The Boston Red Sox ownership group, headed by John Henry (principal owner) and Tom Werner, bought the team from the Yawkey Trust in 2002 for $380 million. In their 20 years of owning the team, they have experienced a roller coaster ride of ups and downs as they have seen the value of the franchise rise to $3.9 billion. Despite four World Series over that span, there have been far too many last-place finishes/disappointing endings, so it’s not surprising that this ownership group is more polarizing to fans than the Kardashians or Hawaiian pizza.
Fans who support this ownership group will quickly point out that the Red Sox have won those titles in this century under their leadership. No other team in Major League Baseball has won more over that span. For many young fans who have seen the Red Sox win the World Series roughly every five years this century, it’s easy to forget the 86-year drought that generations of Red Sox families endured. The goal of any professional sports franchise is to win championships and this ownership regime has delivered on that.
Another major success of this ownership group has been the revitalization of Fenway Park. When the Red Sox were up for sale in 2002, Frank McCourt, a lifelong Red Sox fan, was in the bidding to purchase the team. He had made his plans clear to build a new ballpark in Boston’s waterfront area. The Henry ownership group focused on improving Fenway Park, instead paying $285 million to renovate and upgrade Fenway Park in their first 10 years of owning the team. Ultimately, Fenway Park joined the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. This ownership group continues to add to Fenway Park and the surrounding areas.
Despite these successes, many fans are critical of this ownership group for several reasons. Fans have watched the team lose several homegrown stars, including Jon Lester, Mookie Betts and most recently Xander Bogaerts. During negotiations, some players have been offered below-market deals which have not helped. Most Red Sox fans still have open wounds from recently losing Bogaerts where the team squandered the ability to extend him before free agency. The loss of these homegrown players has led to the perception that this ownership group is unwilling to spend … even though the team’s payroll is near or over the luxury tax threshold annually.
It has also led others to criticize the Red Sox for their unwillingness to evolve to the modern-day free agency trend of longer contracts at higher values. Before this offseason, the biggest contracts in Red Sox history were eight years (Manny Ramirez) and $217M (David Price). In more recent years, Major League Baseball has seen contracts far surpass those in both years and total dollars. The Red Sox have shown a reluctance to meet those market values. Given that the Red Sox have some of the highest ticket prices in the league and a franchise value of almost $4 billion, this unwillingness has been unacceptable to many fans.
For some, there’s a perception that this ownership group has lost interest in the Red Sox. In recent years, the ownership group under Fenway Sports has diversified its portfolio and purchased other sports franchises including Liverpool and the Pittsburgh Penguins. More recently, they have been linked to purchasing an NBA team in Las Vegas. During this same time, the Red Sox owners have become less available for the team publicly. During their early years with the franchise, they would be regularly available for interviews, including during Spring Training. In fact, John Henry crashed (subscription required) a local radio show in 2011 because he wanted to clear up misconceptions about the team. This is in stark contrast to the last several years. Before this offseason, none of the Red Sox owners have been on stage for a press conference in three years. This absence has led many fans to question if the ownership group has lost their passion for the team and plans on selling.
Against this backdrop, Red Sox Nation rejoiced as the team recently announced an 11-year, $331 million contract with third baseman Rafael Devers. Despite a tumultuous offseason, this signing was universally lauded by fans. Additionally, re-signing Devers allowed ownership to directly rebuke some of their biggest criticisms. After losing other homegrown stars, the Red Sox signed Devers, whom Chaim Bloom called “our star.” Devers is one of the best offensive talents in baseball and a foundational player to build upon. Devers’ contract is also the longest and highest-value deal the Red Sox have ever given a player, suggesting a willingness to spend beyond their prior self-imposed restrictions.
The Devers extension also showed ownership took a more hands-on approach. On Dec. 14, several members of the organization, including John Henry flew to the Dominican Republic and met with Devers. Devers’ agent would call the meeting the turning point in the negotiations, and less than one month later Devers signed an extension. Furthermore, Tom Werner was on stage for the press conference to announce Devers’ extension. During the press conference, Werner reiterated that the ownership group has no plans to sell the team and that “our heart and soul is with the Red Sox.” Henry and Werner’s involvement in the Devers extension was in stark contrast to their public absence for the last several years.
No matter how one feels about them, the Devers’ extension is a home run for this ownership group. By getting Devers secured, they directly addressed some of their biggest criticisms. Though this will not silence all the condemnation, it’s a big step in the right direction.