Fenway Roundtable Live: Ben Cherington Notes Importance of Signing Players for Their ‘Prime Years’


January 11, 2013

Ben Cherington, John Farrell8:37 p.m.:  That caps off a nice night at Fenway. It’s always good to see some notable baseball people have their brains picked, especially when it comes in the dead of winter.

8:35 p.m.: The panel was asked about Wednesday’s Hall of Fame results, and the sentiment is clear — we don’t know. Peter Gammons and Theo Epstein both noted that while we want to make everything black and white when it comes to the Hall of Fame in the wake of the Steroids Era, it isn’t quite that easy. In fact, there is very much a gray area, as it’s hard to gauge where each player from the era stands in terms of steroid use.

8:30 p.m.: The most hard-hitting question of the evening comes from perhaps the youngest person in the crowd. A kid asked what the primary reason was for Bobby Valentine’s firing.

After a boisterous response from the crowd, Peter Gammons was the one to answer. He said that he thinks a lot of things converged last season, and that Valentine probably wasn’t 100 percent prepared for what was in store, noting that it was a difficult season for the entire organization.

8:25 p.m.: Ben Cherington was asked — by a Dodgers fan — his thoughts on the future of MLB payrolls. Cherington said that teams often have to deal with diminished returns when it comes to high-priced players, as veterans often decline near the tail end of their career. That, Cherington says, is why it’s important to try to get as many players locked up under contract for their prime years as possible.

8:15 p.m.: While answering a question about ownership, Ben Cherington made it clear that John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino are “100 percent focused on winning.”

8:10 p.m.: After a brief intermission and a few auctions, the panel members have fielded a few questions from those in the crowd, and among the topics touched on were the recent Hall of Fame results/steroid testing, the MLB draft and the physical state of the Cubs’ clubhouse.

Gammons said that many players he’s talked to are welcoming increased steroid testing, as it ensures a level playing field. Obviously, as Gammons notes, that’s something that non-users desire.

As far as the MLB draft, and more specifically the new drafting process, Cherington said that the Red Sox — and all teams, for that matter — will need to be more creative going forward.

And Epstein stated a desire to improve the physical state of the Cubs’ clubhouse, similar to how the Red Sox improved their facilities during his time in Boston.

7:35 p.m.: That does it for the moderated portion of the event, and it ended the way much of the evening went — with Buck Showalter drawing some laughs.

Showalter said that the Red Sox have done a tremendous job of hiring good people this offseason, even noting that it’s difficult for him to admit given his status as manager of a division rival.

7:30 p.m.: Another Pedroia story to report. Apparently, during one of the Red Sox’ series against the Orioles, Pedroia spent a whole lot of time before one of the games heckling Adam Jones. The Red Sox second baseman could be heard screaming, “You better not hit it my way, or you are out. You are out!”

Classic Pedey.

7:25 p.m.: Showalter is really killing it, drawing plenty of laughs and applause from those in attendance.

Showalter took a little jab at the football players of the world, saying that he has a ton of respect for them, but that he wonders how those in football can say, “Well, we weren’t prepared this week.” Showalter said to try playing daily for seven months — as is the case in baseball.

Showalter also praised the Pedroias of the world, even saying the O’s have a few similar players in their clubhouse. When Gammons noted one instance of a Baltimore infielder calling out another infielder on the team, Showalter joked that Gammons “knows too much.”

7:20 p.m.: It didn’t take long for Dustin Pedroia’s name to come up. Farrell said that having an established leader like Pedroia is great, because he’s a guy a manager can turn to to be a voice in the clubhouse. And, as Farrell points out, Pedroia — a rather loud guy — isn’t afraid to stand up and hold himself and his teammates accountable.

7:15 p.m.: Epstein said that it’s important to get everyone pulling in the same direction. He said an “us against the world mentality” — which he clearly saw firsthand in Boston — is an extremely powerful force. That’s something he wants to see out of the Cubs, as they no longer want to be known as “lovable losers.”

Cherington followed up by saying that the Red Sox’ emphasis is on preparing the right way on a day-to-day basis. He said that when you go through struggles, it’s a time to look back and question whether you’ve gotten away from the daily preparation that made you successful.

