A few hours after a press conference at Wrigley Field introduced Theo Epstein to Chicago, another press conference a thousand miles eastward introduced Ben Cherington, Epstein's successor as Red Sox general manager.
Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino opened the affair with a brief introduction, after which Cherington mostly took over. He's an impressive fellow, and began by speaking at length and in complete sentences, without notes. He was more articulate than Theo Epstein, who had seemed somewhat ill at ease in the same setting. Which doesn't necessarily say anything about their relative abilities as baseball executives. It's just something that struck me.
We shouldn't have expected to make much news -- it's a press conference, fer crissakes -- and Cherington didn't, except for breaking the news that John Lackey's going to have Tommy John surgery. This does raise some questions -- which somehow nobody at the press conference thought to ask -- like how many writers are going to take back all the terrible things they wrote about Lackey, and why did the Red Sox keep letting Lackey lose games when his forearm and bicep were attached by a fraying piece of twine.
Otherwise, Cherington said exactly the sort of things you would expect him to say. There was an interesting question, but how to formulate an interesting answer?
Question: How would you assess the team's track record at free-agent signings in recent years, and how will your approach be different, if at all?
Cherington: Not good enough, certainly. Let me say first that there are players on this team now, that we signed as free agents, that we still really believe in, and that I was a strong proponent of signing. You know, I think we have to look at that area, and look critically at perhaps why we haven't performed as well, in that area. I will say that I think that, going back to something I said in the remarks, we need to make sure that we're not only talking about using the best possible objective and subjective information when we make decisions like that; we have to make sure we actually do it, and walk the walk and not just talk the talk. And that's something we're gonna focus on.
Well, good luck with that. I'm sure that when Theo Epstein was GM, the Red Sox used the best possible objective and subjective information when discussing potential free-agent acquisitions. Usually the best excuse for free agents that blow up is, "The owner made me do it." But in the case of Carl Crawford, at least, the principal owner was dead-set against the move, but deferred to his people in baseball operations.
Generally speaking, this is a good thing because an owner, even a bright fellow like John Henry, almost always has a shaky grasp of performance and the market compared to his baseball people. If you're John Henry and you're right more often than your baseball people, then you get new baseball people. Which Henry hasn't done, willingly. So they must be doing all right, at least relative to him.
My guess is that the front office's information about free agents has been perfectly fine. It's just that once you decide to spend gobs of money on players in their 30s, some of those contracts are going to blow up on you. And the Red Sox have probably gotten a bit less than their fair share of good luck in this area.
Here's sort of the meat of the press conference, when Cherington discussed his fundamental (and less than surprising)
Question: It's no secret, Theo had the reputation of being heavily impacted by statistical analysis ... Do you think on-field and scouting will play a bigger role under your administration?
Cherington: I believe that Theo really believed in both side of that equation also. As Larry said, in order for us to be the best, and make the best decisions, certainly at the major-league level, we need to have the best analytics department, and we need to combine those people with the best evaluators. Those groups need to collaborate, they need to agree, disagree, fight if necessary, and through that we will winnow, narrow down to the group of players that are really the right fits for the team.
It's easier said than done, to do that. And I think we have some really really strong evaluators in our organization, that I'm going to utilize to the best of my ability. We may look to add more. That's an area that we need to look at. But mostly it's process. Again, it's finding ways to leverage the intelligence of objective minds, subjective minds, and realizing that very few people, you can just sort of neatly fit in either box. Most people in the game today, they can talk about performance analysis, they can also talk about what they see on the field. And we have a lot of those people in the organization. We have to make sure we're getting the best out of them.
There's your blueprint for a modern general manager employed by an owner who's read Moneyball (or in the case of John Henry, Bill James's Baseball Abstracts 25 years ago). But it ain't news.
Neither is the below, but it's on the verge of being sort of fun, if only because it leave a little room for an enterprising reporter to keep the Epstein-Lucchino thing going just a little longer ...
Question: Larry, Theo Epstein said, after the televised portion of his press conference, that he would probably still be in Boston if Terry Francona was manager. How does that square with your understanding of events?
Lucchino: I didn't hear that statement, or the context for it. I think you're best off with a follow-up question to Theo, as to what he meant by that. I've not seen or been aware of that connection, or even suspected the connection, prior to this.
We can only hope that someday everyone writes memoirs, and we can finally get the Truth.