Tom Werner first got involved in Major League Baseball in 1990 when he led a group that purchased the San Diego Padres. That venture lasted four tumultuous seasons.
His tenure as chairman of the Red Sox has been peaceful — and far more successful — by comparison. Since Werner joined with John Henry to purchase the team in 2002, the Red Sox have won three World Series championships and refurbished Fenway Park.
There have been obstacles along the way and occasional crises to deal with. But in recent years, the highs and lows have been extreme.
The Red Sox suffered a historic late-season collapse in 2011 that led to the firing of manager Terry Francona and swift departure of general manager Theo Epstein to the Chicago Cubs. The Sox then fell into disrepair in 2012, winning only 69 games under manager Bobby Valentine.
John Farrell, the third manager in as many years, led a roster rebuilt by general manager Ben Cherington to a World Series title last season. Now, just as surprisingly, the Red Sox are again one of the worst teams in the American League and ready to make another series of changes.
Sox ownership has stayed largely quiet this season but Werner agreed to discuss some of the major topics surrounding the team:
Worst to first and now this season. How are you handling all the swings?
“First of all, we’re as disappointed where we are in the standings as everybody else is. Where we sit here at the break, some of it is obviously understandable, but some of it is perplexing. When we went into the season, our expectations were very high and lots of people thought we could be very strong. But we’ve never really had the offense we needed to be more competitive. Our pitching has held up but the number of runs we’ve scored is way down. We were first in baseball last season and now we’re obviously lacking.”
Should you have been more active in the offseason adding talent?
“Obviously we made some mistakes and we cop to them. But we didn’t expect Shane Victorino to be on the disabled list for as long as he has been. We knew that Jackie Bradley had the potential to be a superstar but his season hasn’t been as robust as we all imagined. We’re still very confident about his potential and his defense has been fantastic. But should we have gone after Nelson Cruz? I guess so.”
With Jacoby Ellsbury gone, was enough done to supplement the outfield? Grady Sizemore was the only addition and he didn’t last.
“We felt going in that a combination of [Bradley and Sizemore] would be more successful than it turned out. I’ll be the first to say we might have made some different decisions. I don’t think John [Henry] and Larry [Lucchino] and Ben feel we aren’t going to be competitive in the second half of the season. But this isn’t what we expected.”
What is your opinion on the job Ben has done?
“Ben is very tough on himself and I’m sure he thinks he should have made some different decisions because hindsight is 20-20. But we’re very pleased with the potential of some of the rookies who are playing now. Between [Xander] Bogaerts and [Brock] Holt and [Mookie] Betts and Bradley and [Christian] Vazquez we really have the basis of a core group that’s going to get stronger and be extremely competitive the next few years. We’re by no means giving up on 2014. We could be in a position to hopefully add some talent.”
You could be buyers at the deadline?
“To be absolutely honest, we’re evaluating both options. I think it’s possible for us to climb back into this.”
It’s been a different season for John Farrell this time. How has he done?
“John is a fantastic manager and we feel as high about him as we did in October last year. Nothing has changed there.”
You invested a lot of money [$8.25 million] in A.J. Pierzynski and now he has been designated for assignment. Why did that go wrong?
“I don’t want to get too specific about any one player or a mistake. Obviously our hopes for his contributions did not match his performance. We felt we had a great talent with a lot of upside in Vazquez. There was a financial consequence to designating A.J. but we felt we had to do it.”
Are you worried about losing Jon Lester to free agency? It seems like the team is not moving very fast on that.
“Our hope is to retain his services for his career beyond this season. We do have private conversations and some things are probably best left private for now. But, yes, our intention is to come up with an offer that would be acceptable to everybody. We understand he could have other options. But also understand that he is a player we want to keep.”
You and John [Henry] have spoken about the dangers of long-term contracts. Will ownership go beyond four years for Lester?
“Any sober baseball executive is aware of the increasing injury time that pitchers are spending on the DL. You don’t have to look to far, the Yankees have, what, four-fifths of their rotation on the DL? You have to take selective risks. Jon Lester has been consistently strong in his career and durable. But with any player over 30, you have to be cognizant of the risks. But again, let me go back and say we love Jon Lester and we love his makeup as well as his pitching talents. He’s been in the organization his whole career and we want that to continue.”
A lot of fans have asked me if the chemistry is different this season. How do you feel?
“I was talking to a player the other day and he feels the chemistry is just as strong this season as last year. But obviously something is missing. It seemed like everybody had a lot of optimism going into the season and it’s been disappointing we haven’t played better. To be scientific about it, there is a disadvantage playing deep into the season like we did last year. You get one less month of rest. Combine that with some World Series hangover and here we are. I can’t say it’s a collective World Series hangover but since spring training we haven’t really had the season we thought we could. John [Henry] and I talk about luck a lot and the one-run games we’re losing. We play these competitive games and we’re losing more of them.”
Can the farm system help change this season?
“I don’t want to bring up players just to get a head start on 2015. That’s not what we do. Our intention is to compete. But all reports internally and externally are good and when we judge our own talent, we’re extremely pleased with our pitching depth up and down the organization. Other teams call all the time about our pitching. In terms of offense, it’s my hope we can find some power bats. Maybe we have to trade somebody to get some power bats but it’s pretty clear we’re missing that.”
If this team doesn’t get to the playoffs, what comes next?
“We have a lot of flexibility going forward in 2015 with our payroll. I think that people should be optimistic in assuming that we’re going to spend wisely but also be aggressive.”
So the payroll will stay generally the same?
“Yes. Look at the players who could be coming off. We have to replace them or look at new contracts. That’s looking into the future but we’re going to be at the same level.”
If the commissioner [Bud Selig] actually retires, would you want the job?
“Me as commissioner? No, I’m very happy as chairman of the Boston Red Sox. It’s been a fantastic ride.”