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Ben Cherington on D&C: The Blue Jays blockbuster, Josh Hamilton, John Lackey and the building of a better team in 2013

11.15.12 at 10:15 am ET

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington joined the Dennis & Callahan Show on Thursday morning to discuss the impact of the Blue Jays-Marlins blockbuster on his team (and whether the Sox were trying to acquire shortstop Jose Reyes or starter Josh Johnson), whether the Red Sox will make a “splashy” move this offseason, what kind of interest the team has in Josh Hamilton, what kind of payroll the Sox will feature in the coming season, how the team is approaching the possibility of Jose Iglesias at shortstop and the outlook for starter John Lackey, among other topics.

A quick summary:

  • He said that the Sox weren’t surprised by some of the names traded by the Marlins but they weren’t expecting the magnitude of the deal. While he acknowledged that it makes life more difficult for the Sox due to the Blue Jays’ improvements, he also said that it doesn’t alter what the Sox are doing this offseason.
  • It’s too early to say whether the Sox will make a move that will be perceived as “splashy.”
  • The Sox can’t say what their Opening Day payroll will be or where it will rank, aside from the notion that it will rank among the highest payrolls in the game.
  • The team has checked in with the agent for outfielder Josh Hamilton, though the GM characterized the conversation as due diligence that did not include specifics about contract terms that Hamilton is seeking. Cherington noted that, while long-term deals always come with considerable risk, power hitters (“pure hitters”) have typically been the best bets for long-term deals.
  • He cited the Giants as a team that got production through an opportunistic approach to addressing needs in the outfield and at first base.
  • The Sox expect that John Lackey will be a meaningful contributor to the rotation, though as he makes his return from Tommy John surgery in 2013, Cherington noted that it may take some time for him to return completely to form.

To listen to the complete interview, visit the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page. A transcript of the interview is below.

Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout for MVP?

There’s a lot of good objective arguments for Trout, and ones I can’t ignore, but it wouldn’t bother me at all if Miguel Cabrera wins — what he did, moving to a different position, the presence he has in that lineup. There is something about the MVP award that gets beyond the pure objective data. Either guy had a great year and deserves it.  … [Trout is] a great player. Since the first day in the big leagues, he was one of the best players. He’s a rare animal, and he impacts the game in so many different ways. Sort of different flavors of ice cream. You have to respect what Cabrera does day-in, day-out, moving to a different position, being the guy that everyone is going after his lineup, the consistency of his at-bats, what he does for that team day-in, day-out, what they did at the end to get into the playoffs and go on that run, it’s pretty impressive.

On absurdly lopsided trade ideas

You have big deals. Obviously, you saw one with Toronto and Miami. It’s not that you can’t make big deals. But the days of hugely lopsided deals where it’s sort of clear one team — the Herschel Walker trade for the Cowboys — I don’t know that those happen anymore. They’re going to be very rare. I suppose you can get lucky and things can really work in your favor. Over time, a trade may look lopsided. But at the time that they happen, every team is too smart, they know what they’re doing and nobody’s going to give up that much value.

How much discipline did it take not to make a trade for Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson?

We talked to a lot of teams, including Florida, about trade ideas since the end of the season. I think that trade, the scope of that trade — I don’t think it’s been formally announced — but the scope of that trade when the rumors started was bigger than most people expected, bigger than I expected. You talk to teams. We were just at the GM meetings, so you know some players may be in play for each team. You know what players teams are talking about. We had conversations with several teams, including the Marlins. So you’re not completely surprised when you hear some names being discussed or some names being traded. But the scope of that deal, if it does happen, is certainly bigger than we were expecting.

As far as we’re concerned, we have sort of standards and limits of what we’ll do in trades or free agency. We’re going to try to stick to that, believe and have faith in our process. Over time, the best way to build a team that our fans deserve is through getting the right veterans here, being disciplined and getting the right veterans here through trades and free agency and continuing to develop from within.

Is the Marlins-Blue Jays trade bad for baseball and/or bad for the Red Sox?

