This was billed as a bridge year for the Red Sox, a season between the 2012 debacle and the arrival of the next wave of minor league prospects. Instead, the Red Sox pieced together one of the most memorable seasons in franchise history and they'll be celebrating with a parade Saturday morning.
How did it come together and what about next season? Let's recap the roster and look ahead.
The Core: Manager John Farrell maintained before and during the season that he was optimistic about this year's chances because there was a solid group of veterans. Start with David Ortiz, the holdover from the 2004 and 2007 World Series winners. Ortiz, limited to 90 games because of an Achilles injury in 2012, hit 30 homers during the season and had a memorable postseason, with a key grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS and an MVP World Series. From the 2007 title team, the Red Sox had Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Pedroia, Ellsbury and Buchholz were coming off injuries and Lester had a poor season in 2012. But Pedroia (.301, .371 on-base), Ellsbury (.298, 52 stolen bases), Lester (15 wins, 3.75 ERA) and Buchholz (12-1, 1.74) all contributed this year.
The Additions: The Red Sox were dismissed last offseason, when GM Ben Cherington elected to sign second-tier free agents to short-term contracts. ESPN analyst Keith Law said Shane Victorino's three-year, $39 million deal was perhaps the worst signing of the offseason because Victorino was little more than a platoon player. But Victorino played Gold Glove defense in right field and contributed offensively (.294/.351). He also had key hits in the postseason, including a grand slam in Game 6 of the ALCS and a three-run double in Game 6 of the World Series. The Red Sox also handed the first base job to former catcher Mike Napoli, who drove in 92 runs and alleviated fears his injured hip might hinder him. Shortstop Stephen Drew, signed to a one-year deal, played solid defense during the season and was exceptional defensively -- making up for his lack of offense -- in the postseason. Jonny Gomes was signed as a platoon outfielder, but he emerged as a leader and de facto team spokesman in October.
The New Surprise: Koji Uehara, a solid middle reliever for the Rangers in 2012, was signed as a setup man last winter, a transaction that drew little attention. The Red Sox were looking for a veteran reliever to throw strikes and give the team a reliable seventh- and eighth-inning option. But when closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey came down with season-ending injuries, Uehara inherited the ninth nning. And it can be argued that was the most important development of the season. He struck out 101 in 74 ? innings, recording 21 saves while putting together a run of retiring 37 consecutive batters. His WHIP was an astonishing 0.57. He was MVP of the ALCS, had seven saves in the postseason and threw the final pitch of the decisive Game 6 on Wednesday.
The Old Surprise: The face of the Red Sox turnaround was the previously sneering John Lackey, who was all smiles after pitching the team to the Game 6 win. Lackey, signed to a five-year, $82.5 million contract after the 2009 season, was historically bad in 2011. He had a 6.41 ERA in 28 starts and had a starring role in the infamous chicken-and-beer September collapse. As it turned out, he was pitching with an elbow injury and had Tommy John surgery. After missing all of last season, Lackey returned svelte and motivated in 2013. He had a 3.52 ERA in 29 starts and was stellar in the postseason, leaving the mound to a standing ovation in Game 6. He even tipped his cap, acknowledging the love.
The Bargains: Cherington filled out the roster with several under-the-radar acquisitions who wound up playing key roles. Catcher David Ross was signed as a veteran defensive specialist to share time with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and wound up playing the final few games of the Series. Ross provided stability for the pitching staff and contributed a key double in Game 5 of the World Series. Reserve outfielder/first baseman Mike Carp was added in a spring training trade with the Mariners and became the left-handed bat off the bench -- remember, the Red Sox had Lyle Overbay for that role in spring training -- while providing some big hits. Affable veteran starter Ryan Dempster was a free agent addition who made 29 starts and was considered a positive influence on Lester, Buchholz and the rest of the staff.
