The departure of Ben Cherington will cost the Blue Jays one of their top executives and create a new set of questions for those remaining in the Toronto front office.
Cherington, the former GM of the Boston Red Sox who later became a key part of the Blue Jays’ decision-making team, will become the baseball operations leader of the Pittsburgh Pirates, according to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. When reached for comment Friday, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins declined to confirm or deny the report.
The 45-year-old Cherington will bring 21 years of experience as a baseball executive to the Pirates, who fired Neal Huntington after a dismal season on and off the field. This will represent a new challenge for Cherington, whose previous experience as a GM came in one of MLB’s biggest markets. In Boston, he built the 2013 team that won the World Series and developed much of the core that would later win it all in 2018.
But even with the Red Sox, he showed himself to be a deliberate GM who prioritized player development over free-agent splashes. On the rare occasions that Cherington did spend big, the moves backfired, leaving to the expensive and unproductive Boston tenures of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. That development-based approach will fit with the Pirates, who routinely have one of the lowest payrolls in the league.
Meanwhile, the repercussions of this move will be felt in Toronto. Since joining the Blue Jays as VP of baseball operations in September of 2016, Cherington’s public profile has stayed low, but he has been an integral part of the Toronto front office. His absence will now be felt in player development, where he had worked closely with Gil Kim, and during the off-season when he helped create and execute the club’s strategy.
At the same time, this news won’t come as a shock to the Blue Jays, who were updated regularly as the interview process unfolded. When the GM Meetings took place in Scottsdale, Ariz., this week, Atkins, Joe Sheehan, Tony LaCava, Andrew Tinnish, Mike Murov and Steve Sanders represented the Blue Jays’ front office, but not Cherington.
Earlier this week, Atkins explained in general terms that the Blue Jays don’t believe in freezing executives out completely even when there’s proprietary information in play.
“A potential employee leaving us and going elsewhere, having information about one particular strategy that we may have on a free agent or trade acquisition and in the end, being open and honest and not closing down databases and information to our potential strategies is the approach that we’ve taken,” Atkins said. “I can see that there could be circumstances where you would, but in general we’re very transparent with our leadership.”
Now that Cherington is taking the Pirates job, his access to Blue Jays information will obviously be closed off. Others in the front office can replace him in off-season trade and free-agent talks while Kim will lose a key collaborator on the player development front.
Once Cherington officially joins the Pirates, he’ll face the joint challenges of rebuilding a team that lost 93 games last year and filling out a front office. It’s unclear whether the Blue Jays will place any restrictions on the number or type of employees Cherington could hire in Pittsburgh, but that will be a key variable for a club that’s already losing one of its most senior executives.