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Youk: I’ll always be a Red Sox

When the Red Sox open their season at Yankee Stadium on April 1, it will be a somewhat jarring sight to see Kevin Youkilis in Pinstripes, starting at third base.

For a few years, nobody was more representative of the Red Sox than Youkilis, with his grind-it-out style of play. But we all know how it ended.

Youk met with the New York media after arriving at Spring Training on Thursday. Here are some highlights.

On the lack of facial hair:  “Last year, I was with the White Sox. We had moustaches and then I shaved it off. I’ve been clean-shaven here and there over the years, but fully now for the rest of the year. I think I’m not the type of person who kept it well-groomed at all times, anyway, the length varied all the time, so. I’m not all that picky about my looks.”

Getting to know Yankees fans: “It’s funny, a lot of fans have been good. There’s been Yankee fans that yell at me and say stuff on the field, and there’s been Yankee fans that bought me beer at the Super Bowl last year when the Giants played. I was in line, and two Giants fans, they were nice to me, so, it’s kind of a heat of the moment thing on both sides. but when you’re out in public you don’t get it too bad. I’ve had it a couple of times when people yelled stuff.”

Feel like a Yankee? “Uh, yeah. Got the number in there, got the pinstripes. it’s definitely real. it’s going to be an enjoyable time this year. I’m just going to trying to go out there every day and play hard and try to win a World Series.”

Remembering the Boston years: To negate all the years I played for the Boston Red Sox, and all the tradition, you look at all the stuff I have piled up at my house and to say I’d just throw it out the window, it’s not true. I’ll always be a Red Sox, you know. Guys play on different teams and that’s a part of your history, that’s a part of your life and you can’t change that. it was great years in Boston. One bad half year doesn’t take away from all the great years I had there and all the good things I’ve been able to along the way and accomplish as a team, as an individual, it was great. I saw a Red Sox fan this morning and bought him a coffee and just talked. It’s part of your life. It’s not defining. I know the rivalry is so hyped up and all that, but as players, the fans are still going to like you or dislike you in the heat of the moment, but when all is said and done, I’m just another human being who’s going to go through those doors, and some other guy is going to go through them when I’m done.”

Reaction from Sox fans this season? “You never know. Some people will be appreciative and some people might, you know, in life some people see it in black and white and some people see it in grays, so, for me it’s, you hope fans appreciate it, but you also understand, hey, you’re playing on the team that’s the enemy in their eyes. they might cheer you the first at bat and boo you the next. But it all sounds the same. You just take it in stride.”

Pedroia: Goal is still to win the World Series

After a last-place finish, it’s only natural that expectations will be down for the Red Sox this season. But Dustin Pedroia doesn’t much care what the pundits think. He has arrived in camp with his typical enthusiasm and drive.

“That it was easy, and you expect it to happen every year,” Pedroia said when asked what it was like winning the World Series his rookie year. “But I still do. I still feel that it will never change. Our goal is to win the World Series every year. If we come into camp and that’s not the goal [something’s wrong]. I know everybody thinks that’s not our goal right now but it is. “

Pedroia loves the roster moves Ben Cherington made over the winter because he feels there are a bunch of newcomers who share his mentality.

“Yeah, it’s going to be fun,” Pedroia said. “You see them around the game; they are guys known for loving to play the game. They like tough atmospheres and good places to play. It’s going to be fun playing with those guys.”

Nobody around the Red Sox had any fun last year. And though it became trendy to blame one-year manager Bobby Valentine for everything that went wrong, Pedroia said, “None. It’s the players. Bobby didn’t go out there and get any hits or make any errors or do any of that. We lost those games. It’s on us.”

That said, Pedroia can’t wait to play for John Farrell. “John’s awesome,” Pedroia said. “Everybody got to know him when he was here before. He’s easy to talk to. Obviously when he walks into the room, he has that presence. It’s going to be great for us.”

