Boston Red Sox fans under the age of 18 mostly have no understanding of just how painful being a fan of the team typically was. Three World Series titles in ten seasons put a definitive stamp on the franchise’s agonizing history and has risen expectations to a new stratosphere. The Red Sox are no longer expected to fall just short in the most brutal way possible, but are instead assumed to be a title threat every year. Fresh off another championship, Boston underwent some changes this past offseason and is now set to begin an uncertain season that will largely begin a new era of Red Sox baseball.
The Red Sox hit rock bottom somewhere amidst the chicken and beer clubhouse fiasco as well as the dumpster fire 2012 season. During said time, the franchise realized that while trying to capture another title, the team lost its identity. Boston made headlines prior to 2011 by landing two of the biggest superstars in the game in Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. Boston spent well over $300 million to land its two prized sluggers, a marriage that worked for the majority of year one before collapsing like a house of cards.
The Red Sox had won titles in 2004 and 2007 around a foundation of home-grown stars, a couple of big trade acquisitions, sound role players, some upstart rookies and, of course, by being a lovable bunch of idiots. Crawford and Gonzalez were not true Red Sox by any means. They were both quiet and reserved. Neither shows any fire on the field or has the kind of personality that wins over a room. In the batter’s box, they didn’t work the count, something that is a staple amongst Boston baseball. On paper, ultimately replacing them with guys like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes seems like a giant step backward, but the 2013 Red Sox proved just how pivotal chemistry is in baseball.
In 2014, the Red Sox will once again undergo some changes. The biggest loss is center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to the rival Yankees. Ellsbury was around for two of the titles and was always the straw that stirred the drink. His dynamic speed and on-base ability at the top of the order made him a cornerstone talent. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is gone along with shortstop Stephen Drew. The changing of the guard comes in the form of the prospects. Boston spent very little to replace what it lost this past offseason. Xander Bogaerts is taking over at shortstop and will have his crack at slamming the revolving door shut that has seen one guy after another fill the position since Nomar Garciaparra’s unceremonious exit in 2004. He is one of the best prospects in baseball at age 21 and will have fellow youngster Will Middlebrooks to his right at third base, hoping to break out in year three. Jackie Bradley Jr. has lost out on the starting center-field job to Grady Sizemore, but it is only a matter of time before he resurfaces and becomes a crucial member of the team.
Boston has rebuilt its franchise through its farm system, a strategy that has yet to prove its worth. Boston won the 2013 title mostly on the shoulders of its veterans, with Bogaerts’ postseason successes being the only real contribution to the title run. Now with another title out of the way, Boston seems to be playing with house money in 2014. There is less pressure on them, but a team that once used to throw hundreds of millions at free agents now has begun to play it safe on a yearly basis. The Red Sox know that taking a one-year flyer on Grady Sizemore in center not only provides him with a chance to return to superstardom, but also keeps the door open for Bradley. The one-year deal for A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate keeps the seat warm for big-time catching prospects Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez. Boston could have broken the bank on another starter, but it knows there is a wave of talent coming there as well.
Of course, 2014 is not a transition year. Boston is still firmly committed to winning, because the city wouldn’t accept anything else. The Red Sox are just beginning to head in a new direction and is focusing on winning now without compromising or ignoring the future. The core of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester is still very much intact, but guys like Bogaerts and Middlebrooks and Bradley are going to start making lots of noise, giving Red Sox fans positive reinforcement to know that this team will be in good hands should Big Papi ever decide to pass the baton.
Commentary by Justin Hussong
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox