Sox in position to build on success
Veteran leadership around young core gives club balance
They did it again. But can they do it again and again? That's the big question entering 2008.
The Red Sox are already the first team in the 21st century to win multiple World Series, doing it twice in a span of four years. Now, their aim is to become baseball's first back-to-back champs since the Yankees three-peated from 1998-2000.
"The goal is to build something that can be sustained -- to not just have success, but sustained success over a long period of time," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "It's hard to do because you have to win at the Major League level while also cultivating a future through the Minor League system. That's our toughest challenge year in and year out. Hopefully, this year is a step in the right direction and we're situated to maybe take advantage of this young core."
And what a young core it is. Consider that the Red Sox have an ace in Josh Beckett who will be 27 when he takes the ball on Opening Day. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who should take a leap forward after going through a rookie year of cultural and baseball adjustments, is also 27. Jonathan Papelbon, who might be the best closer in baseball, is -- you guessed it -- 27.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who is coming off a Rookie of the Year season, might get even better. Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is already a fan favorite 33 games into his career.
There's also Clay Buchholz, who electrified Fenway Park with his no-hitter on Sept. 1 against the Orioles and will vie to win a rotation spot in Spring Training. Left-handed starter Jon Lester, who will turn 24 on Jan. 4, can now focus on just baseball after spending last year gaining his strength back following a bout with cancer.
Of course, the youngsters need veterans to go with them, and the Red Sox have a lot of those. Mike Lowell will once again patrol the hot corner after signing a new three-year deal. Big boppers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez will be back to terrorize opposing pitchers for yet another season. Captain Jason Varitek will once again lead the pitching staff.
As they enter 2008, the Red Sox have a lot of things going for them.
Season in Preview
A lot can change by Opening Day, but as 2007 becomes 2008, this is who is projected to take the field for the Red Sox:
Offseason report card: The Red Sox didn't need to do a whole lot, and thus far, they haven't. Their key task was retaining free agents Curt Schilling and Lowell, and the Sox swiftly did that. Seasoned veterans Tim Wakefield and Mike Timlin are also back for another year. On a scale of one to 10, give them a 9 -- expected to contend.
Re-arrivals: Lowell (signed to three-year deal), Schilling (signed for one year), Wakefield (club picked up 2008 option), Julian Tavarez (club picked up 2008 option), Timlin (signed for one year).
Departures: RHP Eric Gagne (signed with Brewers as free agent).
In limbo: C Doug Mirabelli (free agent), OF Bobby Kielty (free agent), 1B-3B-OF Eric Hinske (free agent).
The Road Ahead: Epstein continues to scour the market in hopes of improving Boston's bullpen depth. The Red Sox would love another power arm to put in the setup role and complement lefty Hideki Okajima.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.