In early 2012, it seemed apparent that Cherington wanted then-Toronto bench coach Torey Lovullo to take the vacant managerial job after the much-maligned Terry Francona had been let go. But it seemed to be the opinion of John Henry and Larry Lucchino that the obvious choice was Bobby Valentine, who was famous for being a jerk and while supposedly a smart baseball man, not a particularly good manager. It would seem to myself and many other people that the Valentine hiring was forced upon Cherington. After 2012, Henry and Lucchino decided to give Cherington more free reign, but we all know that Cherington's best move came in August of 2012 in the midst of that atrocious last-place finish.
That move, of course, will forever now be known as the "Trade of the Century" with the Los Angeles Dodgers, a move that changed the destinies of both franchises. The Red Sox were able to dump Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez and receive massive salary relief and a few young players. So far, actually, the trade has worked out splendidly for both parties involved, with Gonzalez and Crawford having rebound years and only Beckett failing miserably. But the ability for the Red Sox to literally dump over $200 million of future contract money on the Dodgers and be able to rebuild the team from the ground up proved much more valuable for the Red Sox. While I could delve deeply into the numbers in evaluating this trade from a statistical standpoint, I will say this: the Red Sox signed a bunch of under-rated players and won a World Championship while the Dodgers expanded their payroll, played pretty well, and lost to the Cardinals in the playoffs. To say that Cherington's move netted Boston a World Championship would be, of course, quite accurate.
Also, Cherington got his wish to have Torey Lovullo on his staff, but instead, as the bench coach for former Toronto manager John Farrell. Of course, Farrell was still under contract with the Blue Jays, which meant that there had to be a deal worked out. The Blue Jays decided to let Farrell go if they acquired shortstop Mike Aviles, as well. The Red Sox were totally fine with that idea (already having Stephen Drew in their sights) so they got the manager that they sort of always wanted anyway. They got Lovullo as a bonus, as well as the legendary infield coach Brian Butterfield and former bullpen coach Juan Nieves to be their new pitching coach.
Farrell's highly analytic approach to the game along with Butterfield's defensive positioning genius turned out to be a great combination. Nieves worked very well with the pitching staff and Farrell's own pitching coach experience no doubt proved invaluable for his old students Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. But, of course, Cherington's make-over of the team, made possible by the "Trade of the Century" netted them very useful players like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, David Ross, Jonny Gomes, and Stephen Drew. Ryan Dempster, so far, seems to be the only signing that's looked a bit questionable so far. They also signed the upbeat, and very underrated, Japanese reliever Koji Uehara and traded for Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan to solidify the back end of the bullpen.
In the end, they replaced guys that had become clubhouse cancers with character guys. While people may say character can be overrated in terms of baseball analysis, the 2013 Red Sox proved that clubhouse chemistry (as it was in 2004) is in fact a big deal. The thing is, from Cherington's perspective, he signed the guys he did for the baseball players they were. The good character attributes just happened to be a bonus, and of course, they were considered. Joel Hanrahan didn't work out, as he blew out his arm, clearly being more damaged goods that they had initially realized. One of the guys they traded for him, Mark Melancon, actually ended up becoming the Pirates closer due to Jason Grilli's injury. Ryan Dempster started off well, but was quite mediocre the rest of the way. In fact, after his incident with throwing at A-Rod multiple times, he really didn't pitch much at all (mostly due to the the presence of the Jake Peavy trade). He's on the books for about $13 million next year, too, making Dempster probably the only bad move he's made so far. The Hanrahan trade might count, too.
But what went right so far outweighed those negatives. Of course, as is extremely well-documented now, Koji Uehara ended up becoming the closer and having one of the best closer seasons in a very long time. Also, Cherington had been brilliant enough to had a games finished clause to Uehara's contract, and that netted him a SECOND year of Uehara at $4.5 million, a bargain considering how the free agent market is shaping up this off-season. Also, while the Napoli negotiations were a bit crazy, as the Red Sox went from offering a 3-year $39 million deal all the way down to a $5 million with incentives that inevitably totaled $13 million, the gamble paid off beautifully. Victorino, known for his injury history with his back and hamstrings, was a bit of a head-scratcher signing to some people, as well. Of course, Victorino has been quite underrated for some time, and as it turned out, he was always meant to bat from the right side, as he discovered late last season when an injury hampered his ability to hit from the left side. He hit so well right-handed that it's possible he'll give up switch-hitting entirely, and actually far exceed his expectations. What he was signed to do, though, he did and more. He was easily the best defensive outfielder in baseball last year, and it wasn't close.
Jonny Gomes proved to be an excellent platoon partner for the surprising breakout Daniel Nava. He's always been a guy with decent pop, but he's better suited to batting against lefties. He isn't a great defensive outfielder, although he made some highlight reel plays this season. He only produced about 1 WAR overall, but was fantastic in the playoffs and is well-known as a fantastic clubhouse guy. David Ross is a very underrated catcher who could start for a lot of teams, and he would've been more valuable had it not been for his concussion issues, and proved to be a solid back-up for Saltalamacchia.
Also, the only real trade the Red Sox made this year was for Jake Peavy. The Red Sox had coveted Peavy for awhile, but wanted the White Sox to kick in some money. The White Sox wouldn't budge without receiving at least Will Middlebrooks from the Red Sox. But with the Tigers' Jhonny Peralta being suspended for PED's, the Tigers found themselves without a shortstop and decided to join the trade party. In the end, the Red Sox parted with only Jose Iglesias and a couple of low-minors arms for Jake Peavy, who is also signed for 2014. While Peavy was lousy in the playoffs, he was solid for the Red Sox during the stretch run, and it's very possible Peavy's struggles were due to his being over-hyped for the playoff starts - as adrenaline rushes have been known to do. He'll probably be fine for 2014. The emergence of Xander Boegarts made Iglesias expendable, and while he'll probably be a great Tiger for years to come, the Red Sox got the starter that they so desperately needed to replace a mediocre Dempster for the stretch run. That move worked out just fine.
Overall, you have to give Cherington an A for his team-building efforts. The Red Sox already had a solid core of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and even John Lackey, who returned to his Angels form in 2013. They have great young talent in Will Middlebrooks, Felix Doubront, Jackie Bradley, Jr, and of course, Xander Boegarts. Going forward, Cherington knows he has a dynasty sort of core locked up for awhile. He'll have to figure out how to replace Ellsbury, who will very likely leave, but he's likely going to bring back at least Napoli and likely Saltalamachia (or bring in Brian McCann). In any case, he'll always have 2013, and hopefully, the pieces fall again just as well for 2014. He has very few holes to fill and some decent prospects on the farm.