It makes it tougher for us in the division, no doubt, if it happens. Toronto’s improved themselves in 2013. I don’t think it changes what we do. We’re trying to build the right team for Boston, not just better for 2013, but that gives us a chance to be really good for a long time. It doesn’t change from that perspective. Toronto is improved. As for the question whether it’s good or bad, I don’t know if I’m the right person to answer that. I think from Toronto’s standpoint, if it does go through, it’s a recognition on their part that they see an opportunity in the division, a moment in time where they can take a shot. They feel like they have a window where they can jump in, make a dent in the division and go for it. I’m sure there’s a lot of talk between their baseball side and their business side, when the right time is to do that, if this is the right time to make a plunge. Again, if the trade goes through, you have to respect them for being willing to take that risk and recognizing that this is the time to do it.

Will you make a splash with a move this offseason?

I think we’re going to make moves that are going to improve the team. It’s hard to say whether they’ll be defined as splashy moves or not. You never know. We’re going to take each opportunity case by case. There may be opportunities that are bigger in scale, that would fit that definition, that we feel are the right moves. We don’t know yet. What I do know is that we’re going to continue to add to the team. We’re going to build the best team we can for 2013, but doing it in a way that doesn’t get in the way of what we think and plan to be a longer period of success after that.

How close will you get to a $190 million payroll?

It’s harder to predict this offseason than it has been in previous offseasons because in previous offseasons we’ve been closer to where we were going to end up, especially last offseason where we were making cosmetic changes. It’s harder to predict. I know that we’ll have a very strong payroll, a large payroll. I know that we’re going to add to it this winter. I’m confident saying that we’ll be amongst the larger payrolls in the game. Exactly where it ends up, exactly where we rank, I just don’t know that. It depends on what we do. We’re not going to shoot for an arbitrary payroll number just to say we’re going to get to this. We just have to look at every opportunity as it comes and say, ‘Is this the right thing for the Red Sox?’ But I can confidently say we’ll have a large payroll.

Will you talk to Josh Hamilton’s agent?

We have already. We’ve talked, by this time in the offseason, like most teams, we’ve talked to just about every agent of any prominent free agent. That’s part of our job, to do that due diligence. That doesn’t mean anything other than we’ve met with several agents for all of the higher profile — and some lesser profile — free agents. It’s really part of due diligence, get more information as to what guys are looking for, how it might fit into what we’re doing. Now is the time when we try to hone in on the guys who make the most sense for us.

Would Josh Hamilton fit into your plans?

We’ll see. I respect the talent, certainly. He’s been one of the more productive players in baseball. Beyond that, we’ve got to look at what alternatives we have. We know we’re going to have an outfield somehow. We’re going to do it in a way that we feel makes the most sense for us, not just in 2013 but moving forward.

With Hamilton, what is the balancing act between his skill set and his off-field issues?

With any free agent, you sort of factor in the performance upside along with the risk. A big part of the risk is tied up in just how much you’re committing. That would apply to Hamilton or any free agent. You never know about a guy who’s not with you. You always know more about a guy who is with you. In some respects, it’s easier to take apart the guys that are with you because you’ve been with them longer, you know all the strengths and limitations. Sometimes the guys that aren’t with you, at least initially. Sometimes from a distance, because you don’t know them as well, all you see is the performance on the field. You have to spend the time digging more into it, find out what those limitations are, so you can appropriately figure out what the risk is. That goes back and forth. It starts back in the summer. It continues. We’re still in the process of doing that. As we get closer on any potential free agent or trade acquisition, you pick up that process again and make sure you have all the information you need.

What was the last five- or seven-year deal that worked out for the Sox? When will owners and GMs stop giving them out?

The histories of them isn’t very good. There are some that work out just fine. I would say the Manny Ramirez deal, for all of the controversy surrounding him at the end and the trade to the Dodgers, I would say for the most part that deal worked out well for the Red Sox. He was a very productive player for a long time. We’ve had other longer-term deals of a different variety, deals like Dustin Pedroia‘s deal, [which] covers a lengthy period of time. He signed it as a [pre-arbitration-eligible] player. Obviously, that deal is going to work out well for the Red Sox and we hope Dustin’s here for a long time. There are others that haven’t. There does seem to be something where I think elite hitters, middle-of-the-order bats, guys who are the purest hitters, if you look at the history of long-term deals, those are the ones that tend to work out the best. Not always, but those tend to be the ones that tend to work out the best.

Are you considering bringing back Kevin Youkilis?

