Ben Cherington Needs To Pick It Up
It has barely been two months since Ben Cherington took over as Red Sox GM, but to date his work has been extremely underwhelming. This impression has been in place ever since the prolonged and possibly botched managerial search, which ultimately netted Bobby Valentine. Although Cherington and the team professed that Bobby V. was their choice all along; the time and number of candidates it took to get to his hiring strongly suggest otherwise. With Cherington making his first signings and trades as a GM this week, the early results have done nothing to abate the fear that the Red Sox found a worthy replacement for Theo Epstein.
Transaction #1- Catcher Kelly Shoppach signed to a 1 year, 1.35 million dollar free agent deal: This is the one Cherington move this week that I was okay with. The Red Sox are clearly moving forward with Jarrod Saltalamacchia as their starting catcher, and distancing themselves from veteran Jason Varitek. Signing Shoppach fills the team’s need for a back-up catcher and means they can formally wave goodbye to Varitek, who was still trying to get invited back.
Shoppach is a decent fielder, but not a very good hitter. If he hits .220 with 8 home runs this year, the Red Sox should consider themselves lucky. He strikes out a ton, but between his defensive value, veteran presence with the staff and Saltalamacchia, and ability to knock a few over the Green Monster; he is a pretty decent choice for back-up catcher. However, if he sees significant playing time, the Red Sox will be in trouble.
Transaction #2- Infielder Jed Lowrie and Pitcher Kyle Wieland traded to the Houston Astros for Mark Melancon: I can’t say that I really like this deal. If Melancon was obtained to be the team’s next closer, I really don’t like this deal. The Red Sox didn’t give up all that much in this trade, but given Lowrie’s versatility in the field and at the plate, I assumed he could have brought back a little more in return. The Red Sox were likely frustrated by his inability to stay healthy, but hopefully they won’t come to regret giving up on him.
Melancon is a former well-regarded prospect who has already undergone a Tommy John surgery and has a violent delivery that worries many baseball evaluators. He had a decent year in 2011 with the dreadful Astros, but it is scary to think of him holding down the Red Sox closer position with such limited experience. He might be a decent middle innings guy in the bullpen, but I think many in Red Sox Nation were hoping for a more established closer to replace Jonathan Papelbon.
Transaction #3- Infielder Nick Punto signed to a 2 year, 3 million dollar free agent deal: www.amazon.con currently sells a variety of baseball screens in the $100 range. Purchasing one of those would be a cheaper alternative than what Punto will bring to the Red Sox. He is a decent fielder who can play all over the infield, but has absolutely no bat. He has a .249 career batting average, and his .327 slugging percentage is the second lowest in all of major league baseball of any player with at least 2500 career at bats. He makes Alex Cora look like Robert Alomar.
Punto is the type of player who seems to persevere almost solely on the fact that he has a “scrappy” label tied around his neck. Not only does he have severe limitations, but he is also 34 and past any “prime” he may have once had. Fortunately this signing was for minimal money, but it feels the Red Sox could have done much better in finding an infielder for their bench.
This may sound snobby, but if I had just seen the players involved in these transactions, and not the team that acquired them, I would have assumed that the moves had been made by a team like the Pirates or the Royals. Cherington may not be looking to spend a lot of money this off-season, but there should be no reason why he has to dumpster dive. He will continue to toil in the shadow of Epstein until he can make a signature trade or free agent signing that breaks him free. Unfortunately what he has done this week only shows how far away he is from that happening.
Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew.