ARLINGTON, Texas — In between assorted committee meetings at the MLB Owners Meetings, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner and president and CEO Sam Kennedy stopped to offer their perspective on a number of topics.
⋅ The two dodged specifics about a potential pursuit of the premier — by a long shot — free agent on the market, Shohei Ohtani. The Sox scouted the two-way star when he was still in high school in 2012 and tried to recruit him in 2017 before he signed with the Angels.
“We certainly were on him early, he’s one of the greatest players in the history of sports,” Werner said.
Added Kennedy: “We can’t talk about any potential pursuits of free agents, it wouldn’t be appropriate.”
It would be appropriate to mention that, especially early in the offseason, both a free agent and a team stand to gain whenever “interest” is reported. The player broadens their market and keeps all suitors guessing, while the interested team can show its fans that it is following every lead to improve itself. Ohtani has managed to keep most guessing on where he will play and if that city would be east of the West Coast. A sizable contingent of Japanese media on site for the meetings collectively has expressed uncertainty about Ohtani’s true desires.
⋅ Kennedy lauded the start to new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow’s first offseason.
”It’s been great, he’s incredibly collaborative, he has very strong leadership skills, he’s a very clear communicator and we’re excited to watch him get to work here this offseason,” Kennedy said.
Breslow’s experience as a major league pitcher and his ideas for rebooting how the franchise develops and improves pitchers were noted. Case in point, watching Ryan Brasier, released by the Red Sox in May, thrive in the Dodgers bullpen didn’t sit well.
”That obviously was disappointing,” Werner said. “We didn’t love the fact that he actually had a very productive season.”
”And our defense, we need to improve our defense, it’s not acceptable,” Werner said. “I think we were 29th out of 30 in baseball. That’s something that seems to be correctable.”
⋅ Werner and Kennedy pushed back on the narrative that the turnover of the top job in baseball operations — since October 2011 the Red Sox have employed Ben Cherington, Dave Dombrowski, Chaim Bloom, and Breslow — resulted in less interest in filling the most recent opening.
”That was nonsense,” Werner said. “I can count at least nine or 10 qualified candidates, many of whom reached out to us.”
Kennedy explained why he thought the perception of frequent turnover is off base.
”I would challenge it,” Kennedy said. “We’ve been here since 2002. We had four years of consistent leadership at the top of the baseball operations food chain and a clear succession plan, we had Theo [Epstein] for a long time and then Ben Cherington as part of that regime. It wasn’t until 2015 when there was significant action taken by ownership. So I would just point that out. And I would also point out the fact that this ownership group knows what it takes to not just be competitive, it knows what it takes to win it all.”
⋅ The Red Sox’ estimated taxed payroll, according to Spotrac, is $148.9 million, some $88 million less than the competitive tax threshold of $237 million. In recent years, the Sox more often than not have been around $20 million above or below the CBT.
Werner described that CBT figure as “a guide but not a red line.” Like every other offseason, the executives declined to pin a figure to payroll for 2024.
”We do not talk about it publicly, because it would put us at a competitive disadvantage when we’re talking to other clubs,” Kennedy said.
According to Spotrac, the Red Sox’ payroll this past season was $182.9 million, 13th highest and about $17 million more than the $165.8 million average among the 30 teams.
⋅ Kennedy offered a general outlook on how the offseason will play out.
”We’re happy with the trajectory of the ‘build’ part of our baseball operations strategy, which is building around a core of young homegrown players,” he said. “We’re very confident in that and we’re going to continue to build responsibly toward sustained success. But, we’ve also shown a willingness to invest in free agency and be aggressive with trades.
“We don’t know what this market is going to bring. It’s going to start to unfold over the next couple of weeks.”
⋅ While MLB’s attendance climbed nearly 10 percent, the Red Sox were up 1.8 percent at Fenway Park from just over 32,400 to nearly 33,000. Quicker games brought about by rules changes, and not the 78-84 record and last-place finish in the AL East, were behind the slight increase.
”I attribute that directly to the fact that the experience of Fenway Park is better,” Kennedy said. “We’re not celebrating that, but it’s an indicator.”
Werner said NESN ratings were “down a little bit,” which Kennedy noted was due to the team’s performance.
Michael Silverman can be reached at email@example.com.