2013 represents a new beginning for the Boston Red Sox as a franchise.
Considering how bad 2012 was, it's a new beginning that should be welcomed with open arms in Boston.
As the Red Sox get set to square off with the New York Yankees in a three-game set to open this season, there is a sentiment of hope and excitement for the new on-field additions, manager, and clubhouse change that occurred in the offseason.
Fans should expect major progress from the 69-93 record of a year ago, but despite parity throughout the sport, it's hard to imagine Boston making the leap from worst-to-first.
The Red Sox were once a perennial World Series contender, but those days have come and gone.
If Boston were to make a surprise run at the postseason this fall, it will be on the backs of Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia.
For the first time in years, the positives outweigh the negatives in Boston, but not enough to predict a parade in late October.
That being said, there's a chance, albeit it slight, that Boston can surprise.
Predictions may have them in the cellar of the AL East once again, but those can be proven wrong.
The terms "clubhouse culture" and "winning attitude" might come back into vogue in the Boston media this year, especially if the team jumps off to a hot start.
Don't get too caught up in them.
For the Red Sox to surge ahead of the four AL East teams that lapped them on the field, in the trade market, or through the farm system, they'll need the trio of Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedrioa to lead them.
In Lester, Boston thought it had their version of C.C. Sabathia—a big, strong left-handed ace that could take the ball every fifth day, give great, bulk innings, and stop losing streaks at a dime.
From 2008-2011, Lester was one of the most consistent starters in the game. His .670 winning percentage and 3.33 ERA provided Boston with a young ace under contract.
His ability to miss bats was key in a powerful American League East.
Unfortunately for Lester and the Red Sox, that ability has gone missing as the years have passed.
Starting in 2009, here are Lester's year-by-year K/9 rates: 10.0, 9.7, 8.5, 7.3.
That's an alarming rate for a staff ace during his age 24-27 seasons.
In Ellsbury, Boston may soon find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
If the 2011 All-Star reverts back to his form of two seasons ago (.321/.376/.552), Boston will have to consider offering the oft-injured outfielder a contract in excess of $100 million.
If the injuries and declining production coninue, the Red Sox will have to consider moving on from a player that was part of a championship team in 2007 and nearly won a league MVP four years later.
Furthermore, Ellsbury's stellar play, coupled with long-term durability concerns, could lead Boston to a conundrum at the trading deadline: If the front-office doesn't feel he's worth the money in free agency, would it be wise to move him in July to a team that does?
Contending in 2013 isn't just problematic in Boston, it could become an issue of front office logistics.
In Pedroia, Boston has the leader in place to survive a culture change and bridge the gap into the next era of Red Sox baseball.
Although 2012 wasn't a bad year by second baseman standards, Boston could use an uptick in Pedroia's production to contend this season.
From 2007-2011, Pedroia posted an .846 OPS. His wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) during that stretch was 123, second best among all second baseman in baseball.That number was bested only by Chase Utley's 134. It ranked ahead of Robinson Cano's 123.
The dip below an .800 OPS in 2012 was probably an aberration. It can't become a trend if Boston is to succeed in 2013.
Every AL East team is flawed coming into the season.
New York has injuries, Toronto is basically assembling a new team on the fly, Baltimore is staring regression in the face, and Tampa lost major production from B.J. Upton and James Shields.
The case can be made for Boston overachieving and sneaking back to the top of the AL East hierarchy.
To do so, they'll need their best three players to play like All-Stars once again.