By the way, Pedroia got a kick out of the revelation in Terry Francona’s recently-released book that the Red Sox conducted a marketing research study that indicated the Sox needed ‘sexy’ players like  … Dustin Pedroia to increase ratings.

“What  was my first reaction? They didn’t need to hire a damn marketing team,”quipped Pedroia. “I could have told them that for free. I don’t know. I just started laughing. I  was  like, no, that’s pretty funny.”

Henry holds court in Fort Myers

One day before Red Sox pitchers and catchers take the field for the first official team workout, owner John Henry spoke to the media in a wide-ranging, 25-minute discussion.

Entering his 12th season as the principal owner, Henry knows that the team was never in more dire straits than a year ago, when they went 69-93 and finished in last place.

While Henry again said that he thinks Bobby Valentine is a good manager, he was candid in acknowledging that Valentine was the wrong man for the 2012 Red Sox. Henry said that the three leaders of the ownership group — Henry, president/CEO Larry Lucchino and chairman Tom Werner — should bear the responsibility for making the wrong choice in Valentine.

The owner also took great exception to former manager Terry Francona’s claim in his recently-released book that Henry, Lucchino and Werner like baseball, but don’t love it.

Here are several samplings from Henry’s candid address.

Why is Henry optimistic going into 2013? “Well I would say especially in comparison to last year, I should be optimistic. You have to be optimistic we won’t have the same kind of injuries we had last year. I was told that we expect to have something like 15 percent of our payroll on the DL during any given season. Last year it was 45 percent. We had seven outfielders on the DL at  one time. You have to be optimistic that if nothing else, we’ll be healthier than we were last year.”

Henry thinks that the loss of core organizational philosophies — such as building within the farm system and not over-extending with long-term deals with free agents — is most responsible for the recent demise of the franchise.  “There’s no doubt in my mind that we had a core philosophy for a lot of years and we moved away from that philosophy and it’s hurt us. It’s definitely hurt us. Last year, I think was the beginning of trying to put us back on that track.”

When, why did the core philosophy change?  “I think that when you have a certain amount of success, generally, you don’t tend to change your philosophy but in our case, there was a very profound shift in what we were trying to do. It’s a good question as to why. I would only be speculating as to why. There was a shift. We made a shift and I don’t think that ultimately with hindsight, it proved to be … I think the things we did when we first got here and started, which was the basic core philosophy of the Red Sox, was something we needed to get back to.”

Henry was incredulous that Francona and co-author Dan Shaughnessy asserted in their recent book that owners pressured former GM Theo Epstein and the baseball operations staff to make ‘sexy’ player acquisitions to help the team improve its television ratings.  “I have to laugh. That’s just laughable [that] the shift in philosophy [was because of that] … No, no, no, I think we’ve been over that ground before. I created a lot of news before by being honest about it. It’s ludicrous to say that we signed any player since we’ve been here, for PR purposes. I don’t think anybody would assert that. And if it’s asserted, it’s just ludicrous.”

Did the Red Sox shift their philosophy because they were trying to find another competitive advantage? “I think people always look for an edge. Not always, but a lot of people look for an edge. If you think that maybe other people are catching on to your edge, you look for another one. But you’ve got to make sure that whatever edge you’re seeking to have is valid and there was … we had a big advantage. We had, I think, the right philosophy, we spent more money than anyone but the Yankees. It’s gotten more difficult. There are a lot more restrictions on spending now, there are more restrictions on the draft. You’ve got to be smarter, and you’ve got to make sure that if you’re seeking to have an edge, that it has validity.”

Henry, Lucchino and Werner don’t love baseball, according to Francona? “Uh, we were talking about the Senior League when we were walking out here. I don’t think I’ll comment on stuff like that because I would leave that in your hands. You’ve been around us for 12 years.  I’m surprised nobody [in the media] has any comments and then we would have to defend ourselves in that regard.”

