How the Red Sox perform this season may change how fans feel about this, but NBA superstar LeBron James, a new part-owner of the team, is “not going to make any lineup decisions,” team chairman Tom Werner assured radio listeners Friday.
James and his business partner Maverick Carter are part of an offseason ownership shakeup that redefined and fortified Fenway Sports Group, the Red Sox’ parent company.
“He’s just going to be a resource for conversations about players and player psychologies,” said Werner, who appeared on WEEI along with principal owner John Henry on the Red Sox pregame show before the Opening Day game against Baltimore.
“LeBron and Maverick are smart people. They run a media company that is a juggernaut, they’ve got great relationships in Nike to Disney to Amazon, so they’ll be a resource as so many of our partners are.”
Henry, who also owns the Globe, and Werner sat for their first Red Sox-centric interview since before the start of the 2020 season. Their public silence went unexplained, but it coincided with an on-field swoon by the team. Following the 2018 championship season, the Red Sox compiled a 108-114 record the next two years, finishing in third place two seasons ago and last in 2020.
Henry said the team’s recent performance was a direct result of the organization losing sight of its long-term future by neglecting its farm system.
“In 2018 when we won, at that point it was clear to some of us in the organization that if we didn’t pay more attention to the future, we were going to be in trouble,” Henry said. “By the middle of 2019, it was clear that we had overplayed our hand, so to speak, in going for it.
“You can do that from time to time, but if you go for it every year in baseball, the only way you can do that is have a very strong farm system, and our farm system at that point was in really bad shape. So we knew at that point, early on in 2019, we knew that we were going to struggle.
“And then last year, it was evident to everyone, the lack of depth. Chaim [Bloom, chief baseball officer] has done a tremendous job of starting to strengthen the club, especially with regards to depth.
“You just can’t play a 162-game schedule in baseball without a certain amount of depth. Injuries are such a huge part of the game in the 21st century.”
“Anyone looking at our roster this year would objectively say that we’re stronger than we were last year,” Werner said. “Our pitching staff is strong, both in starters and relievers. We’ve got some new faces coming up.
“I don’t want to put any pressure on someone like [rookie first baseman Bobby] Dalbec, but he’s going to be an exciting part for us. We’re ‘sneaky good,’ as [pitcher] Garrett Richards said.”
James, the Lakers star, first joined the Fenway Sports Group fold in 2011, when he received a share in Liverpool Football Club, one of FSG’s holdings. His new role is a furtherance of his past one, Henry said.
“They’ve been great partners of ours in other ways, other than being partners in FSG,” Henry said. “We’ve partnered on deals and done things together over the last 10 years. It’s been a very good, close relationship and this is a really exciting step for us.”
James and Carter also became the first two Black partners in Fenway Sports Group, which purchased the Red Sox 19 years ago.
“The Red Sox have had a somewhat checkered history regarding race relations,” Werner said, “but when John, [FSG president] Mike [Gordon], and I came in, we were all for an inclusive park, an inclusive organization up and down the management ranks. The fact that there are two owners of color in baseball is a good thing for baseball.”
Werner also said the return of manager Alex Cora after a one-year suspension for cheating (with the Astros in 2017) is already paying dividends.
“He was an extraordinary manager for us,” Werner said. “By his own admission, he made a mistake in Houston that he paid a price for, but he’s a great motivator of all these players. They were thrilled that he’s back in the fold, and I just see, from the early returns, the smiles on everybody’s faces. They’re prepared for the season.”
Even before the first pitch, the season took on a brighter tone with the return of 4,000-plus fans to Fenway Park — at the 12 percent capacity currently allowed by the state. Much like an increase to their winning percentage, the Red Sox would like to see that limit rise.
“One of the worst experiences I ever had in sports was coming to Fenway Park last year, unfortunately,” Henry said. “We’ve always known that the magic of Fenway was dependent and really a result because of how many, huge [numbers of] fans show up every night.
“Hopefully we’ll have a full house here before the end of the season, and it will feel completely different than what we saw last year.”