Red Sox, Cards make change a constant
Pennant winners turn over rosters, bring in new faces in quests to continue winning
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When the 2013 World Series ended, the Boston Red Sox sat down and examined their roster as if their championship season had never happened. If that sounds like a simple thing, it's not.
"There might be examples out there that, after you win, you're so attached to some of those players who won for you that they're given a reward, so to speak," Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
His team took a different approach.
"After the season is over, despite how deep or how far you go in the postseason, there's still objectivity that's given toward reviewing the roster," Farrell said.
Twelve hundred miles away, the St. Louis Cardinals were taking a similar approach with a club that won the National League pennant but lost a six-game World Series.
"Complacency would be the kiss of death for any organization," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said simply.
So if you're running a baseball team, these two franchises might be good blueprints to follow. Both of them had terrific seasons in 2013. Both of them will be different in 2014.
They're reminders that good organizations evolve, that they're unafraid to change and that they have the ability to examine themselves critically.
First, there's Boston general manager Ben Cherington.
"In our case," Farrell said, "it's Ben's view of the roster and how do we improve it? Not standing pat. There's always the view of, 'OK, we've done what we can to win today, but how do we prolong that? How do we put ourselves in the best position to win going forward?' That may require changes to the roster."
Some of the changes were driven by free agency. The Red Sox chose not to re-sign shortstop Stephen Drew (still unsigned), center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (Yankees) and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Marlins).
They could have afforded to keep all three. But after ridding themselves of some of their largest salary commitments -- Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett -- late in the 2012 season, the Red Sox have attempted to do things different. They want to be a franchise built around the farm system. If they can do that, if they can continue to provide the big league club with a stream of talent, Boston has the financial flexibility to put the finishing touches on the roster through free agency.
One thing we've learned the past two decades is that championship clubs can't be built through free agency. Free agency can enhance and upgrade a roster, but it's virtually impossible to win without a core group of homegrown players.
So the Red Sox are turning shortstop over to top prospect Xander Bogaerts and giving another, Jackie Bradley Jr., a chance to win the center-field job. They've got two highly regarded catching prospects in Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez, but signed veteran A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal to fill the gap until the youngsters are ready.
Is that too much change?
"We've gone through this exercise as a group internally," Farrell said. "We met last week, and we looked at what history has shown. Teams that win regularly -- how many players do they transition and bring in? You know what, it's roughly two a year. To maintain youth. To maintain talent. To continue that building over the long haul."
That assessment came after looking at baseball's five winningest organizations over the past 35 years. Some of them made big changes, others none at all. But the average was two.
The Cards are following the same blueprint. Two years ago, they allowed their best player, Albert Pujols, to sign with the Angels when the bidding went beyond what they were comfortable with.
St. Louis signed Carlos Beltran to replace him in the lineup. When Beltran signed with the Yankees this past offseason, the Cardinals rearranged their lineup, moving All-Star first baseman Allen Craig to right to replace Beltran and making Matt Adams their everyday first baseman.
Likewise, the Cards traded third baseman David Freese to the Halos for center fielder Peter Bourjos. Matt Carpenter, who made the NL All-Star team at second base, will play third. No. 2 prospect Kolten Wong probably will open the season at second.
GM John Mozeliak did spend on a free agent, getting shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Anyway, when he was done, Mozeliak probably will end up changing every spot in the lineup except left field (Matt Holliday) and catcher (Yadier Molina).
Despite spending for just one big-ticket free agent, despite all the changes, the Cardinals are still a consensus favorite to make the playoffs for a fourth straight year.
"I think it's a great testament to our organization and our ownership and our front office of being committed and figuring out, 'How can we get better?'" Matheny said. "This organization believes in making the most out of what we've got, and then figuring out how to push, always push, how to gain an edge."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.