Red Sox Have Become Premiere Destination for Free Agents Looking to Win Championships

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February 13, 2010

Red Sox Have Become Premiere Destination for Free Agents Looking to Win Championships2010 is a good time for baseball in Boston.

The Red Sox are coming off their sixth playoff appearance in seven years, a span in which they won two World Series titles. And as each newly acquired free agent made his introduction to the Boston media this winter, they all shared a common message: I came here to win.

John Lackey repeated it over and over again.

"I?m here to win, that?s the bottom line," the pitcher said.

Adrian Beltre? He passed up better offers for the chance to come to Boston and win.

"I made the decision to come here and take my chances to be on a team that has a legitimate chance to get to the World Series," he said in January. "I like my chances, I like the organization, I like what's going on here. I think the team is built to win, and it's the decision that I made, and I'm really happy about it."

Marco Scutaro described the Red Sox as the "perfect team."

"You get to a point where you just want to live the experience, just want to be in the World Series, just want to win the ring," the shortstop said in early December.

Mike Cameron, who at 37 years old is running out of time in the majors, said "the opportunity to really win a championship" was a major factor in signing with Boston.

"I pretty much have gotten to the end of the road so many times, so close, but with nothing to show for it," Cameron said.

The thing is, when players say these types of statements nowadays, it seems commonplace. But if a newly acquired free agent made similar remarks in, say, the early '90s, they may have been met with laughter.

So what's made the change? Obviously, the two trophies helped a great deal, but it goes much deeper than that. When John Henry and Co. took over the team in 2002 and Theo Epstein assumed the general manager role before the 2003 season, an entirely new philosophy was put into place within the Red Sox organization. The change affected the team in every way imaginable, from the physical space that the players occupied to the shift in focus in drafting and acquiring players.

No longer would the Red Sox try to keep up with the Joneses by trying to outbash their opponent. Instead, pitching and defense took top priority, with a steady but not overwhelming presence of power remaining in the lineup. 

The ownership group also took major steps forward in bringing the ancient and outdated Fenway Park closer to the 21st century by expanding the clubhouse, renovating it and adding more spacious facilities for the players to use. No longer would a muggy August day mean a crowded, miserable locker room for players and media alike. Fenway was also improved in terms of attendance, with new seats being added throughout the past decade. The average attendance has climbed from 32,767 in 2002 to 37,811 in 2009.

The increased number of seats — as well as the completely redone luxury seating areas — have certainly helped the Red Sox go after the big-money players this decade.

The end result? First and foremost, the Red Sox ended an 86-year championship drought. Just as importantly, Boston has become a place that players want to play — even when they're on other teams.

"I was always interested in coming here," Lackey said. "Winning was definitely my first priority of a team to go to. With this franchise and their history and the way I?ve seen from the other side of the field — I?ve been knocked out of the playoffs a few times by them — I know I?m going to have a chance to win here, and that means a lot."

It means a lot for Lackey, but it says a whole lot more about how far the Red Sox have come in a very short time period.

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NESN.com will be answering one Red Sox question every day through Feb. 23.

Friday, Feb. 12: How will Adrian Beltre handle the pressure of playing in Boston?

Sunday, Feb. 14: Will Clay Buchholz stay on his upward trajectory?

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