Red Sox brass discuss Pedroia, Yanks, TV ratings

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Red Sox brass discuss Pedroia, Yanks, TV ratings

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- Prior to holding a "Town Hall'' meeting with fans last night, four members of the Red Sox' braintrust -- chairman Tom Werner, CEO and President Larry Lucchino, general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona -- answered questions from the media on a variety of topics.

Werner on the team's decision not to go to a premium pricing structure for games against in-demand opponents: "We're certainly looking at what other teams are doing. I'm cognizant, myself, of the high ticket prices we're charging in Boston. We feel that's justified to see a competitive team.

"But I think if you're paying a lot of money for a ticket, to say, 'Now you're going to have to pay two dollars more . . . ' It's something we monitor. But I think that our ticket prices are fair and appropriate.''

Werner on whether fans are still concerned about the diversion of resources to the Liverpool soccer franchise Fenway Sports Group purchased:

"We made this investment in order to diversify and we felt it made FSG healthier and stronger and that it would allow us to weather a rough sea from time-to-time.

"It's ironic because when we acquired Liverpool, I think there was a a lot of concern in New England that we were going to in some ways be diverting resources for players from the Red Sox. But after the two acquisitions we made to stock the player roster (Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez), those kind of comments were less in Boston but more in Liverpool.''

Werner on declining TV ratings on NESN:

"It's a tough environment. We root for the Celtics and we root for the Bruins, but they're very competitive programming in April and May and it's important for us to get out of the box early.

"I think there's an enormous excitement and anticipation and if we don't play well in April, it's not the end of the world. But it sure would be nice to come out strong.''

Werner and Lucchino on the state of labor negotiations in the sports world:

Werner: "I'm a member of the baseball labor policy committee, so we're obviously looking at the negotiations in the other sports. As a fan, you want these negotiations to end amicably. We all know how baseball suffered through their past work stoppages.

"There's a lot of money in professional sports. Hopefully, the owners and players can solve these problems . . . We're obviously monitoring the NFL discussions and we know those negotiations proceed ours.

"I'm very confident that MLB's negotiations will conclude amicably. I think there's a very healthy give-and-take already between management and the players union.''

Lucchino: "It's really at the embryonic stages right now . . . Baseball is now soliciting input from clubs on the expected issues and that's sort of the preliminary stage we're at right now.''

Werner and Lucchino and Yankee GM Brian Cashman saying last week that the
Red Sox were, for now, better than the Yankees.

Werner: "That might just be reverse psychology. They're a tough team. I'm very excited about our season, but you should never take the Yankees lightly.''

Lucchino: "Cashman's a very honest, forthright kind of guy, but he's also not above playing games, too. They're always the favorite, come on -- they're the New York Yankees. They're in the biggest market in the world. We're happy to be those guys they worry about, looking over their shoulder.

"If it were anybody but Cashman, I'd say that might be some gamesmanship. But I think in this case, he was saying something that he believes. I hope he has some respect for us, because we have plenty of it for them.''

Lucchino on the Red Sox "winning the winter'' over the Yankees:

"Yeah, there's some hormonal satisfaction. But it passes pretty quickly once the games start.''

Lucchino on Fenway Park capacity after the final round of ballpark renovations:

"Capacity is going to be up this year, but not much -- roughly a hundred seats but we won't know until we complete the right-field renovation. It will be somewhere around 37,500 for night games. That's seating capacity. Standing room can be anywhere from 500 to 1,500 some nights . . . Sellouts are still going to be somewhere in the 37,000 range.''

Lucchino on the liklihood of the Fenway sellout streak continuing:

"I'm encouraged because there's been a lot of excitement this offseason. I think there's a decent probability that we can sell out much of the season. But a lot of it has to do with the team's performance late in the year. If the team is not in the hunt, that makes a big difference.''

Epstein and Francona on the health reports on Dustin Pedroia:

Epstein: "Pretty good. He went through a period where he was having some pain in a slightly different part of his foot. Doctors determined it was basically a result of having the foot being immobile for so long, which is reassuring. He's healing really well, working out . . . not wearing cleats yet, but we're going to be smart about it in spring training and we don't expect him to be limited when the season starts.''

Francona: "I think from talking to him and the people who are running his rehab, he's going to come through with flying colors. Saying that, we may not let him do the shuttle runs in spring training. We're going to try to take care of our guys. It would be crazy not to.''

