3/28/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
Roster reboot has Red Sox ready for revival
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- At least going into the 2013 season, you can call the Red Sox the $160-million underdogs.
It is an unfamiliar place for a team with such deep pockets to be, but if you comb through the prognostications from the national "experts," the most frequent place you see Boston projected to finish is fourth or fifth in the American League East.
In other words, once the games start for real on Monday at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox have a real chance to sneak up on people for the first time in over a decade.
For what it's worth, the veteran-laden Sox aren't taking much stock in what others are saying or thinking about them.
W: Lester L: Sabathia
"Our goal is to win the World Series every year," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said upon his arrival at Spring Training. "I know everybody thinks that's not our goal right now, but it is."
It was important that Pedroia was the one who made that statement. Within the confines of the clubhouse, he carries the most weight.
Pedroia is Boston's best all-around player and fiercest competitor. And unlike last season, he can look around the clubhouse and see a collection of like-minded competitors.
The roster reconstruction that general manager Ben Cherington made over the winter was designed to give the team a more professional look on the field and in the dugout and clubhouse.
Ryan Dempster brings innings and durability to the rotation. And Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are determined to be season-long forces in the 1-2 spots, something they weren't a year ago. John Lackey, who didn't pitch last season due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, hopes to finally show Red Sox fans why the team signed him in the first place. Lefty Felix Doubront has high-quality stuff and now must prove he knows how to use it on a 32-start basis.
The lineup has added slugger Mike Napoli at first base, Stephen Drew (who will miss a few games at the start of the season because of a concussion) at shortstop, Jonny Gomes in left field and Shane Victorino in right.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Pedroia will set the table, with the former hoping to recover from the injury-plagued disappointment of 2012. Will Middlebrooks, who provided pop as a rookie before breaking his right wrist, is ready to man the hot corner at Fenway not just this year, but for the foreseeable future.
Early on, there should also be an infusion of youth. Jackie Bradley Jr., selected in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, could make the team and be in the lineup until David Ortiz returns to the active roster. Shortstop Jose Iglesias, a vacuum cleaner on defense, will hold down the fort until Drew returns.
The Red Sox don't know exactly when they will get Ortiz back, but they are hoping the slugger's right heel problems will be a thing of the past by May.
The bullpen looks to be the strength of the team, bolstered by the addition of closer Joel Hanrahan. Andrew Bailey, who has been a closer most of his career, becomes the primary setup man. Junichi Tazawa seemed on the verge of becoming an elite setup man last year, and he is now a year wiser and has a mentor in Koji Uehara, who should also get plenty of big outs.
And the manager is also new again, as John Farrell -- Boston's pitching coach from 2007-10 -- replaces Bobby Valentine.
When a September collapse for the ages is followed by a 69-win season, it's going to be hard to get the pundits to buy in. But the Red Sox are determined to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2009, no matter what the outside perception is.
"We don't look outward and really pay too much attention about what people think of us," said Farrell. "We have to be concerned with how we work and how we prepare and how we get guys back on the field that are currently injured. And if we take care of our own business, we've got a lot of really good players here that should make us a really good team."
The one thing even people from within the Red Sox can't dispute is that the burden should be on the club to again prove itself after what has transpired since September 2011.
"Last year, we were a long way from living up to what we should be on the field and off the field," said Cherington. "It's up to us to make the Red Sox what they should be again."
Because there has been such a drastic culture change within the clubhouse, there shouldn't be much of a hangover effect from 2012.
"I think anything that happened last year, no matter what team you're on, that kind of goes out the door," Dempster said. "Once the season starts, we just have to go out there and get after it. From pitch No. 1, try and outplay everyone on every pitch. If you take that mentality, you end up having a lot of good results. We have a lot of really qualified players -- guys who have had success, been on winning teams -- and we know what to do. Now we have to go out and do it."