So you do love the game? “Again, I don’t want to be defensive. Especially about stuff that really is ridiculous. That’s ridiculous. “

Can the Red Sox win in 2013? “Yes.”

Can the Red Sox make the playoffs in 2013?  “It’s hard to know at this point and we may not be finished [adding players]. I definitely think that we will contend for a playoff spot.”

Evaluating GM Ben Cherington:  “Yeah, again, this week he took responsibility for what happened last year. but I think, again, part of the responsibility that I think we have and maybe we haven’t done as a good a job on it, is that we haven’t had the kind of depth that it turns out that we need. That’s one thing that he’s worked on, that we’ve worked on this year, to think more in terms of depth, to plan more for an injury. It’s difficult. When you have your best players injured, even if you have sufficient depth, it’s hard to be a playoff team.”

How much responsibility does Bobby Valentine deserve for last season? “You know, it’s always hard to say how much a manager impacts performance. I think that Bobby Valentine is a great baseball manager – a great baseball mind. It’s clear in retrospect that he wasn’t the right man for that group last year. So, I don’t think you can blame Bobby for that. You can blame us. You can blame me or Larry or Tom. But I think he should manage again and he could be a great manager for the right team.”

Red Sox contract info: opt-out dates, Mike Napoli’s incentives

MLB.com on Saturday confirmed the details of Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli‘s incentive-heavy contract, and learned the potential opt-out dates for two of Boston’s late offseason signings: Ryan Sweeney (March 28) and Lyle Overbay (March 26).

If Napoli, who has a hip condition, reaches 165 days on the active roster in 2013, he makes a base of $13 million. If he does not reach 165 days, here are his incentives for being healthy and playing:

He’ll get $500,000 for each of 300, 325, 350, and 375 plate appearances. Then, Napoli gets $1,000,000 for each of 400, 475, 550 and 625 plate appearances.

In that same vein, if Napoli doesn’t reach that 165-active day mark, he also gets a $500,000 bonus for each of 30, 60, 90 and 120 days on the active roster.

The bottomline: if Napoli’s playing, even if he doesn’t reach 165 days, he’ll make well more than $5 million.

Napoli also contractually has a suite on the road, and has awards bonuses: $50,000 for All-Star, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove or an LCS MVP Award. He’d make $100,000 for a World Series MVP or regular season MVP ($75,000 for second and $50,000 for third).

WEEI’s Alex Speier previously reported Mike Napoli’s contract info.

More Red Sox contract info:

  • Andrew Bailey is making $4,100,000 plus $25,000 for 25, 30, 35 and 40 games finished. He also gets $25,000 for an All-Star selection, Rolaids award and LCS MVP. He gets $50,000 for World Series MVP, and $100,000 for Cy Young ($50,000 for second, $25,000 for third). He would make $100,000 for MVP ($50,000 for second and $25,000 for third).
  • Daniel Bard is making $1,862,500.
  • Craid Breslow makes $2,325,000 in 2013 and $3,825,000 in 2014. The 2015 club option is for $4,000,000 or a $100,000 buyout.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury’s salary is $9 million.
  • Joel Hanrahan is making $7,040,000. He gets $15,000 for 45, 50, 55 or 60 games finished. He gets $25,000 for an All Star selection, Rolaids award and LCS MVP. He gets $50,000 for World Series MVP, and $100,000 for Cy Young ($50,000 for second, $25,000 for third). He would make $100,000 for MVP ($50,000 for second and $25,000 for third).
  • Andrew Miller has a base salary of $1,475,000, plus $25,000 for 60 games and $25,000 for 65 games.
  • Franklin Morales is making $1,487,500.
  • Lyle Overbay would make $22,000 per month in the Minors or $1,250,000 in the Majors. He gets $50,000 for 350 plate appearances, and $100,000 for 400 and 450 plate appearances. If not on 40-man roster on March 26, he will be released if requested or added to roster within 48 hours.
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia is making $4,500,000.
  • Ryan Sweeney makes $1,250,000 in Majors, plus $50,000 for 350 plate appearances; $100,000 for 400 and 450 plate appearances. If not on Major League roster on March 28, he will released if requested.

