On a busy Tuesday at Fenway Park, when the Red Sox officially introduced about $200 million worth of acquisitions in third baseman Pablo Sandoval and left fielder Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox principal owner John Henry told reporters he’s willing to go over the $189 million luxury tax threshhold.
“The way it’s structured we can blow through one year,” Henry said. “Again, for next year we have tremendous flexibility. So we could go could through for one year and not overly affect us.”
Henry attended both news conferences, which were held more than five hours apart, with Sandoval introduced first. Henry also spoke about his perceived change of direction in philosophy, though he said his words last spring about not giving long-term contracts to players over 30 years of age were in reference to a study on the subject.
Henry, who also owns the Globe, had said then, “All of the underpaid players are under 30, and virtually all the overpaid players are over 30.”
Tuesday Henry said, “That was really overblown because of one comment quoting a study which says more about the structure of major league compensation. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to go out and sign 30-year-old players. You can’t win unless you engage in free agency. We always engage in free agency.”
The Red Sox also will pursue two, maybe three, starting pitchers now that the offense has been taken care of. The team still seems to be in the hunt for Jon Lester, making an offer of $120 million over six years and still willing to negotiate more than that.
A report said Lester has been offered $135 million by the Cubs. He is also visiting with the Cardinals and Giants in the next week, so the pursuit is far from over.
Henry and his fellow owners, CEO Larry Lucchino, and COO Sam Kennedy visited Lester in the Atlanta area earlier this month and extended the offer. They hoped to repair whatever ill will remained from the four-year, $70 million offer the team made last spring.
Henry said he remained hopeful a deal could get done with Lester, but he noted that general manager Ben Cherington is pursuing all possibilities in trades and free agency.
Sandoval and Ramirez spoke about the perceptions of themselves at their news conferences.
“Yes, we are good friends, we have a good relationship, and we had dinner last night,” said Sandoval of Ramirez. “We were talking about all the good moments we had in the West and the rivalry [between Sandoval’s Giants and Ramirez’s Dodgers]. Now being on the same team is going to be fun. He’s such a great guy.”
The engaging Sandoval said about being known as the Panda, “Ben didn’t sign one guy. It was a two-for-one deal. The Panda is with me.”
Ramirez has had hamstring issues which are related to his back problems. He said he’s working hard on those with Dr. Robert Watkins, a well-known back specialist. He agreed that a move to left field might rectify the every-day wear and tear of playing shortstop and he plans to be in Fort Myers way ahead of pitchers and catchers to learn the new position.
Ramirez also said he has grown as person, shedding the immature tag that he had in Miami.
“Everything changed after I got traded from Florida to LA,” he said. “I was around guys that have been in the game, being men the same time they were being players. Talking to me. Telling me what I was doing wrong.
“After I got there, I learned how to win. Right now, I’m a different player. I’m a different person than I was before in my mid-20s.”
Cherington revealed that Ramirez approached the Sox to express his interest in returning to Boston. As soon as Ramirez signed off on left field, that sealed the deal.
Why did he agree?
“Sometimes you just have to look in the mirror and say to yourself what can I do to help the team win,” Ramirez said. “I talked to my people and they said you can play anywhere. At the beginning I was like, ‘OK,’ but after they left I sat down and thought about it and I said I just want to win.”
Sandoval has had weight issues but vows that will not be an issue and that he’ll work hard with Boston’s strength and conditioning people to ensure he gets to camp in shape and stays that way.
According to one major league source, the Giants grew wary of Sandoval’s constant battle with weight and Sandoval got tired of hearing about it. Those who coached him in San Francisco observed that Sandoval’s weight was tied into his quickness at third base. When his weight was under control he made all the plays. When it wasn’t, he slowed in the field.
Sandoval said he was not looking to be a designated hitter in the future. “I want to play third base for the rest of my career in Boston,” he said.
The Red Sox know Ramirez from his younger days, before he was traded to the Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. He’s had a very good offensive career; he’s a former Rookie of the Year in the National League, a batting champion (.342 in 2009), and a career .300 hitter.
They are two players with swings the Red Sox believe will play well at Fenway Park.
The union of the two is also enhanced by the Sox having the popular David Ortiz.
One Red Sox official indicated that Ramirez, who signed a four-year, $88 million deal (with a vesting fifth year option also for $22 million), has always respected Ortiz and that Sandoval also respects him. Ortiz won’t be in Boston forever, but the feeling is Ortiz is going to teach them the Red Sox Way, and that Ramirez, who was not a problem in the clubhouse with the Dodgers, will fall into place.
The bigger issue for Ramirez, who hit .321 with runners in scoring position last season which was eighth-best in the NL, is staying on the field. The Dodgers did not re-sign Ramirez believing he had morphed into an American League player whose best role would be DH. He played in 128 games last season.
Cherington pointed out that while teams do shift on Sandoval, because of his swing the shifts against him are far less than on the normal lefthanded hitter.
In this day and age, that’s a factor because shifts have reduced batting averages across the league. The Red Sox certainly did their homework and made their own projections on how Sandoval fit at Fenway Park as opposed to 81 games in the expansive AT&T Park.
“I’m going to enjoy this ballpark,” Sandoval said. “One of the things I was thinking about when I was making my decision was the ballpark.”
Sandoval signed a $95 million deal with a breakdown as follows: $3 million signing bonus and $17 million in 2015-17; in 2018 and 2019 he will earn $18 million. There’s a club option for $17 million in 2020 with a $5 million buyout.
“It was a tough decision for me,” said Sandoval. “It took me a long time to be sure I was going to make the right decision. The Giants gave me the opportunity to be in the big leagues, opened the door, taught me how to respect the game. The Giants’ fans are one of the best. But I want a new challenge. I made the choice to be here in Boston because I need a new challenge.”
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.