Red Sox president Larry Lucchino and co-GMs Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer answered the media’s questions today about Johnny Damon’s defection to the Yankees. The following is a complete transcript of Wednesday’s press conference.
Lucchino: We have not heard from major league baseball, nor has there been any official confirmation from the Yankees (on the Damon transaction) as far as we know. So we’re not here to make any announcement on anything. We’re here because (we’ve) gotten a number of questions and inquiries about this and we though it was most efficient to make ourselves available to answer your questions.
We’re you blindsided by this?
Lucchino: Well, I would say that since we don’t have final confirmation yet, the last stages of this did come as a bit of a surprise to us.
How did this transpire? Did you guys pull your offer, a four year, $40 million deal, off the table?
Lucchino: We did not. What we did do was to say that we wanted this thing to be resolved by Christmas (Eve.) and it would expire at that time if we weren’t able to reach an agreement, and we were talking about the offer that we made on Dec. 6.
Why don’t you think they came back to you saying “here’s our offer from the Yankees?”
Lucchino: That’s an interesting question but it’s better posed to Scott Boras and to Johnny than it is to us. I think that… if you’d like me to guess, there may have been some deadline imposed on them, some pressure perhaps they felt in the negotiation. but we were talking to them as recently as yesterday, Jed you spoke to them last evening or was it late afternoon? (Hoyer: about 7:00 last evening).
Is it fair to say you would have countered that offer if you had an opportunity to?
Lucchino: I don’t know what you mean by “counter that offer.” Do you mean max that offer or (have) made another offer?… Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s easy to look back and say we might have done this or we might have done that had we known but we’re not going to get into that. It’s fair to say that we wanted to sign Johnny Damon. We made a very strong and concerted effort to do so. We’re disappointed that we were not able to sign him. I think I’d leave it there.
Was there a difference between this negotiation and the Jason Varitek negotiation (with Scott Boras) last season?
Lucchino: It’s hard to compare negotiations from one year to the next. I would say that both were protracted, I think that’s fair to say. One went until a few days before Christmas, one went to the day before Christmas, but I don’t want to get into any effort to characterize Scott Boras’s timing or scheduling or tactics.
Did you guys hear about the Yankees offer? And did you think Johnny Damon was bluffing?
Jed Hoyer: I think there were a lot of different offers out there in the days before, there were a lot of rumors about what was out there and what wasn’t. Were we caught off guard? No, but we certainly were hearing a lot different things with a lot of different offers out there, a lot of different information out there regarding what the Yankees were and were not offering… no we didn’t laugh, but there was a lot of information throughout this process that ended up not being true so it was a constant battle trying to decide what was true and what wasn’t true.
Was there an ultimatum given (when Boras called yesterday) i.e., “we have to come to the table… you have “X” number of hours?”
Hoyer: It wasn’t that, but I don’t want to get into the details of the negotiations. I don’t think that serves either side but it wasn’t that… I don’t want to get into the specifics of conversations…
Johnny told Channel 4 last night that he had expressed to Terry Francona that there was some urgency to this and he wanted the Red Sox to step up. Were you aware that the Yankees had an offer out to Johnny and if so was it (known) that he was at least feeling a sense of urgency and that the Red Sox needed to do something?
Lucchino: Well we certainly were made aware that there was some increased sense of urgency, that the time for a decision was coming upon us but there was no specificity to that and he did speak with Terry and I was aware of that.
What are you going to do about center field?
Hoyer: We have a list of people we’re going to go after and we’re going to go through that list… both (free agents and trades)… I think that Johnny Damon was a fantastic player for us for four years. We’re disappointed that he won’t be playing center field for us anymore but it would be insulting to the other 24 guys who take the field for us that we’re not going to field a good team. We have no question that we are going to find a center fielder and we’re going to have a very good team next year. So I don’t think not signing Johnny Damon means the Red Sox aren’t going to be very good next year.
Did Johnny Damon shut the door on you? Or did you shut the door on him?
Lucchino: I certainly don’t think that we shut the door on Johnny Damon. We made it very apparent to him and to Scott Boras and his team that we were eager and hopeful to sign Johnny Damon. And we did that as recently as yesterday. So I don’t think we shut the door in any way, shape, or form.
What about contingency plans? Are you going to do something right away?
Hoyer: We know Johnny’s not going to be playing center field for us so that hastens the process a little bit. We’re not going to rush out and try to do something quick. We’re going to sit down and do the right thing.
Cherington: It’s Dec. 22, it’s not April 5. Think about the time that is going to pass between now and opening day and then you sort of think of it, have the perspective of how much, it’s three and a half months, think back at how much has happened in the last three and a half months, a lot can happen in three and a half months. So we’ve got a hole to fill and there a lot of different ways to fill it and we’re going to try to fill it in the right way, and not fill it in the quickest way.
Lucchino: That’s a good point. We’re barely halfway through the offseason so understand that there is still plenty of time and plenty of financial resources to re-deploy to strengthen this team in 2006 and for the years thereafter.
Did the Yankees overpay for Johnny Damon? And how high would you guys have gone?
Lucchino: As Jed said earlier, we’re not going to go back and reconstruct the negotiations… what would we have done and what else could we have done. I leave it to the Yankees to make decisions for the Yankees. We simply make decisions for the Boston Red Sox.
Are you disappointed more so because he went to an archrival like the Yankees?
Lucchino: It’s disappointing losing Johnny Damon, he was a great contributor to the success of this club. He was signed here in the middle of Dec. 2001 and since that time has been a team leader. He’s been an offensive force. He has been a cult figure. He has been, in some ways, the personification of the franchise and we will miss him. We are fortunate that we got four of his best years as a big leaguer and we are grateful for that… We’re always concerned about teams within our division. But we don’t fall into this trap that it’s a bi-lateral race, us and the Yankees and the Yankees and us. We have great respect for Toronto and for Baltimore, for Tampa and the other teams that are in our division. It is helpful to the Yankees that they can fill in a hole in their puzzle as I think they feel they have here, and we didn’t. So in some ways it’s twofer for them.
Are you disappointed that Johnny didn’t give you the opportunity (to make him stay)?
Hoyer: I think that’s a personal matter for Johnny. I think that for us to speculate why he didn’t come back to Boston why he decided to go to New York, I think that’s for Johnny and Michelle… we’re not in a place to sit here and speculate what Johnny told Scott (Boras), his charge was, so I think you guys should pose that question to him.
Lucchino: They call it free agency for a lot of reasons but one reason is because players are free, and with their agents, to make decisions, when they want to make them, and how they want to make them, and where they want to be. We urged Johnny that Boston was a great place for him, that he was a beloved figure here and a great success here, but at the end of the day, he was free to decide when he wanted to make a decision and where he wanted to go to and how much was satisfactory to him.
Johnny told Channel 4 last night that you guys can now go on and pursue the center fielders that you guys were courting for the past six weeks, Jeremy Reed, CoCo Crisp. Do you think that (pursuing other center fielders) hurt your chances with him?
Hoyer: “Courting” implies that we were after these guys and somehow expressed interest we have to them. Yes, we’ve inquired with teams about different center fielders. We would be irresponsible if we didn’t do that. We have a responsibility to put someone in center field, and Johnny had a right to leave so of course we looked at different players in center field. to call that “courting” is overstating it because that’s just our responsibility. That’s part of this business. He had an obligation and a right to talk to other teams and we had an obligation to look for alternatives.
Larry what do you say to the fans out there who think the Red Sox are collapsing?
Lucchino: Oh my. I would say… I would acknowledge that this is a setback in terms of our short-term plans but to keep the faith. We will re-deploy this money intelligently. We will balance our long-term plans with our short-term needs. And we will find players who play for this team in center field, at shortstop, that the fans can be proud of and can take some sense of satisfaction that we’re out building a competitive team.
What will be more difficult to replace? Johnny’s on-field production or his clubhouse leadership and his off-field intangibles?
Lucchino: They’re both going to be difficult. He was an offensive force to be sure these last four years, and that will be something that we will lose and he was a clubhouse leader. He a person who was available to the press when you needed questions answered. He was a bit of a cult figure, enormously popular with the women in Red Sox Nation and just a generally good guy. We will miss him. We really did want to have him here. But again it’s called free agency for a reason.
What kind of feedback are you getting from your customers, your fan base? Are you aware of what the sense is around the city and region right now?
Lucchino: I haven’t listened to talk radio but I have gotten a couple of e-mails. I got two or three that expressed disappointment. One person expressing concern that his daughter wanted to get a Yankee shirt that had Johnny Damon’s (name) on it. He didn’t know what kind of crisis that was going to cause in the family. But I’ve also gotten some supportive e-mails as well, from people who think that somehow this is an obstacle that we will be able to get over and demonstrated some faith. So it’s been both ways…
Hoyer: In baseball, I think it’s important that as great of a player as Johnny is, this is a team sport. This is not a superstar sport. Last year the best center fielder on the market destroyed the Astros season by leaving in January and they went to a World Series with a rookie in center field. Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi left the A’s at the end of the 2001 season and all they did is win 103 games. So, this sport is not driven by stars, it’s driven by putting the best 25-man roster on the field. Fans have a right to be disappointed because over four years they grew to love Johnny as a player, as a person. That’s what we expect, that’s wonderful. Johnny has all these wonderful qualities but to imply somehow that the Boston Red Sox as a baseball team are not going to be incredibly competitive next year, won’t win. That’s just a false; it’s a false statement.
Do you think you have a bonafide leadoff hitter?
Hoyer: In general I think leadoff hitter, Johnny Damon’s a stereotypical leadoff hitter. He runs well. He gets on base. There are different ways to do that. We don’t necessarily have to have a stereotypical leadoff hitter. We have a lot of guys on the team that get on base, that grind out hits. We might go with one of those guys in the leadoff position. Ultimately that’s up to Tito of course…
The offer that you made to Scott Boras in Dallas. Did you ever make a subsequent offer or was that the last offer?
Lucchino: We… I think it’s fair to say that we left the door ajar for a subsequent formal offer. What we did in Dallas was a formal written offer. We never sent another formal written offer.
Did they ever make a counter proposal back?
Lucchino: This is what we were hoping to avoid wasn’t it Jed? In and out and this and that… There’s a danger if we get into this that it leads to kind of an editorial comment on how they conducted the negotiations or how we conducted the negotiations. As Jed said earlier, we don’t see that to be fruitful at this stage.
When was the last time you spoke personally with Boras?
Lucchino: I communicated to him as recently as yesterday in writing but I spoke with him probably over the weekend.
Did ownership get involved in this?
Lucchino: A decision of this magnitude that involves a commitment of $40-50 million of the club’s revenue, that involves a key baseball policy decision in terms of long-term versus short-term planning and all that is something that necessarily involves John Henry and Tom Werner, so we were all involved in this and our form of governance is the same now in 2005 December as it was in 2004 when we won the World Series championship. Decisions of this type involve John and Tom, involve senior baseball people, involve senior management and we’re all, it’s fair to say, you ask about John and Tom, they share the disappointment as well that we were not able to successfully get the kind of financial agreement that was appropriate and desirable. But they also share some of the optimism that you’ve heard here. We now have additional resources to deploy not just for one year but for several years going forward.
Are you more inclined to keep Manny here now that Johnny’s gone?
Lucchino: We made a commitment to Manny that we’re going to live up to. That’s to try to find a place for him that is comfortable and yet enables us to get fair value in the exchange. We’re going to continue to live by that commitment to Manny. This has not changed that… There are a couple of clubs that have come forward and there are some discussions ongoing. Plenty of discussions with Manny and his agent on the subject but there is nothing that is imminent.
