Interest in Cherington adds wrinkle to Blue Jays’ off-season planning

Ben Cherington, pictured above. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – As baseball’s annual GM Meetings began on Monday, 29 of the 30 teams had a general manager in place. The lone exception? The Pittsburgh Pirates, who are now looking for the next leader of their baseball operations department.

In subtle ways, the Pirates’ search has already impacted the Toronto Blue Jays. Depending on how it ends, those repercussions could be felt more intensely within the coming weeks.

Ben Cherington, the former GM of the Boston Red Sox who’s now a key part of the Blue Jays’ decision making team, is a candidate for the Pirates job. In fact, some outside executives see him as the leading candidate to succeed Neal Huntington in Pittsburgh.

But Cherington was nowhere to be seen as his peers arrived at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa, since the Blue Jays traveled to the meetings without their VP of baseball operations. When asked specifically about Cherington Monday evening, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins declined to comment on his whereabouts and whether he’s interviewing "out of respect for the Pirates, and out of respect for Ben."

Speaking in general terms, Atkins explained how the Blue Jays aim to handle outside interest for club executives.

"Complete transparency, even with lateral moves, and we’ve had a lot of them," he said. "We’ve had a lot of employees that have chosen to stay with us in the last few years (instead of) promotions. So we’re extremely transparent and work with the individual on potentially increasing fulfillment here. If there’s any way to do that while balancing what’s best for them and their careers and their families and try to help them make the best decisions. We’re certainly not going to make them for them."

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Clearly, if Cherington’s not at the GM Meetings he’s not as intimately involved in daily discussions as he might normally be. Others in the front office could simply replace him in trade and free agent talks. But the Blue Jays don’t believe in freezing executives out completely even when there’s proprietary information in play.

"Every situation’s a bit different," Atkins said. "We work with the individual on that front. I think in today’s game of information that 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."

Cherington has worked as a major-league executive for 21 seasons, most notably as GM of the Red Sox. The 45-year-old built the 2013 team that won the World Series and developed much of the Boston core that would later win it all in 2018. He joined the Blue Jays in September of 2016 a little more than a year after parting ways with the Red Sox.

Since then he has been an integral part of the Toronto front office while keeping a low public profile. If he prefers to remain out of the spotlight, then a small market like Pittsburgh might have appeal. Plus, in Boston he showed himself to be a deliberate GM who keeps the long view in mind – necessary attributes for any GM working with limited payroll.

With the off-season action now fully underway, the Pirates may feel some urgency to make a decision as soon as possible. If it’s Cherington, the Blue Jays will feel the impact of that hire, too.

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