Addressing the media at the press conference in which he was introduced as the new GM of the Boston Red Sox, Ben Cherington spoke on some of the many challenges that he will face over the offseason.
To start, Cherington established a direction for the front office, acknowledging that while changes will be made, the team will still be built on the foundation established by Theo Epstein:
We're going to continue with the culture that Theo continued to build with the Red Sox...That said, there comes time when it's time for a change. It's my job to preserve what we're good at and also be a catalyst to decide what we need. It's my job to move forward and identify what we need to do differently to have the kind of success the Red Sox and their fans deserve.
Of things that needed to be done differently, free agency was front-and-center. While Cherington acknowledged that their track record in that department was "not good enough," he wasn't about to throw anyone under the bus, saying he was a strong proponent of the Carl Crawford signing and planned to meet with him over the offseason.
As for the other questionable big free agent on the roster, Cherington had big news: John Lackey will undergo Tommy John surgery, missing all of the 2012 season.
On what will be the Sox' first order of business--the hiring of a new manager--Cherington laid out his ideal candidate:
Someone who's got a strong voice. I want someone who cares about players but is also willing to have a tough conversation with them.
The softer style of Terry Francona came under fire after the Sox' month-long collapse to end the 2011 season, so it will assuage the concerns of some that Cherington does seem to be looking for someone who can be the disciplinarian if necessary. On the other hand, he'll have to avoid going too far away from the atmosphere that brought the Sox a pair of World Series championships in order to avoid a culture shock. It will be a tough line to walk, and Cherington has acknowledged that their answer may not come from within the ranks of current managers.
One thing that Cherington won't be doing is scourging the clubhouse of the 2011 team that proved so dysfunctional:
We have a bunch of players that are really motivated by what happened at the end of this season. I don't believe that any player should be judged on one moment, one episode, one piece of behavior. We need to judge on the body of work.
Included in that group are two big expiring contracts in Jonathan Papelbon and David Ortiz, both of whom Cherington acknowledged the Sox had begun talking to regarding extensions. The other potential departure--Marco Scutaro--has a team option which the Sox are interested in picking up. After a strong finish to the 2011 season and without many viable alternatives, it seems entirely likely that the shortstop will be making his return to the team in 2012.
Cherington is taking control of a team seemingly in crisis, but with the potential to get back on its feet in a hurry. With his first conference, the new GM has at least established a direction for the Sox to follow in solving their biggest issues, and hopefully has opened the page to a new chapter where the media will talk more about the actual construction of the team instead of fried chicken and beer.