By Sean McAdam
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ordinarily, when management and ownership address the Red Sox players prior to the first full squad workout, it's an upbeat affair.
Optimism reigns and the season is full of possibilities. But Saturday morning, at the Red Sox' Player Development Complex, it was a virtual love-in. Players gave principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president Larry Lucchino a standing ovation, in an apparent thanks for the moves made and the money spent this offseason.
In all, it was a morning of high hopes and good feeling all around.
"We're tremendously excited,'' said Werner.
"There's very definitely a sense of confidence, a sense of optimism,'' echoed Lucchino. "You feel it when you first walk into camp and talk to individual players. The meeting today had that kind of feel to it today. But everyone knows that hope springs eternal every spring. We've got to make sure we're healthy and that the good luck and randomness in the game work in our favor as well.
"But there's an atmosphere here that is extremely positive, confident and upbeat that's very encouraging.''
Other items of interest:
Lucchino said the the Red Sox paid about 85 million into the MLB central fund in revenue sharing last year, a figure topped only by the Yankees. That figure doesn't include another 1.3 million in luxury tax assessments for going over the payroll threshold.
With the final round of renovations of Fenway Park nearing completition, the Sox have invested about 285 million over the last 10 years.
Lucchino said structural engineers told him that Fenway, which celebrates its 100th anniversary next season, can last another 40-50 years.
"That's the life expectancy,'' said Lucchino. "Whether somebody chooses in 10 years time to make a change would be up to a different ownership.''
Disputing the commonly-held belief that the Sox are the clear favorites to win the American League East, Henry said: "I don't see us as the clear favorites. I see the teams fairly evenly matched. We've got our work cut out for us if we hope to win our division.''
"I feel the same way,'' said Lucchino. "This is just not a mano-a-mano, two-team match. We've got other teams that are building solid teams and making substantial commitments. So the American League East will still be the rough and tuble American League East -- make no mistake about that.''
"We're confident,'' added Werner, "but the Yankees are every bit as strong as they always are.''
Asked about the future of general manager Theo Epstein, John Henry said: "We haven't had any substantive conversations recently. I always ask him how he's doing. Things are going extremely well from his vantage point and our vantage point.
"I really don't know when his contract is up. So we haven't discussed contracts. But the important thing is that we're all extremely happy working with Theo.''
Werner said the Red Sox might look into bringing Liverpool to Fenway for a friendly match and would be receptive to having the Red Sox play in an international venue.
But ownership went to great pains again to point out that the club's various investments -- NASCAR, Liverpool soccer -- are separate.
"They're all stand-alone entities that have their own management,'' said Werner. "We have a firewall between them so that's clear.''
Lucchino said the Sox have enough financial flexibility to add payroll if the need arises during the season.
"We always save some amount of money, to be determined each year,'' said Lucchino. "We will certainly look to make improvements if the team is in the hunt and there's a specific need and a specific opportunity. I think that's part of an obligation of ownership.
Commissioner Bud Selig's contract is up in November 2012 and he has said he intends to retire. Occasionally, Lucchino's name surfaces as a possible candidate for the position.
"Speculation -- the little bit of it that's been -- is flattering,'' he said. "I'm really very content where I am. If you're a baseball executive, this is the best place to be. I love Boston, New England. My family loves it. It seems like the rest of my career was sort of building up so that this could be the final stage of it.
"That's not something I spend any time thinking about. First of all, I don't know that the other clubs will feel a commissioner change is desirable. It's flattering, but it's not realistic.''