inning — [Andrew] Bailey, [Alfredo] Aceves, [Mark] Melancon, etc. Would not rule out adding to that mix, but we feel like that’s a potential position of strength where we can be a little bit more selective in how we go about it this offseason, wait for the right deal. If there is the right addition this offseason, then we’ll consider that. But there’s some depth, and some options down below, too — some guys who are in Triple-A but who can contribute in 2013 as well.”

Read More: ben cherington, Cody Ross, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis
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