Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Red Sox Brass Optomistic about Team's Future

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Amid the soothing air of Spring Training, Red Sox owner John W. Henry celebrated his arrival in camp by watching prized acquisition Daisuke Matsuzaka fire away in a 40-pitch bullpen session.
While the American and Japanese media fought for a decent sight line, Henry stood next to general manager Theo Epstein for a picture-perfect view. With each pitch, the misery of the latter half of the 2006 season became more of a distant memory.
To Henry and team chairman Tom Werner, both of whom met the media Tuesday, Matsuzaka was a welcome symbol of a new beginning.
"This is terrific," Werner said. "The fact is, we've been here for five years and we've never seen such excitement -- to watch fans here be excited about long toss ... we can't wait for Daisuke to come to Fenway Park because the excitement will just continue to build."
Matsuzaka was just part of a reloading winter that also included J.D. Drew ($70 million, five years) and Julio Lugo (four years, $36 million).
Henry is committed to rewarding the fans who pour so much of their hearts and wallets into his product, and that, as much as anything, explains why he green-lighted an increase in spending on the heels of such a disappointing season.
"Since we've been here, every game, up until the end of the season has been an important game," Henry said. "We suffered through a September last year, certainly the second half of September, in which they were essentially meaningless. By mid-September, I think before mid-September, we were determined to improve the team and do what we thought it would take during the offseason to ensure that this didn't happen again."
And on this beautiful Tuesday in Fort Myers, Henry opened his eyes and started to see some of his new investments take shape.
"I know the 2003 club, some people say was the best we ever had," Henry said. "But we won [the World Series] in 2004. This certainly has to be one of the best Red Sox teams ever, if not the best, going in."
During those depressing days of September, Henry lifted his spirits by watching the baseball operations staff formulate a plan for immediate revival. Ownership's looser purse strings enabled nearly every item on the shopping list to be reeled in, starting with the most ballyhooed move of all.
"It makes you determined that it's not going to happen again," Henry said. "The only positive aspect was that we started early and we made our game plan, and we knew that our No. 1 priority was to acquire Matsuzaka-san; we knew that was not going to be easy and was fraught with peril. And we had other areas we had to address and we were determined to address them. We needed somebody to back up the No. 4 spot [in the lineup], and we needed strength through the lineup."

Despite green-lighting the unprecedented $51.1 million posting fee for Matsuzaka and the $52 million contract, Henry is willing to be patient with the Japanese star. In fact, he hopes others take the same course.
"I think he's showing tremendous poise," Henry said. "But I hope that everyone realizes he's going to be pitching in the American League East -- not an easy task as you saw with what Randy Johnson went through the last couple of years. There's going to be an adjustment. If our expectations are not higher than they should be, I think we'll all really enjoy this year watching him pitch. I can't wait to see that."
Werner seemed to be looking forward to those summer nights when the Red Sox will simply outslug the opposition, something that was hardly seen during the second half of 2006.
"Well, we've improved offensively as John said," Werner said. "The goal was to have a relentless offense. I think J.D. Drew and Lugo [arriving] and [Coco] Crisp, hopefully, returning to form, I think all of that bodes very well for us offensively. We've got a lot of pitching. I hope we don't trade any of it."
Though there's still no word on when superstar slugger Manny Ramirez will arrive at camp, Henry seemed pleased that another winter of trade rumors ended again without a trade.
"He's a pretty consistent hitter," Henry said. "I think it's OK to put up with 30 home runs a year and 100 RBIs a year. We all know Manny is Manny. I hear he's ready to play this year; that's what's important."
What would the brass consider to be a successful 2007 season?
"We're in the American League East, which is the toughest division," said Werner. "Our final determination of success is that we make the playoffs, because once you make the playoffs, it's an eight-team horserace and everybody is quite strong. It's our goal to be successful every year and to make the playoffs. Whether we do or not, there's a lot of things that can go into that -- injuries and subpar performances, but that's our expectation.'
Henry reiterated the thoughts of his chairman.
"As we saw last year, I think every year, anything can happen in the playoffs," Henry said. "The goal is to make it to the playoffs. You have to get yourself in position to win a championship, that's really what the goal is."
Not to mention putting 2006 as far in the rearview mirror as humanly possible.

No comments: