Red Sox president and COO Larry Lucchino joined Mustard & Johnson Saturday at Fenway Park during Christmas at Fenway to discuss the Jon Lester contract negotiations and what went wrong, as well as other Red Sox matters. To hear the interview, visit the Mustard & Johnson audio on demand page.
Much has been made of the reported 4-year/$70 million contract the Red Sox offered Lester during spring training last season. Lucchino went into the reasoning behind that offer, and to the Red Sox it was only viewed as a starting point, as the organization wanted to have conversations following that offer.
“We did make a number of efforts to reignite negotiations and I think as Ben has said, we went in just to get the process rolling and we came up with a number — Josh Beckett had signed for $68 million for four years and that was the largest number for a pitcher we had ever given to a non-free agent,” Lucchino said. “We thought that was a principle place to start and that was all that it was perceived to be. For whatever combination of reasons there was a reluctance on the part of…”
“I think we all were surprised,” Lucchino added of the reluctance of the Lester camp to continue negotiating. “Matters of this type are shared along John [Henry], Tom [Werner] and Ben [Cherington] and myself and other folks in the baseball operations department. To a man, we were surprised we didn’t get into a sequential negotiation.”
Lucchino was also asked if he regrets what took place last spring, and he admitted he does because of the final result.
“I think the short answer has to be yes because we didn’t get the job done,” he said. “Our job was to get Jon Lester signed and to make him a long-term member of the Red Sox organization. This is a results oriented business. Finishing second is not our business plan. I wish it had developed differently. I don’t think it does us much good now to replay each step along the way. We felt when we started that we were beginning a negotiation would take place fairly intensively through spring training and perhaps into the season, but certainly through spring training, and that didn’t happen.”
Lester reportedly signed with the Cubs for six years and $155 million with a vesting option for a seventh year. The Red Sox have openly been reluctant to give out long-term deals of late, and that was something the organization was faced with during the Lester negotiations.
“We have to have one eye on the present and one eye on the future,” Lucchino said. “I would tend to think most baseball fans understandably focus on the next year, the next season. One of Ben Cherington’s jobs is, in fact it is a job for all of us in the senior leadership of the Red Sox, is to keep one eye on what is around the corner — the next couple of years, not right now. John Henry is a brilliant analyst. He’s also an imperialist. He looks and he sees what’s happened and puts it together and sees a track record that is less than encouraging with long-term deals in general. He’s not the only one that has that view.”
Lucchino admitted there is a sense of relief that everything is over and the organization can, and has moved onto other matters.
“Honestly there is a sense of relief that it is over because everyone was focused on that for quite a long time in the offseason,” Lucchino said. “We needed to get an answer. We have a saying with the Red Sox, ‘all is well that ends.’ We have to get it to end so we can move onto the next challenge, the next problem, the next issue. Some sense of relief was there, but also there was a sense of disappointment that we didn’t get him. So was a strong sense of gratitude for what he did for this franchise for so many years and all the success that he had here.”
Following are more highlights from the interview. For more Red Sox news visit weei.com/redsox.
On trading Lester during the season: “There was a hope on our part that we would have Yoenis Cespedes as a result of that trade and we would be able to re-sign Jon Lester at the end of the season after he had experienced something of what the free agent market had offered. It was clear that his agent wanted to get a sense of what the free agent market would be before they would make a final decision.”
On Lucchino getting blamed when things go wrong: “I think that comes with the territory. I certainly get plenty of positive remarks for things that are done by all of us done by a collective entity. It seems natural that I would get some of the blame for the things that are done collectively. I understand that it is part of the job I accepted. This is the big leagues. We’re in Boston in the big leagues, and if you are a baseball executive this is where you want to be.”
On saying the Red Sox aren’t like the Yankees last season (spending lots of money on long-term deals): “Historically we have taken a different approach and even this year. We had a four-year deal signed for Hanley Ramirez and a five-year deal for [Pablo] Sandoval. We were willing to make an exception in Jon Lester‘s case and go to six years, but differrent seasons, different facts call for a different approaches. You can’t be so static with here are immutable principles and we are not going to deviate from these, or have no principles and just go into each year and flail around.”
On young pitching prospects in system: “I do want you to know that the oldest cliche in baseball is you never have enough pitching still applies. Ben will continue to look for ways to search to improve the pitching rotation or the bullpen, because you can never have enough pitching. Let’s not overlook Brian Johnson, Henry Owens, [Anthony] Ranaudo, [Matt] Barnes, some of these young pitchers we have in our system who I think make a significant contribution to the future success of this team.”