Any kind of time that you would cut that off (trying to trade Manny) and move on?
Lucchino: We haven’t really talked about a cutoff date for that. November, December… two months into a long offseason… January, February, March, so in effect 3/5ths of the offseason remains so there still is time to deal with the Manny Ramirez issue.
Johnny said he felt as if he couldn’t persuade the Red Sox that he was serious about the urgency with which he need to respond to the Yankee offer. Was he misguided in believing that? Were the Red Sox properly persuaded with the seriousness that he was taking the Yankee offer?
Lucchino: We were aware of the fact that there was another team, one other team, and that team was probably the Yankees. In free agency there’s no certainty about this information. You have to piece it together as best you can and we pieced together that there was another team out there that was going to be bidding against us.
It’s fair to say that it is unusual that we were notified by the media (regarding the signing). Maybe that had to do with the fact that it was New York and there were some external deadlines imposed on them… I’m not casting aspersions; I’m simply suggesting that it is unusual that that’s how the incumbent club in this case learned about it.
Just to clarify, for the Christmas (Eve) deadline, was that just for the offer you presented on December 6th?
Lucchino: It was. But there was a suggestion that we were eager to sit down and talk further and do that by the end of… by Christmas Eve.
You needed an answer one way or another?
Lucchino: No, no… we said we wanted… it was an invitation to have further discussions in hopes of getting that done by Christmas Eve.
Did they ever respond to that?
Lucchino: Not to me they did not.
Is this something that is done? Setting a deadline like that?
Lucchino: I think it happens with some frequency and again it was not for arbitrary reasons, it was because we had an offer out there for several weeks and we needed to know and Christmas time is not an illogical time before baseball shuts down for a week or 10 days as it always does to have a sense of whether you have a deal or don’t have a deal.
Johnny’s a table setter, a guy who gets on base for Manny and David Ortiz. How concerned are you about losing a guy like that?
Cherington: There’s more than one way to skin a cat. The Red Sox have won in the past without a prototypical leadoff hitter. Other teams have won in the past without a prototypical leadoff hitter. The Red Sox will have a very good team in 2006, we don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like yet. I think it’s fair to say that’s Johnny’s offseason decision makes our offseason more challenging. But we’re very well positioned to have a very good team in 2006. Somebody will be leading off and whoever that is may not be a prototypical leadoff hitter but we’ll have a lineup that scores a lot of runs.
What if Johnny doesn’t pass the physical?
Lucchino: If Johnny doesn’t pass physical? Boy there’s a hypothetical. First of all I think he is in great physical condition. I think it really is a very unlikely occurrence. But I guess what it would mean in theory is if the Yankees have indeed reached an agreement with him, then they would have the option of going forward nonetheless despite that or they could in effect withdraw from that agreement. Would that engage us again? Absolutely… the official notification (of a deal) would come from the Yankees or major league baseball.
Have you tried to contact them and say “hey what’s going on and can we still get in on this?”
Hoyer: No, Scott Boras called me a little before midnight last night to tell me he had reached an agreement with the Yankees, which I had been notified of by the media. He did officially tell me last night just before midnight.
Do you think Johnny’s image, the hair and the beard, inflated his value? Was he more valuable in the market than you think he really was?
Lucchino: I think you have to ask the other team that bid on this, their view of that. From our point of view, there was some value associated with that. He was one of the most marketable players in baseball and he was certainly a very marketable and popular person up here for whatever combination of reasons: hairstyle, looks, personality, whatever, but at end of day you do have to make a hard baseball decision about how much of your resources you need to invest in this particular player and for how long. Because the hardest part of the job that baseball operations has to do, that we as a franchise have to do, is to balance the present with the future. Balance short-term needs versus long-term planning and long-term flexibility. We spend a tremendous amount of time working out the appropriate balance there because we want to be competitive every year because we don’t want to be shortsighted. We want to have a longer-term plan and a longer-term flexibility.