7:10 p.m.: Showalter stressed the importance of keeping a grip on reality throughout the course of a season. He said there have been times when he felt like he’d never win another game, and then there have been other times when he thought he’d never lose again.

Showalter also said that in the past, he’s shown his players film of some of the game’s greats making errors, as it serves as proof that no one is perfect.

One major emphasis for Showalter, though? Pitching. Regardless of everything else, he says, you need good pitching. Fair enough.

7:05 p.m.: Cherington was asked about the role that establishing a good clubhouse culture played in his offseason additions. The Red Sox GM said that while it’s important, talent — and the ability to add talent to areas of need — is also extremely important.

Cherington said that you can get a bunch of good guys together, and everyone will have a good time and get along during spring training, but that you also need to have talent, which will ensure winning and thus further clubhouse chemistry building.

Well, the old adage is that winning solves everything, right?

7:00 p.m.: John Farrell sounds like a manager. That’s for sure. The Red Sox skipper said that it’s all about playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back. And you know what? He’s right.

Epstein then said that you learn about players all throughout their time in the minors, but that there comes a point when you realize which players are going to be influenced by outside factors (agents, friends, etc.) and which players are focused on baseball.

Epstein also stressed the importance of mutual trust. He said that while you need to trust your players, your players also need to trust you.

6:55 p.m.: Orioles skipper Buck Showalter, fresh off an impressive season, is also in attendance. The first question thrown his way focused on young players, and how to go about bringing them up to the bigs and implementing them.

Showalter, of course, has the privilege of managing one of the game’s bright young stars in Manny Machado. He admitted that the O’s probably wouldn’t have brought Machado up last season had he not been able to play alongside J.J. Hardy.

Showalter also said that you should be able to assume things about young players when they arrive in the majors.

6:51 p.m.: Peter Gammons’ first question was centered on the importance of a good culture in the clubhouse, and Ben Cherington said that forming good chemistry isn’t done overnight, but that it’s very important — as is a team’s talent level.

Theo Epstein pointed to the Red Sox’ World Series titles as proof that having a good clubhouse culture does play a big role. He said that the “whole exceeds the sum of its parts,” which is something he stressed throughout his Boston tenure.

Epstein was then asked if the September collapse of 2011 played a role in how he approached his building process in Chicago, but he noted that it didn’t have much of an impact.

6:45 p.m.: Theo Epstein is among those in attendance, and he’s already catching some heat from his brother, Paul, who is also on hand. Paul politely — and jokingly, of course, — requested that Theo quiet down a little bit.

Peter Gammons, a legend of the Boston media, is the moderator for Friday’s event. It should be noted that the event is for charity, so while everyone is licking their chops at the idea of talking baseball, let’s keep in mind what the night is all about.

6:30 p.m.:  We’re up and running here at the Fens, where there’s actually a really good turnout. Right now, those in attendance are stuffing their faces with some good eats. Hopefully they save room for some baseball.

4:15 p.m. ET: Hello, baseball fans. Hopefully everyone is enjoying their winter thus far, but if you aren’t, maybe we can make it a little bit more tolerable by talking some baseball. At least that’s the plan.

Clicking on this story may or may not be the best decision of your day — top five, at least. That’s because yours truly will be reporting live from the friendly confines of Fenway Park at what is sure to be a worthwhile event.

Unfortunately, no fungo bats, radar guns or penny balls will be utilized on Friday (unless some other member of the Boston media contingent decides to bring them along). But what we will have are some varying perspectives from a few notable baseball faces.

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, manager John Farrell, assistant GM Mike Hazen, Cubs president Theo Epstein, Orioles manager Buck Showalter and Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons are among those who will be participating in this year’s version of the Hot Stove Cool Music Baseball Roundtable.

These baseball luminaries will be part of an in-depth discussion on the topic of “changing a culture in baseball.” Fortunately, NESN.com is ready to provide up-to-the-minute commentary and information regarding their discussion.

And guess what? You’re invited to join me on this journey by sticking with this live blog. Don’t let me down, folks. It’ll be good. I swear.

Friday’s action is set to kick off at around 6 p.m., at which point there will be some media availability. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on all the happenings there, and then the actual roundtable will commence at around 6:45 p.m.

In other words, don’t touch the dial.

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