BOSTON -- On Christmas Eve 2004, the Red Sox gift-wrapped Jason Varitek in a four-year, $40 million dollar contract and put it under the tree for Red Sox fans.
The Red Sox were hoping for the same holiday magic to work with Johnny Damon this year, but Yankees owner George Steinbrenner acted the part of the Grinch and stole the present before Boston could find its wrapping paper.
Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino, flanked by co-general managers Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer, explained Wednesday afternoon that they had hoped to be able to follow-up on their four-year, $40 million offer of Dec. 6 this week, but they never had the chance.
Instead, Damon agreed in principle to a four-year, $52 million deal with the Yankees late Tuesday night, putting a bit of a damper on the holiday mood at Fenway Park.
"I would acknowledge this is a setback in terms of our short-term plans, but keep the faith," Lucchino said when asked what he would tell disappointed Red Sox fans. "We will redeploy this money intelligently. We will balance our long-term plans with our short-term needs and find players who will play for this team -- center field, shortstop -- that the fans can be proud of."
As was the case with Varitek, Scott Boras represented Damon. Hoyer was the last Red Sox official to have formal dialogue with Boras before Damon made his move to pinstripes.
"My last conversation with [Boras] was at about 7 o'clock [Tuesday] night," Hoyer said. "Scott Boras called me a little before midnight [Tuesday] night to tell me that he had reached an agreement with the Yankees, which I had been notified of by the media. But he did notify me just before midnight."
Lucchino responded to suggestions made by Damon to WBZ-TV on Tuesday night that the Red Sox didn't pursue the outfielder aggressively.
"I think we made it very apparent to him and Scott Boras and his [representatives] that we were eager and hopeful to sign Johnny Damon, and we did that as recently as [Tuesday]. So, I don't think we shut the door in any way, shape or form."
Lucchino added: "I think it's fair to say that we left the door ajar for a subsequent formal offer. We wanted to sign Johnny Damon. We made a very strong and concerted effort to do so. We're disappointed."
The three Sox officials would not elaborate on the details of their discussions with Boras, but said they had informed him that they wanted to further discuss the deal and do so by Christmas Eve or move on.
"I think it happens with some frequency," Lucchino said in explaining Boston's strategy. "It was not for arbitrary reasons. It was because we had had an offer out there for several weeks and we needed to know. Christmastime is not an illogical time [when] baseball shuts down for a week or 10 days, as it always does, [and] we needed to have a sense whether you have a deal."
"There was a suggestion that we were eager to sit down and talk further and do that by the end of Christmas Eve," Lucchino added. "It was an invitation to further specific discussions in hopes of getting [a deal] done by Christmas Eve."
Ironically, the Yankees had implemented their own deadline, offering $12 million more than the Red Sox but telling Boras and Damon that they had to know by Tuesday's midnight non-tender deadline. Damon and Boras decided to take the money from New York.
Now the Red Sox have to go about the job of replacing their leadoff hitter of the past four seasons.
"There's more than one way to skin a cat," Cherington said. "The Red Sox have won in the past without a prototypical leadoff hitter. Other teams have won in the past without a prototypical leadoff hitter. The Red Sox are going to have a very good team in 2006. We don't know exactly what it's going to look like yet.
"I think it's fair to say Johnny's decision makes our offseason a bit more challenging, but we're still very well positioned to have a very good team in 2006 and somebody will be leading off. Whoever it is may not be the prototypical leadoff hitter, but we'll have a lineup that will score a lot of run, I can tell you that."
Lucchino admitted that Damon will be missed on and off the field.
"There was some value associated with that," said Lucchino, referring to Damon's marketability. "He was one of the more marketable players in baseball, and he was certainly very marketable and popular person up here for whatever combination of reasons, hair, style, looks, and personality, whatever. But at the end of the day, you do have to make a hard baseball decision about how much of your resources you need to invest in this particular player or person and for how long. The hardest part of the job that baseball operations has to do is ... balance the present with the future, balance short-term commitments, short-term needs versus long-term planning and long-term flexibility."
It will be up to Hoyer and Cherington to sort out the options before the club fields its 25-man team in April.
"I think we want to do the right thing instead of the quick thing," Hoyer said. "Of course, now we know Johnny won't be playing center field for us, so that hastens the process a little bit. But we're not going to rush out and do something quick. We're going to sit down and try to do the right thing."
Cherington, who pointed out that it's only December and not Opening Day, said a lot can happen in three-and-a-half months.
"We have a hole to fill and there are a lot of different ways to do it," he said.
Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.