Ben Cherington's departure will make Blue Jays one of their top executives and create a series of new questions for those left in the Toronto front office.
Cherington, a former Boston Red Sox GM who later became an important part of the Blue Jays decision-making team, will be the leader of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball operations, according to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. When contacted for comment Friday, GM Blue Jays Ross Atkins declined to confirm or reject 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 bleak season on and off the pitch. This will represent a new challenge for Cherington, whose previous experience as GM came to one of the biggest MLB markets. In Boston, he built the 2013 team that won the World Series and developed a lot of core that will win everything in 2018.
But even with the Red Sox, he shows himself as a deliberate GM who prioritizes player development over the spark of free agents. On a rare occasion that spent a lot of Cherington, boomerang moves, leaving for the expensive and unproductive Boston tenure of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. That development-based approach would suit the Pirates, who routinely have one of the lowest payroll in the league.
Meanwhile, the impact of this step will be felt in Toronto. Since joining Blue Jays as VP of baseball operations in September 2016, Cherington's public profile has remained low, but he has become an integral part of the Toronto front office. His absence will now be felt in the development of the player, where he has worked closely with Gil Kim, and during the season when he helped create and implement the club's strategy.
At the same time, this news will not surprise the Blue Jays, who are regularly updated during the interview process. When the GM Meeting was held 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 made it clear that Blue Jays did not believe in freezing executives completely even when property information was played.
"A potential employee leaves us and goes elsewhere, has information about one particular strategy we might have about free agents or trade acquisitions and in the end, being open and honest and not closing the database and information for our potential strategy is the approach we have taken, "Atkins said. "I can see that there may be circumstances where you will, but in general we are very transparent with our leadership."
Now that Cherington is taking on the Pirates job, his access to Blue Jays information will clearly be closed. Others at the front office can replace him in off-season trade negotiations and free agents while Kim will lose a key collaborator on the player development line.
After Cherington officially joins the Pirates, he will face the challenge of rebuilding a team that lost 93 matches last year and fills the front office. It is unclear whether the Blue Jays will limit the number or types of employees Cherington can recruit in Pittsburgh, but that will be a key variable for the club which has lost one of its most senior executives.