At this point in the year, we’ve talked about just about every free agent, the representatives for every free agent. He’s in that group. I couldn’t handicap it at this point. We have a great deal of respect for Kevin, the way he plays the game, what he does on the field and how he does it. We just have to see how it plays out.

How do you prioritize starting pitcher, first baseman and corner outfielder?

I haven’t really put them in order — 1, 1, 1, I suppose. We want to try to attack each area. We’re trying to figure out the best way to do that. It’s obvious to everyone that our starting pitching needs to be better if we’re going to be a better team in 2013. As I’ve said before, what’s going to make a bigger impact on that than anything is improvement from the guys that are already here. We believe that we will see improvement from the guys that are here. We have guys that are talented, fully capable and committed to doing that. But we’d like to add to that. Whether it’s through free agency or a trade, we’re actively engaged in trying to find the right guy to do that. That’s a priority. But we also need to add to the outfield. We need to figure out first base. It may be a combination of guys in both areas. We’ve seen, I think the Giants are a good example of a team that’s figured out how to get production in the outfield and even at first base with a combination of players. That may be one way to look at it. We’ll see what comes to us and definitely work at it.

Do you expect Jose Iglesias to be your Opening Day shortstop?

I expect that, as of now, he’ll be given an opportunity to win the job. He’s not going to be given the job. But we know that having really good defense at that position is important to a pitching staff and what we’re trying to do at the pitching staff. But we’re not in a position to hand big league everyday jobs out. Just as players have done in the past, he’ll have to earn it. He’ll be given the opportunity. We’re not going to stop trying to get better. We’ll see what the rest of the offseason brings, but we feel like he’s certainly ready to play the position from a defensive standpoint and as of now, our expectation is that he’ll be given a chance to earn that, but he’ll have to earn it.

How far did you get in talks with Torii Hunter?

Another guy that we talked to. It became clear that he had a preference, a desired landing spot. He ended up at that landing spot. And so, we respect that. He had some reasons for that. I wish him well. He’s been a terrific player for a long time, and certainly a respected player.

Do you expect the Sox will have a chance to win 95 games and take the division?

I think we’ll be looking at a Red Sox team that is going to be a contender. I’m not ready to put a win total on it. I know I’m tired of it, and I think fans are tired of it, too, hearing talk of how good we may or may not be in the offseason. I know we’re going to be good in the long run. I know that we’re building something that’s going to be good. Exactly what that turns into in 2013, time will tell. I know we’re going to be better. I know we’re going to improve. I know that we’ll have a team that fans will enjoy watching a lot more and that has a chance to contend. But I’m not ready, I’m not sure that talking about win totals is [inaudible].

Did Hamilton’s agent say that it would take more than five years and $100 million?

We didn’t get into that. The meetings we have with agents, the conversations you have with agents this time of year are more of the information-sharing variety. You spend less time in most cases talking about terms of the contract and more about personal preferences and the fit, whether the city makes sense, other desires, things the player desires, things the team needs, etc. We haven’t really gotten into that yet. I understand why he is a topic of conversation, because he is such a talented player. But it is a conversation about many, many free-agent alternatives and trade alternatives.

How much are you counting on John Lackey?

We know how good he can be when he’s healthy and feeling good. When he got to Boston, obviously he struggled the first half of his first year here, then pitched like John Lackey in the second half of 2010 and looked like he had sort of made that transition and was settling in. Then clearly, at some point, was pitching hurt — certainly was pitching hurt in 2011. It may have been further back than that. To his credit he gutted it out, took a lot of bullets in the process, because he couldn’t do the things he was used to doing. Fans were getting on him. It was a tough situation for him. He had surgery, has worked really hard to get himself back. He’s now entering into a normal offseason. He pitched a couple innings in instructional league at the end of the year. He’s going into a normal offseaosn. He’ll be going into spring training as a healthy starting pitcher. We’ve seen in the past, guys coming off that surgery, where it takes a little time not to get back on the mound but to get sharp again. Adam Wainwright, this year with St. Louis, took his lumps early in the year and ended up being Adam Wainwright again by the middle of the season. We’re going to work with John this offseason and this spring training to get him feeling as good as possible, then be there with him as he gets through those first few outings. My expectation is we’ll see a very good version of John Lackey in 2013, but it can take some time to not so much get on the mound and pitching in games, but to get sharp again.

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