FORT MYERS, Fla. - With two World Series titles behind him and a clubhouse full of players always ready to sing his praises, manager Terry Francona has reached an agreement on a three-year, $12 million contract extension with the Red Sox that takes him through the 2011 season.
The Sox have the option to add two more years, bringing the potential total value of the package to $20 million, or an average of $4 million a year. The two option years must be exercised together after the 2011 season. If the options are not exercised, Francona receives a $750,000 buyout, guaranteeing him an average payout of $4 million over the three years.
The $4 million mark is a significant one, placing Francona just behind Joe Torre of the Dodgers (a reported 3 years, $13 million) at the highest level of the managerial salary scale.
"It was important for Tito to be recognized as one of the top two or three managers in the game," said Francona's agent, Pat Rooney, of negotiations that concluded Saturday night, with general manager Theo Epstein informing the players of Francona's new deal before yesterday morning's workout.
The contract also provides for Francona, 48, to receive an additional $250,000 in any year the Sox return to the World Series.
The last year of Francona's current deal calls for him to be paid $1.75 million in 2008. Under terms of the extension, his salary doubles to $3.5 million in 2009, $3.75 million in 2010, and $4 million in 2011.
The Sox first approached Francona about a new deal during the 2007 season, even before they won their second World Series in Francona's four years as manager, but it wasn't until the last week that negotiations intensified.
"In some ways he was born and bred through baseball for this job," Epstein said. "I'm proud to have hired him."
The new deal, if the options are exercised, could keep Francona as Red Sox manager for a decade, an unknown achievement for any Boston skipper in more than 60 years. Joe Cronin guided the Sox for 13 consecutive seasons (1935-47), the only person in team history to manage more than five full seasons consecutively. No Sox manager since has had an unbroken tenure of more than four full seasons.
"In a couple of days I'll never think about it again, because we're going to be thinking about what's happening on Field 4," said Francona, who is 375-273 as Sox manager. "Today I feel like the ballclub showed a lot of trust in me, which I don't take lightly. I appreciated it. I'm honored and I'm hopefully humbled by it. But I take it very seriously. As far as what happens on the field, I don't think anything changes, how I feel about treating the players or talking to Theo, none of that will ever change.
"I think I understand how this works in this city. It doesn't mean it's easy. It's really not easy, ever. But again, the people I go through it with I respect a lot, and I want to be a part of this. If I didn't want to be a part of this, I wouldn't have done this."
Francona said he tried to stay away from the bargaining table, though he did go to dinner with the ownership triumvirate of John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino in recent days.
Yesterday, Francona passed much of the credit for his success in Boston to others in the organization, saying, "I got rewarded with this contract because of a lot of people's hard work. I don't kid myself about that. From the ownership to Theo to the player [operations] to the coaches to ultimately the players, I am aware of that. I don't kid myself for one minute."
The players were just as ready to give Francona credit for how he has handled the clubhouse, from the rookies to the veterans.
"I know from the players' standpoint, we feel like he has our back no matter what," said Mike Lowell, who added that he thought Francona had been underpaid in recent years. "I think there are managers in big markets that sometimes use the media to get to the players. You don't ever see Tito do that, and I think players appreciate that. I think he provides an atmosphere in a big market where guys can be themselves, and that's big."
The Sox have averaged just under 94 regular-season wins under Francona, whose total of 375 wins is the most by any manager in his first four full seasons, six more than Don Zimmer (369 from '77 to '80). Francona was fired from his first managing job, with the Philadelphia Phillies, after the team lost 97 games in 2000, giving him four straight seasons without a winning record.
He spent 2001 with the Indians in a front-office position before returning to the field as a bench coach for Texas in 2002 and in the same role for Oakland in 2003 before being hired to replace Grady Little in December 2003.
As negotiations were coming to a close Saturday night, Epstein sent a congratulatory e-mail, with a teasing reminder to Francona of his job interview with the Sox. During a simulation of game conditions designed to test Francona's judgment, he inserted Keith Foulke into the game, even though in the simulation, Foulke was on the disabled list.
"I just told him how well-deserved I thought it was," Epstein said of the e-mail. "How it's been great for me to be in the catbird seat, see him grow through the years.
"I said, 'I never thought when you tried to put Keith Foulke in the game, even though he was on the DL, you'd be here four years later getting this kind of extension.' But we've been through a lot together. The impact that he's made on the organization has really been profound. I look forward to the next chapter."
So do the players. "Tito should have signed an extension, like, 20 years ago," David Ortiz said last week.
"He's the only manager I've ever played for up here," said second-year player Dustin Pedroia, "but he's the only one I want to play for."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.