– Ian Browne and Evan Drellich

No blizzard in Fort Myers

In the good timing department, I flew in last night and beat the blizzard. Special assistant to the general manager Pedro Martinez is among today’s arrivals.

Pedro was decked out in a Red Sox t-shirt and gym shorts and seemed bubbly to be back, albeit in a far different capacity.

The equipment truck also arrived, for those who keep tabs on such things.

Among those already on the scene, four days in advance of the first official pitchers-catchers workout: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Lavarnway, Daniel Nava, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Felix Doubront, Franklin Morales, Daniel Bard, Andrew Bailey, Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa.

Come here on a daily basis for updates, and also, of course, at redsox.com.

Mark Melancon grew as pitcher, person in Boston

Mark Melancon’s on the move again, to his fourth Major League team in five years, as part of the six-player deal between the Red Sox and Pirates that lands Joel Hanrahan in Boston. A closer with the Astros before he came to the Red Sox, Melancon acknowledged his struggles with the Sox outside the closer’s role, but said they helped him grow tremendously.

“Obviously I got off to a rough start,” Melancon told MLB.com on Wednesday. “So you know, I don’t think they treated me unfairly. It’s hard for me because I feel like I didn’t produce as well as I should have and so there’s nobody to blame but myself. Obviously baseball is a game that’s built on failure, so you have to understand that too. It’s exciting for me because I had a great last half of the season last year, and that’s kind of who I am and who I anticipate being. Not only to build off of that last half of the season, but also I feel like I have a lot to prove. Being a closer, late-game guy, that’s kind of my mentality. Prove to people who I am and prove to them what I can do.”

Melancon spent Christmas in Hawaii with his family. The right-hander would like the chance to close again and was a much improved pitcher as the season went on.

“Being out of that situation — I learned a lot out of that situation in Boston,” Melancon said. “I learned a lot about who I am and myself and I had to combat those things. Cause when you don’t have that situation, that high pressure situation, things are a lot different. Mentality is a lot different. It’s a different ballgame. I learned how to combat that and it took me a little while understandably, but it made me a better pitcher and a better person. In my mind there wasn’t a whole bad other than I let down some of the team. Which is never fun. But I think as a whole I got a lot better.”

– Evan Drellich

Tito insightful, candid at Winter Meetings

Indians manager — yes, it still sounds a little weird to call him that — Terry Francona held court at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday in a media session that lasted nearly a half hour.

Francona spoke in-depth about his new challenges with the Indians while looking back fondly at his time in Boston, and sounding more at peace with how things ended with the Red Sox than he did a year ago.

Here is a sampling:

The swing of emotions from September of 2011 to a year as an ESPN commentator to, now, the manager of the Indians:  “Uneven.  A little bit of a roller coaster.  I think you go back to September of ’11, and that was tough, man.  I don’t care what city you’re in.  When you go 7 and whatever, 20, if you’re the manager, you’re wide open for criticism.  That’s just the way it is. And the way things ended was difficult.  I thought stepping back was probably a smart thing.  It’s not necessarily the easiest thing in the world to tell yourself you need to do that, but it was, I think, really healthy for me.  I know I get back into it now feeling like I’m better prepared to do the job correctly because it’s got to be almost 24 hours a day to do it right, at least I think so.  I was pretty beaten up by the end of that last year.”

Now on the other market of the small market/big market race, and losing out on Victorino to the Red Sox. “[Jerks],” quipped Francona. “You know what, it’s kind of hard to fault a guy like Shane Victorino for going to Boston.  When guys get to be a free agent, they earn that right to go wherever they want, and it’s a great baseball town. Again, I have a lot of respect for him and the way he went about his decision.  So it’s kind of hard to fault somebody for that.”

