Admiring the fruits of their labor

Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, principal owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner were cheered by players at Saturday's team meeting. J. Meric/Getty Images

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Mark Teixeira may have declared the New York Yankees underdogs, but Red Sox ownership isn't buying it.

"I don't see us as such a clear favorite,'' said majority owner John W. Henry, who was not responding specifically to Teixeira's comments but a broader perception that the Red Sox have the edge over their archrivals. "I see the teams as fairly evenly matched still. We've got our work cut out for us to win the division.''

Henry's partners, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner, fell in line.

"I feel the same way,'' CEO Lucchino said Saturday. "There are other teams in this division that are improving. This is not just a mano-a-mano, two-team match. There are other teams building solid teams. The AL East will still be the rough-and-tumble AL East, make no mistake about that.''

Chairman Werner agreed.

"John Farrell is a terrific manager,'' he said. "I think Toronto is going be stronger. I don't discount Tampa. Adding [Manny] Ramirez was a very smart move, Johnny Damon. We don't want to focus too much on the Yankees.''

Still, after a morning in which Sox owners were accorded a standing ovation by their players when introduced at the first meeting of the full squad, their buoyancy was self-evident.

"Everyone knows hope springs eternal every spring,'' Lucchino said. "We just have to make sure we're healthy, and that the good luck and randomness of the game falls into our favor, as well. But there's an atmosphere here that is extremely positive, confident and upbeat, and that's very encouraging.''

Henry noted with satisfaction that this was the 10th year for the "new ownership.'' In the interim, there have been $285 million in renovations done to Fenway Park (according to Lucchino, engineers have said Fenway will remain structurally sound for another 40 to 50 years), two World Series titles, six postseason trips, forays into NASCAR and soccer and a groundbreaking for a new state-of-the-art spring training facility scheduled in two weeks.

"We feel extraordinarily lucky to be healthy, to be together, the three of us, with Theo [Epstein], Tito [Francona],'' Henry said. "The one thing we're trying to accomplish with Liverpool is what we were able to accomplish here: stability, having a long-term manager, a long-term general manager. We just feel in many ways very proud of what we've accomplished in the last 10 years.''

And the pieces are all in place for a grand 2011.

"You make plans every offseason,'' Henry said. "It's impossible to predict what's going to happen. But this offseason was tremendous. ... We accomplished what we set out to accomplish.''

The Red Sox did so by outspending every other team in free agency, committing nearly $162 million to new players, according to ESPN researcher Katie Sharp. And that doesn't even include the $154 million or so the Sox are expected to commit to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez when they sign him to an extension.

This is the first time since 1990-91, when such figures first became available, Sharp noted, that the Red Sox were baseball's biggest spenders. She further observed that in the last 10 offseasons, only four teams that were the biggest spenders in the winter made it to the postseason in October. And only the '96 Yankees, '97 Marlins and '09 Yankees won the World Series after shelling out the most free-agent bucks.

The Red Sox under Henry had never given a seven-year contract to a player until signing Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million deal.

"You always have reservations about making big, long-term commitments,'' Henry said. "But as I said earlier, we have a commitment to winning, and he's the right player for us. We really rounded out our offense and defense. He brings so much speed and power. All these big deals are difficult decisions, but there is a lot of competition to sign them.''

After the formal media conference had ended, Lucchino was reminded that as the former CEO of the San Diego Padres, he once championed the small-market teams and complained of the profligate spending of the Steinbrenners of the world. He was asked if he had any concerns about how Sox spending impacted the welfare of the game.

"We were focusing on the need we had,'' he said. "We finished third last year. We kept reminding ourselves we were third. Things had to be done. We could have taken a passive role -- 'Let's hope our players get better' -- but there was both need and an opportunity to do things by trade or free agency, and our organizational philosophy is more proactive.

"You play by the rules and do what you can to make your franchise better and hope you're not doing anything [detrimental]. ... We don't think we set the bar this past year. It was set before we acted, and we played in that market.''

And for all of their spending the Sox did over the winter, Lucchino said they've kept something in reserve if the need arises during the season.

"We always save some amount of money, to be determined each year,'' he said. "We will certainly look to make improvements if we're in the hunt and there's a specific need or opportunity. I think that's part of the obligation of ownership.''

Truth be told, it may pain Henry more to send large sums of his hard-earned cash to his fellow owners -- Lucchino said the Red Sox paid $85 million-plus in revenue sharing, in addition to $1.3 million in luxury tax -- than to write out checks to an asset like Crawford.

The Red Sox are hopeful that in the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement the revenue-sharing system undergoes some revisions.

"I'm not authorized to talk on behalf of the league,'' Lucchino said. "But I will say the Red Sox think there's an opportunity for reform of the system, and we hope baseball takes advantage of that opportunity.''

Now that they're closing the spending gap with the Yankees, are the Sox at the point that they are committed to remaining within payroll striking distance?

"It takes two to tango,'' Lucchino said. "You don't know where they're going to go, what they're going to do. We know we have an intense rivalry with these guys. ... We've got to be aggressive with our finances and we're willing to do that. But we don't do things in tandem with the Yankees.''

Lucchino said that the Sox wanted to convey the message to their players ("and to the fans," Henry said) that this was intended to be fun, too.

"Let's make sure we have fun with this,'' he said.

And if Teixeira, who spurned the chance to sign with the Red Sox a couple of years ago, thinks the Yankees are underdogs now?

Well, maybe that's part of the fun.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.