By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Well done, Boston Red Sox.
Going from last place in the American League East to World Series champions is a lot more than unexpected, but it shows that if a sharp general manager can make all the right moves, it can be done.
It should give hope to both the White Sox and Cubs.
Ben Cherington was the architect of Boston’s remarkable turnaround, and he started making moves toward the end of the brutal 2012 season when he traded Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Everett to the Los Angeles Dodgers and got a couple of pitching prospects in return. Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster figure heavily in Boston’s plans for the future, but the key to the deal was clearing out the exorbitant salaries.
Then, the day after the season ended, they fired ham-handed manager Bobby Valentine. Every move the V-man made was a disaster. It was obvious that he had no idea what he was doing.
So what did Cherington do with his salary cap room and his managerial move? He went on a serious roll.
He hired a manager in John Farrell who had been the team’s pitching coach when they won the 2007 World Series.
That move was a winner from Day One. Not only did he understand the make-up and talent of the pitching staff, he also was not Bobby V. Anyone this side of Jim Essian would have been an improvement because Valentine had been a clownish boob.
Farrell was smart and determined. That’s a big improvement.
Then came the free-agent moves. Cherington had no inclination to bring in superstars and huge payroll guys. He brought in Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Koji Uehara, Shane Victorino, David Ross, and Ryan Dempster.
Napoli had the highest profile of any of those players and had been a home-run slugging mainstay for the Texas Rangers. He had always dominated against the Red Sox in previous meetings, but the rest were all role players.
Give Cherington credit for recognizing the odd weirdness and talent of Gomes, a low-average but great presence because of his propensity for getting big hits and speaking the truth. He also recognized that Drew was a better-than-average fielder at the most important defensive position on the field. But even the smartest baseball men could not have figured out that Victorino and Uehara could have played such important roles.
Victorino, 32, hit 50 points higher this season than he did in 2012 with the Dodgers. His on-base percentage improved 35 points (.351-.316), his slugging percentage was 100 points better (.451-.351) and his OPS rose from .667 to .801. There was no way the Red Sox could have expected that kind of showing. He produced all season, even though he was tormented by back spasms.
Then there’s the redoubtable Uehara. The Red Sox lost two closers in Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan to injury, and it seemed like they would be no more than a .500 team as a result. Uehara became of the most dominating closers in recent history because his ordinary-looking pitches –fastball and sinker – were magical.
Cherington had skill and luck on his side this year, and that’s what a general manager needs.
That’s what Cherington’s former boss, Theo Epstein, desperately needs and so does White Sox general manager Rick Hahn.
Cherington probably was not thinking about winning the World Series a year ago. He was just thinking about having his team improve in as many areas as possible in one season.
That’s what the two local bosses have to think about as they prepare for 2014.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.