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Buster Olney on M&M: ‘Real shift in philosophy’ with Red Sox front office

02.13.12 at 12:39 pm ET
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Shortly after breaking the news that the Red Sox had reached a deal with David Ortiz, ESPN senior baseball writer Buster Olney joined Mut & Merloni and talked about how the deal came to fruition, as well as how it represents a change in philosophy for the Red Sox front office.

The Red Sox and Ortiz agreed on a one-year, $14.575 million deal, a midpoint between what the team was willing to offer and what Ortiz wanted. Though Ortiz ideally wanted a multiyear deal from the Red Sox, Olney said the team just felt better taking it one year at a time with the 36-year-old designated hitter.

“He was hopeful at some point that the Red Sox would eventually begin some dialogue on a multiyear deal, but they were so far apart,” Olney said. “From the beginning of this process when the Red Sox offered him that two-year, $18-19 million [offer] whatever it was, which obviously is very far from where they wound up. I think, too, the Red Sox were comfortable going one year at a time and I’€™d be willing to bet that’€™s probably the way it will be for the rest of his time with the Red Sox.”

With a new general manager in Ben Cherington, Olney said that the deal with Ortiz is indicative of a greater change in thinking in the Red Sox front office with former GM Theo Epstein now with the Cubs.

“There’€™s no question that there’€™s a real shift in philosophy that’€™s been going on around the Red Sox, around baseball,” Olney said. “I think David Ortiz is a dinosaur — he’€™ll be one of the last guys where you’€™ll see a team devote a lot of money to someone to be a designated hitter I think teams, for the most part, like to keep that position more flexible, to give injured guys rest.”

Given Ortiz’ age and position within the team, Olney indicated that the DH is on a short leash if his production starts to decline, even to the point where the Red Sox may let him go.

“If he has any kind of a drop-off, he’€™s reached the age where if he has a 10 percent drop-off from this year going into next year, then the Red Sox would probably be inclined where they would look at it and say, ‘€˜I think we can save some money,’€™ ” Olney said. “I think David’€™s in a position where, as long as he continues to have seasons like he did last year, he’€™ll continue to get paid. And if he regresses at all at his age, I bet the Red Sox will bail out on it.”

There has been a sentiment, with the moves they’ve made, that the Red Sox have been looking to cut costs and save money in the offseason, but Olney said that the notion of the Red Sox being cheap is off-base. Rather, the team is just making decisions in a different way.

“They’€™re spending a lot of money — they have one of the highest-paid first basemen, Dustin Pedroia is a bargain at his salary, you can go around the diamond you can go to the pitching staff,” Olney said. “They’€™ve spent a ton of money and I think they’€™ve kind of reached the point with their salaries where internally they’€™re like, ‘€˜We have to do a better job, we have to be more efficient with what we have and we just might have to go out and make some different choices.’€™”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the full interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

On Roy Oswalt’s unwillingness to pitch in the American League East: “First off, he’€™s a homebody. I went down to visit him, did a story about five years ago down at his place in Mississippi. That’€™s where he’€™s comfortable. He pitched for the Astros within a quick drive of there to go back to his home. His dad used to drive up to St. Louis when Roy would pitch games there and then he would drive back overnight to continue his work as a logger. It doesn’€™t surprise me that his first choice would be to go pitch for the Cardinals, but right now the Cardinals are just kind of laying back and they’€™re saying, ‘€˜Look, if you want to come here, you’€™re coming here at our price,’€™ which I actually don’€™t think is that much different from what the Red Sox have offered. I think what it’€™s coming down to now is that if someone steps up and gives him $12 million or $10 million, something a lot more than what’€™s being offered, that’€™s when you can get Roy Oswalt. But there’€™s so many concerns about the condition of his back among teams, whether or not you can count on him, I think he’€™s going to be lucky to get much more than the Red Sox and Cardinals have put out there.”

On teams offering compensation for getting a general manager from another team: “It’€™s interesting because during the whole process when Theo was leaving the Red Sox and there was talk about what the Cubs were going to pay Theo in salary, Major League Baseball was absolutely behind the scenes, all over the Cubs to keep the compensation level down. They don’€™t want general managers to be viewed as the superstars of the sport, and when you really think about it, if you were to line up all the people in the Red Sox organization over the last 10 years, who has meant the most financially to the team in terms of performance per dollar? There’€™s no question, Theo Epstein would be right near the top of that list in terms of how much money he made for them and he stands to be that important if he can do for the Cubs what he did for the Red Sox.”

On the Red Sox’s mishandling of the Epstein situation: “No question, and you can put that on the Red Sox. All along, they were in control of this thing. They could have at any point told the Cubs, ‘€˜Sorry, you can’€™t have him, you can’€™t talk to him, we’€™re not going to give you permission for any of this.’€™ Once Theo went out the door and he physically was in Chicago and he was in place, I think the Red Sox lost their leverage and that was their mistake.”

On the likelihood of Manny Ramirez landing with the A’s: “I think he will. They went and saw him work out and whatever they saw, they were not discouraged. I know from talking with people within that organization, they basically view Manny as completely zero risk. You bring him into spring training, if at any point he stops hitting or is not hitting, you cut him. If at any point he’€™s a pain in the rear end, you cut him. You start the year with him, he serves his suspension and then on May 31, basically playing for minimum wage, they would put him on the major league roster and away they go.”

Read More: ben cherington, buster olney, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia
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