LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Sam Kennedy raised the notion Wednesday that Theo Epstein’s return to the Red Sox in an advisory and part-owner role may not be for the long haul.
“When we agreed, it was very clear that this is likely a step, maybe a short-term step, along the way to something bigger and better,” said the Red Sox president and CEO. “We’ll see — maybe he ends up with us for the long term but it’s very much a consulting, part-time advisory role.”
Kennedy, seated on a bench behind the Four Seasons Resort for the MLB owners meetings, brought up a number of scenarios his longtime friend could pursue.
“I could see him going on to own and operate a baseball franchise in another market,” said Kennedy. “I could see him going into another industry. I mean, people have talked about politics — I’m not sure he would really want that, I think he’d be good at it.
“But my personal feeling is that he’s going to always want to be connected to baseball. He could go to another club potentially but I could also see him being interested, if Major League Baseball ever got to a point of expansion, in wanting to build something from the ground up, I think that would be something he’d be interested in.
“But anyway, we’re focused now on having him help us in the near term.”
Since Epstein’s approach to his new job is not believed to resemble anything close to a layover stop, considering the amount of work in front of him and the personal investment he made in becoming a part-owner, Kennedy’s remarks can be viewed as a possible attempt to lower expectations for Epstein, whose arrival last week was greeted with delirium and relief from disenchanted Red Sox fans.
Friends since their Brookline High School days, Kennedy and Epstein worked together for the San Diego Padres beginning in 1996 and through Epstein’s final season as Red Sox general manager in 2011.
‘I could see him going on to own and operate a baseball franchise in another market.’
Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy on Theo Epstein
Kennedy expressed excitement to be back at work with Epstein.He also shed more light on his new role.
“We’re talking now multiple times a day like we did in the old days,” said Kennedy, “He’s not physically in the office and he won’t be — he’s not going to be involved with any sort of day-to-day matters. Just more high-level consulting for me and for John [Henry] and Tom [Werner] and Mike [Gordon] and for the other [FSG][ organizations. He’s going to spend the next couple of months getting to know people from the other organizations.
“Obviously, he’s got a great relationship with Craig [Breslow], which helps people in the front office, with Raquel [Ferreira] and AC [Alex Cora], he’s got long standing relationships there.”
Kennedy envisions Epstein weighing in with Breslow and the baseball operations department on free agent signings and trades.
“I think he could, if Brez seeks out that counsel, which I think he will,” said Kennedy. “Craig has been really excited about this. You know, Theo had senior advisers when he was in Craig’s chair. It’s a pretty standard thing to have someone who’s been in the chair before.”
Kennedy said he does not expect Epstein coming to many Red Sox or Pittsburgh Penguins games, Liverpool matches or RFK NASCAR races, all entities under the Fenway Sports Group umbrella.
“But on strategic issues for the ownership group, we’ll be relying on him,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy said season-ticket renewals are up 4 percent from a year ago at this time, to 88 percent. Overall tickets are around 1.4 million, which Kennedy said was “basically flat” from a year ago.
He said “we have a lot of work to do, especially for April and May games.”
Asked if he was surprised renewals were ahead of last year, Kennedy said, “I guess I’m not surprised because our fans have just been so loyal through thick and thin. Season-ticket purchases are tied to certainty of location — where you’re going to sit or postseason certainty. And our season ticket-holder base has been just incredibly loyal. I know we’ve tested that the last couple of years with last-place finishes, but we’re really, really humbled by it.”
As for the skewering the team has been receiving for the lack of significant spending on new talent, Kennedy said, “It’s hard, and because we take it personally, because we love our jobs and we feel an obligation and a commitment. But we know that if we keep doing the right things, the team will play better and be competitive and we’ll get back to where we belong. But it’s difficult, there’s no question.”
Michael Silverman can be reached at email@example.com.