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NH's Cherington occupies Sox hot seat

BEN CHERINGTON is our guy. We want him to succeed. But now that Bobby Valentine is gone, it is the general manager from Plainfield village of Meriden who occupies the hottest seat in Red Sox management.

Every move will be scrutinized and the pressure intensified as Cherington looks to rebuild after a calamitous first season as Boston's boss of baseball operations, a 93-loss debacle that was doomed from the start.

Remember when Dale Sveum emerged as the leading candidate in Cherington's search for a manager to replace Terry Francona? Theo Epstein, Cherington's predecessor and former boss, swooped in and signed Sveum to manage the Cubs while Red Sox ownership began pushing for Bobby V. The managerial search, which made Cherington look like a puppet to Sox President Larry Lucchino, was a sign of serious dysfunction. And it was only November.

We believe Cherington has the resources and smarts to become a great GM, though if you want argue otherwise, there's ample ammunition. Injuries or not, the Red Sox began the year with a $175 million payroll — third-highest in baseball — and sank to last-place in the organization's worst season since 1965.

We can't blame it all on the meddling owners. Cherington has been a major player in the Red Sox front office for a decade. He was there, working under Epstein, for the long-term contracts given to Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. To his credit, the GM has accepted more than his share of the blame, pointing to his failure to strengthen a weak starting-pitcher rotation, among other things.

Thankfully, Cherington can hang his hat on The Trade, his most notable accomplishment since taking over as GM last fall.

In one fell swoop, Cherington in August sent Crawford, Josh Beckett, Adrien Gonzalez and Nick Punto to the Dodgers, essentially blowing up a roster of overpaid, under-performing players and starting over while taking $260 million off the books. Thursday, within hours of Valentine's firing, the Red Sox completed the blockbuster trade, officially acquiring right-handed pitcher Rubby De La Rosa and first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands, the players agreed to when the LA deal went down.

In a previous good move, Cherington last offseason signed Cody Ross on short money. The free-agent outfielder turned out to be one of the few bright lights for the 2012 Sox, belting 22 homers and driving in 81 runs, and now club and player are looking to re-up for next season.

Other than that, Big Ben's first year could be summed up as a whole lot of bad luck.

Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz got hurt. Crawford started and finished the season on the disabled list. There were so many injuries (team-record 27 players made a stint on the DL) that Boston needed a team-record 56 players to get through the season.

All-Star reliever Andrew Bailey, acquired in a trade for Josh Reddick, injured his thumb in spring training and didn't pitch for the Red Sox until Aug. 14. Reddick? Who knew? Considered an expendable outfielder by Cherington and the Red Sox — along with just about everyone else — he wound up clubbing 32 homers for the A's, unlikely champions of the American League West.

Cherington traded away aging veteran Kevin Youkilis to make room for 24-year-old Will Middlebrooks at third base, which appeared to be an excellent move. Middlebrooks blossomed at the hot corner and batted .288 with 15 homers and 54 RBIs in just 75 games. But just when he was looking more and more like a young Evan Longoria, the rookie suffered a broken wrist in early August, prematurely ending his season. And, in another case of adding insult to injury, the player Boston acquired from the White Sox in the Youkilis deal, former New Hampshire Fisher Cats pitcher Zach Stewart, allowed a whopping 14 earned runs in just two starts.

Better luck next year, Ben.

The Red Sox general manager grew up in Meriden and played baseball at Lebanon High. When he returns home this winter to visit his mother, Gretchen, he'll drive over a one-way covered bridge and probably need four-wheel drive to climb the driveway. He's one of us, and we like to see our fellow Granite Staters succeed.

Cherington can reload this offseason. With only a fraction of this past season's players under contract (for $46.6 million) for next year, the 38-year-old GM has the ownership's blessing to spend as needed.

&#';Our commitment to winning is unwavering. It is a commitment to this team, to this city and to these fans who have supported us through thick and thin,&#'; Red Sox owner John Henry said Thursday.

&#';We have confidence in Ben Cherington and the kind of baseball organization he is determined to build.&#';

Time to rebuild. The dreadful 2012 season is over.

I'm willing to give Cherington a mulligan.

kgray@unionleader.com

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