Difference in managing the Indians and the Red Sox? “When I took the job in Boston, the expectations were win or go home.  I remember being very thankful that Dave Roberts was safe.  I probably would have gone home.  This is a little different now.  We’re younger.  We’re not in the same position.  But our expectations, at least in my opinion, are still the same.  We’re supposed to try to win.  So Chris and I and all the guys are trying to put together the best roster we can, and when it’s time to put a uniform on, that’s when I get really excited, and we try to have our guys play the game correctly.”

People were surprised you took the Indians job? “First of all, people may not have known me as well as they thought they did, and the hurdle don’t scare me.  I know they’re there, the challenges, but I wanted to do it with a group of people where I knew I’d be comfortable, and I wanted to be part of the solution.  I didn’t want to be like a quick fix.  When Chris and I talked, it became evident to me real quick ‑‑ again, I was either going to take this job or not this year.  And I’m very comfortable with where I’m at.  Again, having a challenge isn’t bad.  Trying to find a way to tackle them is actually pretty exciting. And I’m not delusional.  We have challenges.  We have some things we’ve got to overcome, but trying to do that, I’m looking forward to it.”

What about the staff John Farrell has put together in Boston? “I want to be careful on rating everything that Boston does.  That’s not my job anymore.  I’m a manager of another team.  I think, being totally honest, I think Boston’s biggest weakness is their manager,” Francona said to a chorus of laughs.  “I want to kind of stay away from that.  I don’t need to rate everything John does.  That’s not going to work.”

Your upcoming book with the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy: “I don’t know.  I hope people want to buy it.”

Do you expect fallout? “Fallout?  I hope people buy it.  I spent a lot of time.  No, I think it’s more ‑‑ it’s eight years of a lot of funny, some emotional, a couple sad things.  I think Dan busted his rear end on this thing. The fact that, first of all, me and him were together doing it was a shock to me. First time I picked him up, I told him, you have to blackout the windows because I don’t want people to see you driving me around.  It ended up being probably ‑‑ I had a year where I could do it because under normal circumstances, you can’t do it.  And it ended up being kind of fun. I think, for the most part, if somebody ends up being bent out of shape, that was not ever the intent.  It was just to kind of tell the story, and I hope that people take it that way because I think it’s a really good story.”

Did you gain perspective on managing in your year away?  “It’s hard to sit and just say, I should have put a hit and run on on April 13th or something like that.  But in our game, the communication is so important, and if you get away from that at all, that can ‑‑ again, your talent level, if you don’t have enough talent, it’s going to get exposed at some point during a long season, but as a manager, if you have get your guys to play to most of their ability more often, you’re doing your job right.”

More at peace now with your departure from Boston? “You know what, I never had a problem.  I think it’s a little bit of a misrepresentation.  If you really think about it, it wasn’t like all of September me and you guys were feuding.  We had a really tough September.  It was a rough, uphill battle for us.  We were leaking oil like every day, but our biggest concern was to trying to get to the playoffs. We didn’t deal with any of those issues until after the season.  So it was kind of weird.  I didn’t have a chance to like sit back and think about not having that job.  Two days later, I was defending myself.  So it was hurtful.  And where it went from there was disappointing, but time does have a way of ‑‑ I don’t want to go through life being ‑‑ I don’t know if vindictive is the right word.  I don’t know if that’s healthy. I have too many people there that are too special.  I was disappointed with the way it ended, and I’ll probably always feel that way, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great seven years and five months.”

Coming back to Fenway for the 100th anniversary: “I was conflicted.  I’ll be pretty honest about it.  I wasn’t planning on doing it.  I talked to some people who told me maybe I was a being a little too self‑centered.  I wasn’t too thrilled about that.  I was glad to be there, and I was glad to leave.  But I’ve never felt like ‑‑ besides that one guy in the third row that used to scream at me, I thought Boston ‑‑ it’s a wonderful place.  If you care about baseball, it’s a wonderful place.  Sometimes things happen in that city.  You can’t have all that good without having some of the bad, and I got caught up in it.”

