Philadelphia, PA – (SportsNetwork.com) - What a difference a year makes.
There were only two teams worse than the Boston Red Sox in the American League in 2012, leading to the eventual dismissal of manager Bobby Valentine after just one season and a midseason deal that year that freed up a ton of money and really transformed the franchise.
So, out with the old and in the new, as the team hired John Farrell to be their new skipper and used that found money sent to Los Angeles to bring in free agents Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Koji Uehara.
All that resulted in a a 28-game turnaround, as the Red Sox finished 97-65 and not only captured an AL East title, but also claimed the club's third World Series championship since 2004, a matter-of-fact, six-game win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Now the Red Sox have their sights set on becoming the first club since the 1999-2000 Yankees to repeat as World Series champions.
It won't be easy, though, as the team lost both outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia in free agency, but weren't nearly as aggressive as they were the previous winter in that market.
It's almost crazy to suggest, but general manager Ben Cherington is in the process of rebuilding this team. Young Xander Bogaerts is expected to be a big factor this year at shortstop, while the team had hoped that Jackie Bradley Jr. would take over for Ellsbury.
The Red Sox, though, may have found lightning in a bottle with the resurgence of Grady Sizemore, who signed as a low-risk, high-reward deal, but has been the story of camp this spring. So much so, that it looks as if he will be in the outfield on Opening Day rather than Bradley.
Even with a bit of retooling and an improved division, the Red Sox should still be right in the thick of the postseason action come September.
2013 FINISH (97-65) - First Place (AL East)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: A.J. Pierzynski (C); Grady Sizemore (OF); Chris Capuano (LHP); Edward Mujica (RHP); Burke Badenhop (RHP)
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Jacoby Ellsbury (OF); Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C); Ryan Dempster (RHP); Matt Thornton (LHP); Andrew Bailey (RHP); Joel Hanrahan (RHP); Stephen Drew (SS)
PROJECTED LINEUP: Grady Sizemore (CF); Shane Victorino (RF); Dustin Pedroia (2B); David Ortiz (DH); Mike Napoli (1B); Daniel Nava (LF); Xander Bogaerts (SS); A.J. Pierzynski (C); Will Middlebrooks (3B)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Jon Lester (LHP); John Lackey (RHP); Clay Buchholz (RHP); Jake Peavy (RHP); Felix Doubront (LHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Koji Uehara (RHP)
MANAGER: John Farrell
HOW WILL THE RED SOX REPLACE JACOBY ELLSBURY?
When Ellsbury left for the New York Yankees the general feeling was that Bradley would assume the center field duties.
But the Red Sox took a chance on oft-injured Sizemore this winter and the 31- yar-old former All-Star seems to be making the most of his opportunity and could wind up being one of the best stories in the league this season.
We are certainly a long way from that, especially from a guy like Sizemore, who hasn't played a game in the last two years. But, he's outplayed Bradley this spring -- heck he's outplayed everyone on the Red Sox -- and looks like a lock to be in the team's Opening Day lineup.
If healthy, Sizemore brings the exact same attributes that Ellsbury did. He can hit, hit for power, he can run and he can flash the leather. There was a time that people were talking about him being the best all-around player in baseball.
Sizemore may not be the 30/30 player he once was and likely won't come near the 52 bases Ellsbury swiped in 2013, but the Red Sox probably won't lose much on the base paths.
Of course, injuries have derailed Sizemore's once promising career, but he's passed every test the Red Sox have thrown his way this spring. The Red Sox let Ellsbury walk for $153 million. Sizemore could make $6 million this season and that's with him reaching every single incentive in his deal.
It doesn't look like that bad of a tradeoff at the moment.
CAN KOJI UEHARA CONTINUE TO BE DOMINANT?
There was no bigger surprise last season than the emergence of right-hander Uehara as a dominant closer. Now the question is, can he do it again?
Uehara wasn't just good. He was historically good.
After both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey were lost for the season with injuries, Uehara stepped in and saved 21 games while pitching to a remarkable 1.09 ERA.
Uehara, whose ERA was the best in the majors of any pitcher with 50 or more innings, also posted a mind-blowing 0.57 walks plus hits per nine innings - the lowest WHIP in baseball history by a pitcher who logged at least 50 innings, surpassing by a considerable margin the 0.61 standard set by Dennis Eckersley in 1989.
He didn't walk a batter over his final 22 appearances and posted a 0.72 in save chances.
But he will be 39 on April 3, and it's fair to wonder if the righty can maintain his high level of performance. Now the Red Sox did bring in former St. Louis Cardinals reliever Edward Mujica as a backup plan should Uehara stumble.
AT WHAT POINT WILL DAVID ORTIZ SLOW DOWN?
It's almost amazing that here we are in 2014 and David Ortiz is still the most dangerous bat in the Red Sox lineup.
The Red Sox slugger solidified his place as the best designated hitter the game has ever seen with one of the greatest World Series performances of all- time, as he hit .688 with a pair of home runs, six RBI, seven runs scored and was on base 75 percent of the time.
That was just the icing on the cake for the 38-year-old Ortiz, who put forth yet another 30 home run, 103 RBI season, while hitting .309.
Ortiz will be entering his 18th big league season this coming year and 12th with the Red Sox. He has to start tailing off at some point, right?
X-FACTOR: XANDER BOGAERTS: When the Red Sox opted to let Stephen Drew walk, they essentially were handing the shortstop reins over to 21-year-old super prospect Bogaerts. We've heard Bogaerts' name bandied about for years, but he finally made his debut last season and left a lasting impression, as he took over the struggling Wil Middlebrooks at third base down the stretch and into the postseason. After hitting .250 in 18 regular season games, Bogaerts batted .296 with nine runs scored during the Red Sox' run to the title. He may have tried to do too much this spring, but the Red Sox are ready to roll with him, as some in Boston's organization have compared him Nomar Garciaparra.
It's hard not to like the Boston Red Sox again this season. The AL East will be tougher for sure with an improved New York Yankees' ballclub, but the Red Sox should be right there competing for a postseason spot. The lineup is deep, the rotation is solid and if Uehara is anything close to what he was last season, Boston's bullpen is in real good shape. Just how good is the rotation? Well right now Clay Buchholz is penciled in as the fifth starter. That is depth. October may be a long way away, but Boston is as talented a team as there is in the league and certainly has the potential to repeat.