Making his first public appearance since the end of last season, Red Sox principal owner John Henry arrived at spring training and said in his most uncertain terms yet that he has no plans to sell the team.
“You just don’t get an opportunity to own something like the Boston Red Sox,” Henry said during a 25-minute session with reporters at JetBlue Park. “As long as we can do it, the three of us are committed to being here. These thoughts that we’re somehow selling, those are just not true.”
Rumors surfaced last year that Henry and chairman Tom Werner were thinking of selling the team. They have owned the Red Sox since 2002, during which time the team has won two World Series and made six playoff appearances. But it has been three seasons since the Red Sox went to the postseason, four since they won a playoff game. Last year, the Sox endured their worst season in nearly a half-century, losing 93 games and finishing last in the AL East.
At times, Henry and his partners have seemed increasingly distracted by their other ventures, including a pro soccer team in Liverpool, although Henry has disputed that perception. And over the past decade, most major-league teams have turned record profits, making this an ideal time to sell. Last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers were sold for $2.15 billion, the most expensive acquisition in the history of pro sports.
“Tom and I have made a lot of money over the years, so that doesn’t drive us,” said Henry, who spoke without Werner or team president Larry Lucchino being present. “If it was the driving factor, yes, I’m sure that would be a consideration. But the quality of our lives is what drives us — and our competitive spirit. We’re determined to be successful, and we have (been) since Day 1. That hasn’t changed. The value of these assets is just something we don’t think in terms of.
“The last 12 years have been the best years of my life. Tom and Larry and I have had tremendous working relationships. We’ve always been on the same page. It’s fun working with talented people.”
Along the way, though, Henry admits the Red Sox have lost their way.
After years of seemingly sound decision-making, the past few offseasons were characterized by excessive spending for high-profile free agents, including pitcher John Lackey ($82.5 million for five years) and left fielder Carl Crawford ($142 million for seven years) and the trade-and-sign of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to an eight-year, $154 million extension.
Despite an escalating payroll, the on-field performance has dropped precipitously.
“When you have a certain amount of success, generally you don’t tend to change your philosophy, but in our case, there was a very profound shift in what we were trying to do,” Henry said. “Why? I would only be speculating as to why, but there was a shift. We made a shift, and I don’t think it ultimately, with hindsight, proved to be (productive).
“I think the things that we did when we first got here and we started, which was the basic core philosophy of the Red Sox, (are) something that we needed to get back to.”
Lester wants to get better
LHP Jon Lester surely has identified the causes of the worst season of his career. “How much time do you have?” Lester said, flashing the smile that was absent for most of last year. “We might need to get a new tape.” Lester knows this much: He has to be better this season if the Red Sox have any hope of rebounding from their 93-loss nightmare and contending for a playoff spot. It’s a heavy burden for one player to bear, but in a candid 16-minute session with reporters, the big left-hander insisted his shoulders are broad enough to handle it.
“Bring it on,” Lester said, “because what you guys expect of me is nothing compared to what I expect of myself. I expect a lot.”
Certainly, everyone expects more from Lester than the 9-14 record and career-worst 4.82 ERA that he posted in 33 starts last season. But Lester didn’t shirk responsibility for his performance, and he thus far has appeared motivated to prove he remains capable of being an ace.
“I didn’t really like what happened last year as far as me and the way I pitched,” Lester said. “That’s solely on me. That’s not on anyone else. That’s not on the revolving door of pitching coaches, that’s not on our manager (Bobby Valentine), that’s not on anybody but myself.”
Ellsbury wants to stay in Boston
CF Jacoby Ellsbury almost certainly will forgo a chance to hit the free-agent market next winter by signing a contract extension with the Red Sox. But Ellsbury won’t rule anything out. “If there’s anything that comes on the table, I’ll be presented with something and we’ll go from there,” Ellsbury said. “Anything as far as that, my whole thing is just winning ballgames. I love the atmosphere here.”
Beyond that, Ellsbury referred all additional contract questions to his agent, Scott Boras, who has said he hasn’t had substantive talks with the Red Sox about an extension and typically steers his clients on the verge of free agency to test their value on the market.
Regardless, Ellsbury has plenty to prove this season. After an MVP-caliber 2011, Ellsbury missed almost the entire first half of last season with a partially dislocated right shoulder, marking the second time in three seasons that he was sidelined for a considerable period of time by an injury. And when he did return after the All-Star break, he batted only .278 with a .314 on-base percentage and four homers in 293 plate appearances.
“I just never really got back,” Ellsbury said. “That’s why I’m so excited about this year. I’ve got those blinders on and I’m focused. Just excited about the opportunity for us to win.”