Gain additional perspective on managing while working in the broadcast booth? “I hate to say this.  I hope it makes me more respectful to the media’s job.  Not you personally.  Actually, it was a great learning year.  One, you’re looking at a game not emotionally because, when the season starts, I don’t care what manager you talk to, you have no ability to view the game without emotion.  When you lose, you’re beat up personally.  You take it personally.  Whether you have enough talent or not, you try to make it work.  I also got to see what goes into putting that game on.  I used to think those guys showed up and did the game, and it was a lot of work, but I learned a lot, and I was with people that were unbelievably good to me.  So it was a great year. I just missed being on the field a lot, and that’s not a bad thing.  I was kind of hoping I would.  But I had a wonderful year.”

Cherington on Napoli

The Red Sox never confirm a signing until a player passes a physical, but Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington was at least willing to speak about the pending Mike Napoli signing in general terms in a meeting with beat reporters earlier tonight.

“We’ve made some progress and he’s a guy who gets on base, has power, could be a good fit for our  ballpark. We knew when we made the Dodgers trade, and moved Gonzalez, we were going to have to try to find a way to replace that offense and as we got into the offseason, we understood that that was probably going to have to come from a combination of guys and maybe not one guy. So that’s part of what we’ve been trying to do this offseason is add offense at a number of spots on the roster so we’re hopeful we can continue to do that.”

Will Napoli catch, or focus on first base? “He could catch, he can play first. If he’s here, we imagine he’d do some of both but that would be up to our manager to figure out.”

More details, please! “Hard to say. Obviously we’re not ready to announce anything. we can envision …there have been years when he’s caught a number of games, a lot, and there’s been years he’s caught less. We like his offense in Fenway, we like the versatility, so I’m going to say we’re hopeful to make some progress there.”

The Red Sox have a lot of catchers. Will they trade any of them. “We’ll see. I don’t have a good feel for that yet. It could be that that presents opportunities because of a potential surplus in that area, but I don’t know if that will turn into anything yet.”

The Red Sox have coveted Napoli for a long time. In fact, they claimed Napoli on waivers in 2010, but couldn’t work out a deal with the Angels at the time.

“Again we don’t have anything to announce,” Cherington said. “If we were to progress there, we’re looking at on-base, power, positional versatility and to collectively replace some of the offense we lost with Gonzalez and improve on the overall lineup performance. Someone like that can help us in a number of those areas.”

Red Sox reel in Napoli

The Red Sox landed one of their top targets of the winter, agreeing to terms on a three-year deal. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that the deal is worth $39 million.

Napoli gives the Red Sox the type of power they need, and is a right-handed bat who can complement star lefty slugger David Ortiz.

While Napoli has primarily been a catcher in his career, there’s a strong chance he will get the bulk of his playing time in Boston at first base.

With Napoli on board, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington can now focus on other needs, such as finding an outfielder, a starting pitcher and possibly a shortstop.

Surprising rumor surfaces involving Lester

While it should be noted that teams discuss hundreds of conceptual trades during the winter that never see the light of day, a a lot of them never even reach the rumor mill. However, one surprising one was reported on Monday night.

Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star reported that the Red Sox and Royals discussed a potential blockbuster that would send Boston lefty Jon Lester to Kansas City for top Royals outfield prospect Wil Myers. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford confirmed the report. Both writers said that no deal is close at this time.

It’s surprising, however, that the Red Sox would even discuss trading Lester, long a cornerstone of their rotation. But Lester is coming off the worst season of his career (9-14, 4.82 ERA) and is two years away from free agency.

Perhaps Boston just wanted to gauge his value. As for Myers, he is an intriguing soon-to-be 22-year-old prospect who hit .304 at Triple-A last season with 24 homers, 79 RBIs and a .932 OPS.

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