And The Rest: Outfielder Daniel Nava, who rose from the independent leagues, earned a spot on the roster and became an important offensive contributor. Nava had a .385 on-base percentage and drove in 66 runs in 134 games, developing into a gritty, relentless hitter who was the epitome of the team's offensive approach of running up pitch counts and working at-bats. Saltalamacchia held the starting catching job throughout the season and his all-around game improved; he had 40 doubles and was solid behind the plate. His defense faltered in the postseason, so Ross saw more playing time. Relievers Junichi Tazawa (72 strikeouts in 68 ? innings) and Craig Breslow (1.81 ERA) developed into reliable setup men for Uehara, filling the bullpen void left by the injuries to Hanrahan, Bailey and Andrew Miller.
The Kids: Xander Bogaerts and Brandon Workman were on the roster of the Double A Portland Sea Dogs when the season began. On Wednesday night, Bogaerts was the starting third baseman and Workman was pitching the eighth inning. Don't forget rookie shortstop Jose Iglesias, who played sparkling defense and hit .330 in 63 games before netting veteran starter Jake Peavy in a trade. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks struggled (.217) and spent considerable time in Triple A, but he did hit 17 home runs in 94 games. Starter Felix Doubront won 11 games as the first starter and emerged as an important bullpen piece in the World Series.
The Manager: After a season of disarray under Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox needed a steady hand. Farrell was familiar to the organization after serving as pitching coach under Terry Francona and had two years of managerial training with the Blue Jays. His influence -- along with that of popular pitching coach Juan Nieves -- was immense on the pitching staff. But his overall demeanor seemed to work with both veterans and young players. When asked after Game 6 to explain the team's dramatic turnaround, Ortiz pointed to the manager's office. "A body can't function without having a good head," Ortiz said. "And our manager is outstanding."
The General Manager: Cherington served under both Dan Duquette and Theo Epstein, so he's seen a lot at Fenway Park. He rose to GM when Epstein left for the Cubs after the 2011 season, but it took him a year to exert his independence. When Valentine -- perceived as President Larry Lucchino's hire -- was dismissed, Cherington got his choice for manager. And rather than follow the blueprint of the post-2007 Red Sox of chasing the highest-priced free agents, Cherington preached discipline and did not pursue the likes of Josh Hamilton on the open market. He was ridiculed in the winter, but he won the summer and fall. Cherington might provide the next blueprint for teams throughout baseball -- spend wisely, keep the terms of contracts at three years or fewer and invest in player development.
Chemistry Class: From the beards to all the chatter about how well the team got along, it's easy to overstate how important the chemistry of the team was this year. Really, winning is the best chemistry. But what Cherington put together was a group of like-minded, serious and hard-working players who set a tone every day. Pedroia was on the field taking grounders hours before each game, so young players such as Middlebrooks and Bogaerts followed. Guys like Napoli, Gomes, Victorino and Ortiz took batting practice seriously, so the rest of the roster did the same. Veteran pitchers such as Lackey, Dempster and Lester took their between-start duties seriously and the rest of the staff learned from watching. Don't mistake the goofy "Duck Dynasty" facial hair and Gomes' Army helmet as a sign of frivolity. This team was serious about baseball, from February to October.
The Future: One huge takeaway from October is that Bogaerts will soon be the face of the franchise. At 21, he's got the makings of a star and he figures to be an everyday player in 2014. Where will he play? His natural position is shortstop and Drew is a free agent, so it makes sense to let the veteran walk and slide the rookie into a premium position. (As a side note, the first order of offseason business is finding the kid a new number and ripping the offensive lineman's 72 off his back). Besides Drew, Ellsbury, Saltalamacchia and Napoli are free agents. Prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. is viewed as the heir apparent in center field and it's hard to imagine the Red Sox meeting the demands of Ellsbury's agent, Scott Boras. As much as they love Ross, the Red Sox will probably look to retain Saltalamacchia at a reasonable price. But given the demand for catchers, he could price himself out of their budget. Signing Napoli is likely a priority with no obvious replacement in sight. The Red Sox do have a strong crop of players rising through the organization, led by Bogaerts, Bradley and a long list of pitchers (Workman, Drake Britton, Henry Owens, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes) who will be on the staff the next 18 months. They could try to package some of the young talent for a star (Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton?), but they'll likely integrate the prospects into the lineup just the way they did with Bogaerts this fall.
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