When Ben Cherington joined the Toronto Blue Jays in September of 2016, the team was in the midst of a playoff race, and the focus was squarely on the field. Under those circumstances the addition of the former Boston Red Sox GM generated relatively little fanfare.
But Cherington, now the vice president of baseball operations, plays an integral role in the Blue Jays’ front office, particularly on the player development front. He joined Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt on Sportsnet 590 The FAN Friday to discuss his new role, the Blue Jays’ off-season and his ongoing search for knowledge about the game.
Here are some highlights…
On the Blue Jays’ off-season
“I think Ross (Atkins) and the group in the front office in Toronto just demonstrated a tremendous amount of patience, discipline. This was not an easy off-season. Coming off two very successful seasons, clear expectation to continue that. The players in place to give us a chance to continue that, but also a lot of work to do, and not easy, obvious solutions to a lot of the work that had to be done. I feel like the patience and discipline that Ross and the guys around him demonstrated this winter was really impressive.”
On a common trait of successful Red Sox teams
“(On) the best teams, the most talented players also were our best competitors, the hardest workers, guys that cared the most. I feel that’s in place here just from being down here for a few days. The players that the Blue Jays will be counting on the most also happen to be extremely hard workers, highly competitive, care a lot about the team and that sets a great example for new players coming into the organization and integrating with the team and also young players in the minor leagues who are developing and looking up to that.”
On his role with Blue Jays
“Always evolving. The idea coming in in September was to primarily focus on two areas: one, player development – that’s something I’ve done in the past; I was a farm director myself way back when. We’ve got a great group in player development, led by our farm director Gil Kim, who’s outstanding. Field coordinator Eric Wedge; we’re really fortunate to have someone like Wedgie in the position that he’s in given his experience.
“That was a piece of it: trying to contribute in some way to what we’re trying to do in player development. We’re trying to build a player development organization that gives every player, no matter who they are, a chance to reach their potential. Of course every team’s going to say that, but that’s what we’re trying to do. There’s a lot of talented folks spending a lot of time thinking about that, trying to learn how to do that the best way. Long-term we feel like that’s a critical element to the Blue Jays’ success.
“And then being a resource for the guys in the front office including Ross. In that respect — hopefully I can do that over time. I’m not sure what kind of contribution I’ve made so far, but hopefully I can be a resource and use past experience — things that went well or things that did not go well — to maybe shed some light on a particular decision or challenge that we might be facing.”
On a team’s role in player development
“Other than a very, very, very, very small percentage — the Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez levels of the world, guys that are just so uniquely gifted that they fly through minor-league systems and become elite players at the major-league levels right away — most of the players, and most of the best players on the current Blue Jays team, and we have some really, really good players on our current major-league team, faced some adversity along the way, had to make some adjustment in the minor leagues or even in the major leagues.
“For most players, they have to go down that path. Once you’re in professional baseball the game changes in terms of expectations, in terms of the everyday nature of it, the length of the season. Strictly from a physical standpoint the game is different at the professional level than it is at the amateur level and that requires adjustments. So it’s really that idea of which players can make the appropriate adjustments to make the most of their natural ability over time, and how can we help them do that? How can we surround them with the best possible resources to help them do that?”
On shared traits of strong player development organizations
“The organizations that excel, whether it’s in scouting, or player development, or just as baseball operations groups, are truly passionate and borderline maniacal about pursuing what they believe in, learning every day and getting better every day.
“There are different ways to do it … the Giants do it differently than the Cardinals. The Royals do it differently than the Indians. The Blue Jays are going to do it differently from another team, in part because the environment and the circumstances that the Blue Jays operate in. Whatever your particular set of values is, your particular beliefs in terms of how to build the best baseball organization, once you have that, you’ve just got to be completely committed and dedicated to that every day. It’s not something that just exists on a piece of paper or exists in theory. It’s something that has to be lived out every day by everyone in the organization. That’s the common theme, not so much a philosophy, it’s the total dedication and commitment by everyone in the organization every single day.”
On the search for organizational knowledge
“This is an organization that’s truly dedicated to learning every day, to getting better every day in every way that we can. It’s not just something that’s said, but it’s something that’s lived and supported, that last part being really critical. People are not only encouraged to find ways to learn and get better every day, but supported to the extent that even if there are mistakes made, that support is still there.”