Red Sox rookie catcher Ryan Lavarnway was grabbing a snack in the clubhouse kitchen before Wednesday’s game against the Angels when he was unexpectedly interrupted.
“Ryan? I’m Tom Werner,” said the team’s chairman, shaking Lavarnway’s hand. “How is everything?”
Werner saw the Sox lose three games at Angel Stadium last week, part of a season that veered into a ditch right away and never recovered. This will be the third consecutive year the team has missed the playoffs.
Principal owner John Henry and Werner have spent $507 million in payroll in those three years, with little to show for it beyond increasingly pointed criticism from fans and media. Once a model franchise, the Red Sox faced up to their demise by trading star players Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers Aug. 25. The approximately $264 million in payroll savings will allow the team to start over after years of fruitless, if not careless, spending.
Henry, whose public communication consists of carefully worded e-mails, has said little about the state of his team. But in an exclusive and unfettered interview, Werner opened up about this fractured season and his hopes for the future.
“I can talk about it as a fan and as an owner,” said Werner. “We suffer as much, if not more, than anybody. It’s very frustrating that we haven’t been in the playoffs since 2009.
“We were hailed as having the best team in baseball in 2011 and went into the season with a lot of people predicting we would win 100-plus games. But it didn’t happen.
“One of the beautiful things about baseball is that it’s hard to predict. But we’ll be back.
“Nothing is more important to us than winning and giving our fans the sense that we desperately want to win.”
Eric Roth, an Oscar-winning screenwriter and friend of Werner, sat in on the interview and joked early on that Werner needed to be asked tough questions about the foundering Red Sox.
So how does he evaluate Bobby Valentine’s job as manager?
Werner’s answer was perhaps telling about what ownership is thinking.
“I don’t really want to get into that today,” he said. “I don’t want to talk too much about him. But he’s had a challenging year. I think, as we’ve said before, he’s doing a good job.”
Will Valentine return in 2013?
“I don’t really want to go there,” Werner said. “I think we all thought we’d bounce back more this year.”
But Werner was expansive in his praise for general manager Ben Cherington, who replaced Theo Epstein 10 months ago.
“I thought for example, that he was extremely impressive in his press conference [that announced the Dodgers trade],” said Werner. “But it’s not just that he’s articulate. Ben is methodical, he’s thoughtful. He’s a good manager, he’s a good leader.
“We give him high marks in how he’s dealt with the challenges this season, and he’s going to be with us for a long time.
“We just have to be more disciplined. One of the things we’ve talked to Ben about is supplementing his staff with a few more evaluators. I’m confident that we’ll get back because now we have the resources and the talent with Ben, and under Ben, to do so.”
Those resources come from the vast savings realized in the landmark trade. Werner laughed out loud when asked how surprised he was that the Dodgers would take on so many cumbersome contracts.
“You’ll have to ask them that,” he said. “But we were very pleased with the trade. We felt it gave us a reset that we could start working on how to improve the club for next year. We were aware that these were three great All-Star players we traded. But we had a real challenge to improve things for next year, and this gives us a real opportunity.
“All I can say from our point of view, we were very pleased with the result. It was something we’ve been talking to the Dodgers about even in July. I feel like this gives us a real opportunity now.
“Somebody in baseball ops said it best: ‘We’re at halftime now.’ Now we have to really go out and show we can take advantage of this opportunity.”
Core remains strong
Werner said several times that the money would be reinvested in the team. It is unlikely to happen all at once, given the lack of notable free agents expected to reach the market this winter.
Werner said the Sox want to sign outfielder Cody Ross to an extension and will at least try to sign center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to an extension before he becomes a free agent after the 2013 season.
During the Angels series, Werner made sure to speak with Ellsbury’s agent, Scott Boras, before one of the games.Continued...