John Henry touches bases at Red Sox camp
FORT MYERS, Fla. — When the Red Sox traded Jon Lester to Oakland last summer — they didn’t want to pay Lester’s steep free agency price — I suggested that Boston baseball was becoming “Kansas City on the Charles.’’
That was wrong. And I’m not saying that just because John Henry, who owns the Globe and the Sox, is an all-around swell guy. I’m admitting that KC-on-the-Charles was wrong because the Sox in the last six months have shot past the luxury tax threshold, ballooned their player payroll north of $200 million (team record), and committed more than $318 million to Messrs. Rusney Castillo, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and Yoan Moncada.
The Sox are spending freely, and that is a good thing if you are a fan of the team. They are demonstrating a Steinbrenneresque urgency that could help the quest for another worst-to-first campaign.
Henry delivered his annual state-of-the-team address at JetBlue Park late Tuesday morning and stated that his franchise has “never been better.’’ He said that when it comes to spending, the Sox of 2015 are “more discerning than ever, despite what people might write this week . . . especially with regard to free agents 30 years old and above.’’
Henry applauded his front office’s ability to keep secrets in house (such as Ben Cherington’s contract extension). He also denied a report by this columnist that CEO Larry Lucchino’s role at the top is shifting, and that Lucchino is perhaps ceding power to Michael Gordon, who is now CEO of the Fenway Sports Group.
Asked if there would be any tweaks in the ownership, regarding upper management, Henry answered, “Last year Mike Gordon was named president of FSG but not the Red Sox. I read that ridiculous story . . . ridiculous in this sense . . . that there’s some sort of power struggle between Mike and Larry. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s never been, that I know of, a word spoken in that regard within ownership.
“Mike is much more involved with Liverpool. He gets involved with the Red Sox with regard to financial decisions because of his tremendous financial mind. But there’s no power struggle.’’
There you have it. Everything is the same. Nothing to see here. Larry Lucchino runs the Red Sox.
“That has been and remains the case,’’ said Henry. “He’s involved in every decision. There’s no doubt that Larry’s in charge and continues to be in charge.’’
Sorry, boss, no retraction on this one.
Henry certainly knows how his organization is run and his is ultimately the only vote that matters, but when posed with the power shift question last week, the owner elected not to respond.
In the Red Sox’ official club directory of 2014, Gordon is not listed as anything other than “limited partner.” If the Sox made him president of FSG last year, they didn’t tell anyone. There’s been a change in the official hierarchy since last spring. And it is not subtle. For the first time, the official Red Sox website shows Gordon as the third-ranking Red Sox team official. In order, it’s Henry, Werner, Gordon, then Lucchino.
Coincidentally, we now have Gordon’s name included when club officials speak of the longstanding troika of “John, Tom, and Larry.’’ And some of us find it interesting that Lucchino just bought part of the Pawtucket Red Sox. Larry and Tom will be on campus to deny the power shift on Wednesday.
There was plenty of other fodder in Henry’s 24-minute press conference.
He acknowledged that the Sox rushed players to the big leagues in 2014. He said that the stars of three years ago are not the stars of today. He did not want to comment about potential revenue-sharing changes in the next collective bargaining agreement because he doesn’t want to get fined by the commissioner. He’s not bothered by the length of baseball games as much as the “pace of play.’’
He loves his general manager and his manager.
“We have two guys that not only are tremendous at what they do, but they are great people,” he said. “They love working together. It’s really an idyllic situation. We’d like to keep this management team together for a long time . . . The whole organization has confidence in those two guys.
“We play for championships. Midway through last season [and 2012], it became clear that wasn’t going to happen. So we tore those teams apart and we sacrificed the second half of those seasons to rebuild. We don’t want to do that again.
“We’re better-positioned than we were in 2013. In many ways, we’re in a much better position than we were that year.
“I think there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic. I feel good about our pitching, I feel great about the hitting. I feel good about the organization, the fact that so many players came early this year and there seems to be a focus that has to make you feel good.
“If you want to win championships, you have to be bold.’’