Entering his second season as GM, Cherington knows there really isn't anywhere to go but up after a thoroughly-humbling 69-93 season in 2012.
If the Red Sox do go on to exceed expectations in 2013, it's doubtful that Cherington will try to jockey for his share of the credit. But he is very accountable in taking blame for what went wrong last year.
"I think everyone is excited to get to Spring Training for exactly that reason," Cherington said. "We're trying to put 2012 behind us and try and move forward and talk about something new -- which we've been trying to do all winter. I've said it before, it's a collective failure, but I take more responsibility than anyone for it. Last year, we were a long way from living up to what we should be on the field and off the field. It's up to us to make the Red Sox what they should be again. Some of that started and will continue here in Spring Training."
Cherington looks forward to seeing these Red Sox evolve on a step-by-step basis under new manager John Farrell.
"Expectations are that we'll get to know the guys that we acquired this winter better, and John and his staff are going to run a really good camp and we'll get a lot of work done," said Cherington. "And like every other team in baseball, we just want to get the work done that we have to get done and stay healthy. ... I think, as you guys know, [there are] a few areas open for competition. But a lot of the team is in place, and we want to get ready for the season."
Most of the spots in the starting lineup are set. What is up for grabs is exactly how at-bats will be dispersed in left field between Jonny Gomes and other players, such as Daniel Nava and Ryan Sweeney.
Another area of intrigue is the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan is the closer. That much is set in stone. Andrew Bailey is projected to be the eighth-inning stopper. But beyond that, a talented group of relievers will be jockeying this spring to see who gets to pitch in the more important parts of the game.
Daniel Bard is trying to get back on the radar. Junichi Tazawa is trying to build off of his brilliant finish last year. Koji Uehara, Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller, Alfredo Aceves and Franklin Morales are also hoping to be key contributors.
"I think there will be competition in the bullpen for roles, and sort of who is pitching in what spots," Cherington said. "There's a lot of good arms trying to be a part of the bullpen. That's something John and the staff will get a better handle on once we get into camp and get started."
As in any spring, there will be players trying to rebound from either health woes or under-performance. In the case of Jacoby Ellsbury, he's trying to bounce back from both. Adding intrigue to Ellsbury's situation is that he's eligible for free agency following the '13 season.
"Well, Ellsbury is a very talented player and we know what he can do on the field when he's feeling good physically," said Cherington. "We're obviously a better team when he's on the field. We'd love for him to be [with the] Red Sox for a long time. I'm not going to get into anything other than that. I think I've had a good relationship with Jacoby, and I hope that continues."
Though Ellsbury played the entire second half of the season following a right shoulder subluxation on April 13, Cherington thinks his health was the main reason he didn't come close to duplicating his production level of 2011.
"Well, he had a pretty significant shoulder injury that he came back from and was cleared to play," Cherington said. "Even when he came back, he probably wasn't feeling physically quite the way he would want to from a strength standpoint. And then, you get back and you're rushing through a rehab -- and it's not like going through Spring Training. I think his at-bats got better toward the end of the year. I think what he really needed was a good offseason; I think he's had one and I know he's anxious to come into camp and have a good year."
Unlike a year ago, when the Red Sox had two starting-rotation spots up for grabs during Spring Training, there is a clear projected five this time around. Barring injury, Boston will break camp with a rotation of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront.
But Cherington knows that the team needs to have contingency plans in place, and he hopes that he'll have the depth he needs in Morales, Aceves, Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster.
"Yeah, I didn't do a good enough job last year in that area," Cherington said. "I don't think it's something that happens in one offseason. You can do some things in the offseason, but it really has to happen over time. Starting-pitching depth can't just come from free agency or one area; it has to come from every avenue. We have to develop pitchers; we have to sign the right guys; we have to trade for the right guys."