FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Decisions, decisions.
With less than a week until Opening Day, the final determinations regarding what the Red Sox roster will look like when the regular season rolls around are moments away. Starting rotation. The 25th man. Late-inning relief. Demotions. Potential trades.
Since Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington has taken over, almost every day has been filled with organization-altering decisions. So, while the stakes might be a bit different, the process won't change a bit. But, perhaps even beyond what moves are to be made, some of the biggest questions hovering over this team involve how these dilemmas are actually resolved.
Is Cherington calling the shots, or does president Larry Lucchino truly pull most of the strings? How much influence does manager Bobby Valentine have? The answers might surprise some.
First, the Lucchino dynamic. For much of the offseason, there had been a perception that with the departure of Theo Epstein, the Sox' president was bound to wield his power more than ever when it came to decisions involving baseball operations. The new GM said that simply isn't the case.
"The process is really exactly the same when Theo was here," Cherington said. "If we want to do something, we present it, make the arguments. I don't remember ever when Theo was here where after some back and forth, and after discussion that if Theo felt that strongly about something he wasn't empowered to do it, and that's been the same case with me months into the job.
"What's happened is not a lot has changed. Larry is involved in the higher level baseball decisions, as he always has been. I think it's appropriate when there is a new person in this job or any position in leadership that the first few months he's going to be talking to that person a lot, and that's happened. I would expect that and want that. It's the same thing when Theo first got the job. There was more conversation and dialogue in his first year than there was seven or eight years in. That's the case for any GM in baseball. When you first get hired there's going to be more collaboration, and then there's always collaboration but maybe it shifts over time."
Trading Marco Scutaro. Hiring Valentine. Even the decision to sign a player like Pedro Ciriaco. For some, the thinking was all of it was more the handiwork of Lucchino, with Cherington at the ready when need-be. Not the case. Business models aren't that dissimilar to that of a major league baseball organization, and this Red Sox power structure is no different.
"Larry's involved in any higher-level baseball decision, as he should be," Cherington said. "And Larry also has a track record of hiring GM's and empowering them. If you go back and look at his history, he's never hired someone and not given them a chance to do the job, going back to his football days and Bobby Beathard, to Roland Hemond, to Kevin Towers, to Theo Epstein. There's nobody in that group who wasn't given the opportunity to make decisions to do the job, and that's the same thing here.
"Any decision where there's a significant budgetary impact is something we're going to talk to ownership about, and in most of those conversations Larry is going to represent ownership. And that's exactly the way it should be. And when it comes to the straight talent decision it's checks and balances. Within baseball operations we have checks and balances. We're not going to rely just on scouting. We're not going to rely just on objective data. We're going to push back and forth, and it's the same thing with Larry and ownership when it comes to baseball decisions, there are checks and balances. "
And there is Bobby …
The question regarding how the decision-making process was going to work when it came to Valentine and Cherington came to a head recently when some suggested a power struggle was in the works. It was written that the manager was insistent that Jose Iglesias get the shortstop job, while the Red Sox' front office would be digging in on Mike Aviles.
From Cherington's perspective, the notion was far from reality, albeit not totally unexpected.
"Based on what's happened since we hired Bobby, there's simply nothing to that," the GM said. "I think Bobby and I both expected that would be a topic someone would raise. I remember when we sat back in the first days he was on the job we talked about that, saying, 'You know, at some point, someone is going to bring that up.' We just have to be prepared for that. The truth is we're working together like any GM and manager work together, and that involves talking a lot about a lot of different stuff, sometimes debating, sometimes disagreeing and ultimately making decisions together. That's exactly what has happened this spring and that's going to continue to happen. It's no different than 29 other teams in baseball. The Red Sox are talked about more than any team in baseball, so it's something both of us are prepared for.
"As I said before, I don't want a manager who agrees with me all the time. I want a manager who has conviction, who has beliefs and strong beliefs. And I want that push-back. I want my beliefs to be challenged. I think Bobby and the staff want the same thing. They want their beliefs to be challenged. The exercise is that push and pull, and when there is a little disagreement you push back on each other and when you do that you have a better chance at finding that right answer rather than just seeing it through one lens and assuming that's the right answer. Sometimes, and it happened with Theo and TIto, the front office had a particular perspective on something going into a conversation and over time you change your mind because you're presented with new information. You hear someone's conviction, and if somebody's that convicted about something in baseball, you better listen because the game is too hard. So many decisions are filling with questions. If someone is pounding the table, and has that level of conviction, you better listen."
The Iglesias topic offered a perfect example of how the group plans to continue to arrive at their ultimate decisions. A sound-bite here, or a quote there might leave the media and public guessing, but the real answers can only be found around a table surrounded by front office members, coaches and the manager. It was exactly the scene set when Iglesias' demotion was determined.
"Bobby said something about Jose publicly earlier in camp and I saw it, and my reaction was completely different the media reaction to it," Cherington said. "My reaction was, 'That's great. We have a manager who believes in a young player.' Go around baseball and there's a lot of managers who wouldn't say that. I didn't read that there's some disagreement. I read we have a manager who believes in young players. Of course there was more dialogue and we talk, and we keep watching. Bobby keeps watching, I keep watching and we keep talking, and ultimately we both made the decision the right thing was to option him."
The Cherington/Valentine dynamic has, in actuality, seemed to work well thus far. The styles are different -- with the GM offering an even-keeled, deliberate persona, while his manager's opinions and actions are omnipresent. But, what they do share is the understanding regarding how decisions should be made.
It's a dynamic which will be put to a whole new test in the coming days.
"I knew he would be good at a lot of things, but you don't know for sure until you see it. … The one-on-one dialogue with a player, and he's giving a message where sometimes that message is positive and sometimes it's critical but there's substance, there's a point, there's sincerity to it, and I've seen that turn into good results," Cherington said. "It's turn into adjustments players make on the field. That part is not a surprise, but it's something you have to see.
"I got to know him this offseason, but not in a baseball setting. I'm getting to know him in this environment now, and there will be another chapter once we get to the season that will be another environment we get to know each other."