Even though Ben Cherington is just 37, he has been part of the Red Sox front office since joining the team in 1997 under then general manager Dan Duquette.
Cherington is expected to be named the new GM of the Red Sox on Tuesday. The New Hampshire native is regarded as a brilliant baseball mind and has served in numerous capacities in the Red Sox organization, so he is the ideal man for the job.
Cherington has been handling GM responsibilities since Theo Epstein agreed to a contract with the Chicago Cubs. When he is officially announced as the Red Sox GM, Cherington will have a myriad of tasks to tackle. Among the most important this off-season are:
Hiring a manager
Dave Martinez, who has served as Joe Maddon’s bench coach in Tampa Bay the last four seasons, has been mentioned as a prime candidate to replace Terry Francona. Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum, Los Angeles Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach and Philadelphia Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin have also appeared in multiple media reports speculating on candidates the Red Sox will interview. Ryne Sandberg, who will likely be a leading candidate for the Cubs job is Theo Epstein fires Mike Quade, could also draw interest from Boston. This weekend, media reports surfaced that the Red Sox could be interested in former Sox pitching coach John Farrell, who just completed his first season as skipper of the Blue Jays and was once considered the heir apparent to Francona in Boston.
Determining whether or not to sign Jonathan Papelbon and David Ortiz to new contracts
Though Daniel Bard had a strong season overall, he faltered at times in key late-inning situations, so the Red Sox may not be ready to hand him the closer’s role. Chances are, Boston will bring back Papelbon if the closer is fine with a deal in the three-year range.
As for Ortiz, is will be difficult to replace a bat that generated 29 home runs, 96 RBI and a .309 average, but he is 36, and the Red Sox could choose to move Kevin Youkilis to DH and also give DH at-bats to Adrian Gonzalez to keep him rested.
With the presence of the versatile Jed Lowrie and Mike Aviles – along with Youkilis – the Sox have third base options. They could also sign the right-handed hitting Micheal Cuddyer, who primarily plays right field but can also play first, second and third.
This off-season, I think the Sox will bring back Papelbon and Ortiz, the latter on a two-year deal.
Deciding on whether or not to pick up team options on Marco Scutaro and Dan Wheeler
Scutaro hit .299 in 395 at-bats and represents the Dirt Dawg type of player the Red Sox need on their 2012 roster. Cuban shortstop phenom Jose Iglesias needs more offensive seasoning at Pawtucket, and though Lowrie is productive at the plate when healthy, they cannot count on him to log a full season without landing on the disabled list.
It is very likely that the Red Sox will pick up Scutaro’s $6 million team option for 2012, giving them three guys (Scutaro, Aviles and Lowrie) who can play multiple positions.
Wheeler, who will be 34 in December, was reliable when healthy. He did post a 4.38 ERA in 47 appearances, but after the All-Star break he logged a 3.43 ERA. When he wasn’t plagued with a forearm strain, he served as the effective middle reliever the Red Sox expected.
It is likely that Boston will pick up Wheeler’s $3 million team option for 2012 and he will join Papelbon, Bard, either Alfredo Aceves or Felix Doubront (one of whom will probably be in the starting rotation), Bobby Jenks (who will have motivation since he will be in the last year of his deal) and hard-throwing lefty Franklin Morales and a yet-to-be determined arm.
Finding a taker for John Lackey
A shell of what he was with the Angels, Lackey has $45 million and three years left on his contract, but it appears that the Red Sox ownership group are willing to eat that money. Recent media reports out of San Diego indicate the Padres might be interested in trading for Lackey if the Red Sox pay for most of his salary. The Padres seem to think the right-hander would thrive pitching in Petco Park. After Lackey’s ghastly 2011 season, and the Red Sox historic September collapse and the subsequent reports of starting pitchers drinking in the clubhouse, the team will be better off with him playing elsewhere in 2012. It will be extremely shocking if this doesn’t happen.
Finding a veteran right-handed hitting right fielder
The Red Sox lacked a productive right-handed hitting outfielder in 2011 as Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald did not remotely meet expectations. The aforementioned Cuddyer, who has spent his entire career in Minnesota, is an option. So is Josh Willingham, who hit 29 home runs but was strikeout prone with the A’s this season.
Deciding who will serve as the primary right fielder in 2012
Josh Reddick was impressive in his rookie season with the Red Sox, yet Ryan Kalish is still considered the team’s top major league ready outfield prospect. Kalish’s season was derailed with injuries, but he is expected to be fully ready by spring training. It appears that the Sox are higher on Kalish than Reddick, so they could decide to keep Kalish and platoon him with a right-handed hitting right fielder, and deal Reddick, who has trade value.
Determining whether or not to cut ties with Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek
Just as it is unlikely that Lackey will throw another pitch in a Red Sox uniform, it will be surprising if Wakefield and Varitek will be back. The Red Sox have Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz to anchor the rotation; Aceves or Doubront have a chance to secure the No. 5 spot; and likely Boston will acquire another starting pitcher via trade or free agency. And remember, Daisuke Matsuzaka should be ready to rejoin the team after the All-Star break if his rehab from Tommy John surgery continues as planned. He will provide the Sox with valuable starting pitching depth.
Varitek has long lost his ability to throw out baserunners, and he is a liability at the plate. With the emergence of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway, the Sox do not have a need for the captain.
Choosing which arbitration-eligible players to tender contracts
Boston has 10 arbitration-eligible players this off-season. They are Aceves, right-hander Matt Albers, Aviles, Bard, Ellsbury, Lowrie, left-hander Rich Hill, left-hander Andrew Miller, Morales, and Saltalamacchia.
Dec. 12 is the deadline to decide whether or not to tender these players contracts for 2012.
Epstein never went to arbitration with a player. Will Cherington maintain a similar record? Ellsbury and Bard will receive healthy raises. Chances are, Aceves will, too.
Albers, Miller and Hill are non-tender candidates.
Albers had a 2.55 ERA in the first half and a 7.36 ERA in the second half, yet he is a hard thrower and the Sox could tender a contract and give him a chance to make the team out of spring training.
Miller was impressive at Pawtucket, but he battled command issues with the Red Sox, yet since he has potential, it will be surprising if he is not offered a contract and given an opportunity to open eyes at spring training.
Hill was spectacular as a left-handed reliever, recording eight scoreless innings before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He will likely get a contract, continue his rehab and have a chance to rejoin the Sox at some point in the first half of the 2012 season.