Epstein on Daisuke Matsuzaka's offseason training:

"It's not markedly different than past years. I think he might have started throwing a little bit earlier, but in moderation. We're trying to apply the lessons that he and we learned from the previous year, preparing and focusing on certain body parts that ached last year and make sure that he's better prepared this year.''

Epstein on Josh Beckett's winter:

"Very positive. He's been attacking the offseason, working really hard and getting in good shape. He has a personal trainer and the trainer and club trainer Mike Reinold have been in very frequent contact . . . He's raring to go.''

Epstein on the possible ramifications of the Albert Pujols contract negotiations and the impact it might have on extending Adrian Gnozalez's deal.

"Any time one of the best players in the game, probably the consensus best player in the game signs, it's noteworthy. But I don't know how relevant it is. Every negotiation is different. His track record is pretty unique. It's hard for anyone out there to compare himself directly to Albert Pujols. We're watching from afar, but it's not really our concern.''

Epstein on the signings of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez by the Tampa Bay Rays:

"With those guys, the demise of the Rays is greatly exaggerated. Even before those moves, we never erased them at all from our radar. I think they're uniquely positioned to lose players and keep their status as one of the best teams in baseball, given the strength of their farm system and the players they have ready to step in . . . They're going to be really tough.''

Francona on David Ortiz's struggles against lefthanded pitching:

"I see his numbers against lefties -- believe me, I do. But for David to be successful, you can't just sit him because I don't know that he would have as much success against righties. I think there probably are times when it will do him and maybe our team good to give him a break against somebody he struggles with.''

Francona on improving Ortiz's tradionally slow starts:

"He actually got a lot of at-bats last spring. He wanted more. He's really good about communicating with me in spring training about his at-bats. There will be games where I ask him, 'Have you had enough?' and he'll say, 'No, I need another one.' He's pretty good about gauging it.

"If I thought he needed more, I'll tell him. No, for whatever reason, the last two years, he's had horrendous starts. Thankfully, he's pulled out of it. There's no getting around it -- last April was awful. We had to fight our way through it. But we did.''

Francona on Beckett's disappointing season:

"Guys are still human. Whether they make a lot of money or no money, sometimes things don't go right. It was hard for him last year. Regardless of who he is, it was a hard year. You can either penalize him or you can try to show confidence in a guy that he's going to bounce back because that's how we're going to be a better team.''

Francona on whether Beckett needs to re-make himself as a pitcher:

"No. I think he tried to last year. He had time to sit last year when he was hurt and he was watching Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz throwing those cutters and all of a sudden, he started doing that. He'd throw one good and kind of fall in love with it, then three bad ones. He's human.''

Francona on Jason Varitek's workload:

"Developing Jarrod Saltalamacchia into a front-line catcher, I don't know that that means catching him every day right out of the chute. 'Tek swings the bat so well right-handed. We'll try to match them up where it makes sense offensively, because I don't think defensively it will matter who's playing.''

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

NEW YORK - There won't be any wild pitches on intentional walks this season.

The players' association has agreed to Major League Baseball's proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.

"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I know they're trying to cut out some of the fat. I'm OK with that," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

While the union has resisted many of MLB's proposed innovations, such as raising the bottom of the strike zone, installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound, players are willing to accept the intentional walk change.

"As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes," union head Tony Clark wrote Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however."

The union's decision was first reported by ESPN .

"I'm OK with it. You signal. I don't think that's a big deal," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the most part, it's not changing the strategy, it's just kind of speeding things up. I'm good with it."

There were 932 intentional walks last year, including 600 in the National League, where batters are walked to bring the pitcher's slot to the plate.

"You don't want to get your pitcher out of a rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm," Girardi said. "I've often wondered why you don't bring in your shortstop and the pitcher stand at short. Let the shortstop walk him. They're used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is."

Agreement with the union is required for playing rules changes unless MLB gives one year advance notice, in which case it can unilaterally make alterations. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Tuesday that ongoing talks would lead to an agreement on other changes but also said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Some changes with video review can be made unilaterally, such as shortening the time to make a challenge.

"I know they were thinking about putting in a 30-second (limit) for managers to make a decision," Francona said. "I actually wish they would. I think it would hustle it up and if we can't tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn't be doing it anyway."

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.