Donít be fooled by the foot of snow you may have sitting outside your window or by the next wave of flakes due to arrive this weekend.
Itís almost baseball season.
Red Sox pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Fort Myers on Feb. 15, a week from Saturday. When they do, and workouts begin days later, it will be a very similar group to the one we last saw. On paper, youíd think general manager Ben Cherington spent more time talking with reporters this offseason than free agents. And, largely, thatís been without a gripe from the media.
Winning a World Series, even in Boston, buys instant satisfaction, often rewarded by patience. It will be fascinating to see how that old tale of grace periods and buffer years comes to fruition in 2014 around the Fens because, be sure, the narrative has changed.
At this time last year, we werenít asking if the Sox could win a championship, not a one of us. If ever there was a season for fluff pieces, smiles, laughs, and a few more wins than losses, it was 2013. There were no expectations.
Historically, the answerís no. The Sox have won the World Series eight times in their history, but on three occasions since 2004. Theyíve only captured consecutive titles once, in 1915 and 1916.
Since 1979, only two organizations have achieved the feat. Cito Gastonís Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993, and Joe Torreís Yankees reeled off three in a row from 1998-2000. The Bombers even made it again in 2001, falling to the Diamondbacks. In 2008, the Phillies won a title. Charlie Manuel guided the Phils there again the next season, but they lost to the Yanks.
Itís a remarkably rare accomplishment. In fact, in 13 World Series since 2000, the winner has failed to even make the playoffs the following year six times.
For better or worse, and Iím inclined to say better, the Red Sox are largely unchanged from when they basked in an evening-long celebration on Yawkey Way back on Oct. 30.
Leadoff hitter and centerfield Jacoby Ellsbury traded in his Sox for Pinstripes, as did reliever Matt Thornton. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia took his talents to South Beach. Shortstop Stephen Drew? Heís gone, too. For now.
Slugging first baseman Mike Napoli re-signed, the aging but durable A.J. Pierzynski will take over behind the plate, Jonathan Herrera will provide infield depth, reclamation project Grady Sizemore hopes to backup Jackie Bradley Jr., and Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop have been employed to stabilize the bullpen.
It was a rather pedestrian offseason for Cherington. But, perhaps heís not done. At this point a year ago, he hadn't yet acquired Mike Carp, who proved an immensely valuable part of Bostonís 2013 success, at least in the regular season.
For that matter, a year ago, Xander Bogaerts was a minor leaguer, Lyle Overbay was fighting for a roster spot, Joel Hanrahan was the closer, there was still optimism surrounding Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves, and David Ortiz couldnít run the bases Ė for weeks.
The point is much can change, and will change. Itís hard to know exactly what this club will look like on Opening Day, much less in September. As Cheringtonís acknowledged, itís a long season in a somewhat challenging division, and injuries always arise.
The good news is the Red Sox have tremendous depth in the rotation and on the mound overall. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, and Ryan Dempster would today shape up as a formidable five-man rotation, leaving Felix Doubront, Brandon Workman, and others as odd men out sure to find their turns as needed.
But will Lester be the ace he was in the postseason or the reliable horse he was for most of the regular season, or revert to the 2012 version we painstakingly watched for six weeks last season? Will Buchholz manage to stay on the mound, even if that slim 1.74 ERA jumps a bit? Will Lackey and Doubront remain motivated and in shape after silencing their critics?
Itís impossible to expect a 39-year-old Koji Uehara to turn in anything close to the historic performance he provided on the back-end of the bullpen in 2013, but he can still be a force if heís consistent to his career 2.42 ERA and .829 WHIP. But will he need more rest after 86 appearances? Will Junichi Tazawa after his 84? Can Craig Breslow be expected to repeat a career-year? Will Mujica, a World Series castoff for the Cardinals, be able to provide the 2.27 ERA heís delivered over his last two years in St. Louis? And, how will Andrew Miller return from his foot injury?
On paper, the Red Soxí pitching staff is built to win both over the course of a long season and in a short series, if it comes even remotely close to replicating its recent magic.
The clubís biggest questions and concerns lie in the lineup, one that performed as well as any other in baseball a season ago.
What the 21-year-old Bogaerts may lack in replacing Drewís defense, heís expected, in time, to be far more impressive offensively. His youthful companion at third, Will Middlebrooks, hopes to have a bounce-back major league season in order to show heís closer to the guy we watched as a rookie than as a sophomore. We donít know, though, and the organization may not either. Should one of the two falter, not having a veteran presence like Drew to step in could hurt.
Pierzynski is historically able-bodied and offensively capable, but heís also 37. As he prepares to replace the 28-year-old Saltalamacchia, itís a wonder whatís left in the tank. His defense should certainly be an upgrade.
Can the contract-hopeful Ortiz continue to defy Father Time? If heís motivated by what folks in the media say and write, then he might be the American League MVP. Unless that need for an extension causes a disruption.
And, the biggest question of them all, what will happen in center with the 24-year-old Bradley taking the place of Ellsbury? Here are speed, inexperience, and potential. Gone are 92 runs, 52 stolen bases, 53 RBI and a .355 OPB from the top of the order. To a division rival. And his new backup hasnít played in three years and hasnít been good since 2008.
Where depth exists on the mound, it lacks in the lineup.
There are far more questions than answers. There are supposed to be; spring isnít even here yet. But, barring a dramatic shift in philosophy, the approach is consistent to what weíve heard for more than a year: Winning doesnít change anything. Cherington and company are sticking to player development, growing their farm system, and building the next great championship roster; one that can compete for several years and not just one. Itís no different than when they refused to mortgage the future while they were overachieving at last yearís trade deadline, and acquired two White Sox pitchers who generally underwhelmed. As it turned out, Boston won anyway.
At this point last season, everyone knew the Red Sox werenít a 69-win team. Nobody expected what followed. If they could do that, it would be asinine to say that canít do it again, but itís fair to rationally wonder if lightning strikes twice. In a drama-free year when most everything broke right, will the scene get hairy without the beards?
Fortunately, the questions are everywhere. All of the ALís elite teams are flawed.
The Yankees could be this yearís Blue Jays, picked by everyone to win before missing the playoffs. Sox fans know never to count on Ellsbury for health over a full season, Carlos Beltran is a "get" to be jealous of, Brian McCann should be a solid contributor, Masahiro Tanakaís a mystery, and losing Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte to retirement hurts a great deal. But, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira should be healthier, CC Sabathia is slim, and Alex Rodriguez wonít be around, which is a win for everyone.
The Tigers will have a sizable hole in their lineup and more food at the postgame spread with Prince Fielder in Texas, and Ian Kinsler and electric closer Joe Nathan will only go so far to make up for the losses of Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante, Doug Fister, and Joaquin Benoit.
Those are just some of their direct contenders to reach the World Series. Currently, the Red Sox are 12/1 favorites to repeat, according to Bovada. They trail the Dodgers (13/2), Tigers (17/2), Yankees (10/1), and Nationals (10/1).
Itís hard to envision John Farrell's spunky Red Sox coming from behind for another 36 victories, or again winning 22 games in their final at-bat. Itís hard to envision them parading the city on Duck Boats again next summer. When so many players had bounce-back or career years, it feels impossible to anticipate such success reappearing.
Of course, nobody saw it coming then, so why not now?
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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