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Now, the Cherington era has truly begun

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  August 27, 2012 09:45 AM

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Amid all of the protestations, the Red Sox clearly saw the same things you did. They saw a collection of overpaid, underachieving and entirely unlikeable malcontents, and they should thank their lucky stars this morning that they found a place more obsessed with star power than they are.

P.T. Barnum was right, it turns out: there's a sucker born every minute, and a number of them now own and operate the Los Angeles Dodgers. Los Angeles is seemingly in a state of drug-induced euphoria with a mountain of money at its disposal, and the Dodgers are now running around baseball like a binging bipolar Charlie Sheen who just survived a near-death experience. The party always ends, of course. And when it ends in La-La, as it did here, the superficial, silicone-injected state of southern California is going to wake up with one massive headache and a body riddled with needle marks.

Give thanks today for the Dodgers, Red Sox followers. Only an act of divinity or stupidity could have saved the Red Sox. You might even call it magic.

Here in Boston, this is how you should look at the weekend trade that redefined the term "blockbuster" and brought the Red Sox four minor leaguers and relative financial freedom for Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto, the last of whom now becomes the answer to a trivia question: Gonzo for four minor leaguers and $130 million in cash. Crawford has given the Red Sox nothing in two years. Beckett gave them nothing this year. Analysts usually describe that sort of thing as "addition by subtraction."

As for Gonzalez, whom one Sox official described as a "know-it-all" last season, let alone this one, replacing his bat will one of the real challenges for general manager Ben Cherington. Hitters like Gonzalez simply do not grow on trees. The Fenway PR Machine has been going out of its way in recent days to make sure we know how much of a pain in the pin cushion Gonzalez was in Boston, but we all know how it works in baseball clubhouses. The Red Sox won two World Series with Manny Ramirez. The New York Yankees won titles with Wade Boggs and even Alex Rodriguez. You can win with vain, selfish players in baseball; you just can't win if they are your leaders.

And so, could the Red Sox ultimately have won here with Gonzalez batting third? Some of us would like to think so. But the price of freedom is always high, and the Red Sox were in no position to be particular about escape routes.

So Gonzalez goes and the Red Sox still have not won a playoff game since they let Mark Teixeira walk out of that room in Texas. Prospects for Gonzo. Gonzo for prospects. Around and around it goes. Where it stops, nobody knows.

Where the Red Sox go from here is now of the utmost importance because we all know the job has only begun. Cherington still has some dusting to do in the clubhouse - John Lackey, anyone? - and the Red Sox still must resolve the uncertainty regarding Jacoby Ellsbury's future. And then there is the matter of manager Bobby Valentine, suddenly empowered with his own pitching coach and, seemingly, some managerial authority, evidenced by the weekend handling of Alfredo Aceves, who apparently was infected by the clubhouse disease before the weekend scrubdown.

In the span of roughly 24 hours at Fenway Park this weekend, it was as if Red Sox officials decided to reclaim control of their franchise in every way imaginable. They jettisoned three richly-paid players. They suspended an insubordinate reliever. And they sent a message to anyone listening that they are going back to basics.

You want to play baseball in Boston? Fine. No attitudes. No griping. No big-timing. Most of all, no excuses, because we've all grown very tired of them.

One of the more interesting questions in this now concerns the role of Cherington, whose first year on the job has been nothing short of, well, tumultuous. Cherington repeatedly spoke over the weekend of the Sox' need for "discipline," which was a certifiable indictment on the way the Red Sox have done business in recent years. Publicly, that is certainly the first time Cherington has questioned either his predecessor, Theo Epstein, or his bosses - or both - and we can definitively state now that the Cherington Era has begun.

All things considered, after all, Cherington had relatively little, if anything, to do with making this mess. But he could have an enormous hand in cleaning it up, and the next two or three years will likely define his career in Boston.

At the moment, pending a decision on whether to bring back David Ortiz, the Red Sox have a roster that is the proverbial lump of clay. The only current players on the roster earning an average of $10 million or more are Lackey ($16.5 million) and Ortiz ($14.5 million), and both could be gone by Opening Day of next year. If the Red Sox keep their payroll at its current level - and they could conceivably cut it some - they will have somewhere near $100 million to spend this winter alone, which gives Cherington countless possibilities.

Cherington could be active on the free agent market. Armed with the additional minor leagues from the Dodgers - in addition to his own - he could be aggressive in trades. There is simply nothing that restricts Cherington from doing anything entering the offseason, which is the single, greatest benefit of the weekend.

For this current Red Sox ownership and administration, too, the next two or three years are potentially defining. John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino inherited a team far better than this one when they took over the team in 2002, and they won a World Series in 2004. They then won another far more of their own doing in 2007. Since then, the Red Sox have been in a steady, relatively rapid rate of decay, and they are now faced with a challenge they have not encountered during their 10 years in Boston.

They have to rebuild the Red Sox at the major league level from the ground up, and they must repair their own very sizable mistakes.

Tony's Top 5

Favorite blog entries

The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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